The third gem of a trip to St. Petersburg (after the Hermitage and Catherine's Palace) is a visit to Peterhof, the magnificent residence of Peter the Great.
Our 40-minute bus ride took us through the city and out to the flat, forested countryside, where the palace is perched on the edge of a high coastal terrace overlooking the Gulf of Finland.
According to Peter's plan, the estate was to rival the most celebrated residences of European monarchs and it has become known as "the Russian Versailles."the two palaces have great similarities.
Peter started work on the palace in 1707 and completed it by 1721 (4 years before he died).
What is forgotten when one visits these palaces is that they were virtually destroyed by the Nazis during WW II and they have been expertly restored by the Russians. Our guide showed us a photo of how it looked after the war. Peterhof was not opened again to the public until 1989. So not once, but twice were these palaces "built."
We were once again struck by the dazzling display of luxury, regardless of the century. We entered the main suite of halls on the second floor up an elaborate white and gold staircase. The first room was the ballroom, which is 2,900 sq, ft. and brilliant with its mirrors, white walls, inlaid parquet floors, artfully painted ceiling and sconces (now electrified rather than candles) placed in between the mirrors. Next was Chesme Hall with its paintings of Russia's naval triumphs. Many of these paintings had survived the bombings.
That was followed by the Throne Room, the largest hall in the palace at 3,500 sq.ft. The normal size red velvet chair (throne) at one end of the opulent but cavernous room looks dwarfed. Above the chair is a huge portrait of Catherine II on a horse, looking rather mannish. Amazingly, no coronation ever took place here.
An interesting room was the one for Ladies in Waiting. Although narrow, it had mirrors perfectly placed on both sides to give the illusion of space. When one looked directly into a mirror, the resulting image was multiple images behind, which resembled openings to hallways in infinity.
Next was the White Dining Room. Catherine II loved white and did not like a lot of decoration. All of the table service was by Wedgewood.
Then through the Picture Hall with all its portraits, and through two small rooms known as the Chinese lobbies, which were chocked full of all manner of Chinese ornamentation - desks, cabinets, wall coverings, inlaid floors, etc. you get the picture. This was fashion introduced by Peter the Great.
We saw the "Divan Room" which was Catherine II's bedchamber. It had a huge Turkish divan, which looked like a giant mattress on a platform. It was said to be acquired by Catherine's lover Potemkin and presented to her after victory in the war with Turkey. Wonder if this is where she had her "trysts?" These "Potemkin divans" became fashionable among the aristocracy.
We passed through a number of other rooms and then into the large blue drawing room, used for gala lunches and dinners. Nicholas I had a table service created for 250 persons with 5,000 items. We were impressend by the decorative containers of hot water placed underneath the plates to keep the food warm. (But how did they keep the water hot?)
Finally, the Oak Study of Peter the Great, with its beautifully carved panels and inlaid floor, which has survived unaltered from the original design.
From there we went outside to tour the grounds and see the fountains and cascades.
The fountains are turned on the end of May and go off mid September (because they would freeze) but if the weather is right (as it was today) they continue until the end of the month. We were so lucky.