In 1714 Peter I was seized by a desire to create a suburban residence that could rival the luxury of France’s Versailles.
The original notation, sketches and marks, on the document plans suggest that the general concept and broad plans for the building were the work of the Tsar himself. His passion for the project was mirrored in the remarkable rapidity of its construction.
In August 1723 the Peterhof (translated from Dutch: ‘Peter’s Yard’) had its grand opening, signaling the completion of the Lower Park (or at least its lay out), the Sea Canal, many fountains, the Monplaisir whilst the Marly and the Hermitage were near their finished state. In short, the Peterhof seaside resort, as magnificent as any palace in France, Italy or Germany, astonished Europe no less than the new Russian capital - St. Petersburg.
However, it was not to escape political backlash. The opponent’s of Peter’s reforms, who had surrounded the young Peter II in Moscow, presented the building as a grand symbol of crippling decadence; and so it began to fall into disrepair. Only in 1730, by the order of Anna Ioanovna (looking to link herself to Peter I), did a new wave of construction and repair begin.
Sadly, as with so much else, World War Two was a time of trail for this great monument to Russian strength. German troops stormed the building on the 20th of September 1941, and after three days of battle took control of the city. Occupants remained in hiding here until 19th of January 1944. During this time, the soldiers of the third Reich looted much of the art and treasures contained within; as well as cutting down trees, pavilions and causing general destruction to what had been an otherworldly elegance.
After the war, a team of engineers, and many residents of what was then Leningrad, cleaned the Lower Park (completed 17th of June 1945), and fixed many of the fountains dotting the landscape (25th of August 1946). The important spirit of this national treasure was captured on the 14th of September 1947, when the Bolshoi theater was given the palace’s gilt bronze statue ‘Samson rending the lion’s mouth’; a gift which symbolized the renewing of Russian strength from past to future.
Having risen from the ashes, the Peterhof is a fascinating fusion of architecture, sculpture, moving water and testament to the harmony that can be found between art and nature.