Gotta-Do’s Near St. Petersburg

South of St. Petersburg proper are two areas the Romanov royal family used as summer and special event refuges: the town of Peterhof; and an area known by three names 1) Pushkin’s Town (the great poet was in a school here during his formative years), 2) the Children’s Village (during Soviet times, institutions for children were established here), and 3) Tsar’s Village (Peter the Great’s second wife, Catherine the First, built her own palace there and through the years, many Tsars and Tsarinas built abodes in the area).

In the town of Peterhof (Peter’s Court) is Peter the Great’s grand palace, and several out-palaces including a small sanctuary Peter called “Mon plaisir” (my pleasure), and the Hermitage, where both Catherines (1 & 2) used to get away from “society.”

Four interesting facts we learned while strolling around Peter’s Palace grounds: all the many, many fountains’ water was originally pushed into the air under gravity-fed pressure, because an original source of water was found nearby, and it was much higher than the marsh-filled-with-dirt acreages that make up the palace grounds (if I understood correctly, this natural water power is no longer in use, having been modernized since the time of Peter the Great); Because of this water source, Peter’s palaces were among the first in history to have indoor plumbing; Peter the Great was a jokester, and set up fountain/water-related “traps” to amuse himself at his guests’ expense (nothing disastrous, and several are extant, run by workers so the “trick” or “key” cannot be figured out by today’s visitors and it is great fun for children especially, to try to work out which stone or brick one steps on will turn on the spray); and Peter the Great was somewhat agoraphobic, preferring to live in the modest, low-ceilinged Monplaisir, rather than the grander main Palace.

We were not allowed into the Grand Palace and much of the grounds had large pavilions and temporary stages etc. that had been used during the G-20 Summit, the day before. We were allowed into the smaller living quarters of Peter, but no photographs were allowed. A quick web search returned no results for photos, but you might be luckier than I, and it would be well worth the effort if you could find additional pix of the interiors. Peter himself designed many of the interior decorations we saw.

It is critical to remember, as you look at all the photos here and on the Internet, which I encourage you to do, that the buildings, artworks, walls, furniture — everything you see today was obliterated during WW2. Treasures were looted and sold, rooms and buildings were either bombed, burned, or converted to barracks or other military uses, and as the German army withdrew after the siege of Leningrad, the buildings of the Catherine Palace were intentionally destroyed. Much of the national heritage was left to rot during the Soviet era (but honestly, not all), however they did sell off bits and pieces of treasures to finance their government over the years. What we see today has been painstakingly restored and replaced. The Russian people did manage to spirit away and hide to protect many artworks and original furniture and household goods from these and other important buildings. In addition, the architecture and interior designs were often painstakingly documented.

But it has taken decades for the people of Russia to bring these national treasures back to their former state, and much of the work is still underway. I’m terribly sorry that I missed the opportunity to take pictures of the photos we saw of the post-war state of the buildings – I was so aghast at the difference between what I could see and what they started with after the war, I simply neglected to take any pictures.

So some of what can be seen is, for example, not Delft Tiles, but rather, plaster replicas of the originals, which were lost forever.

Peter the Great’s Palace & Grounds

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This was a “Horn Band” in which each horn plays one note, like a bell choir. They were very good and we listened to several arrangements. Behind them is the fountain called The Checkerboard Cascade. There are colorful dragons at the top.

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The Catherine Palace

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Statue of the great man himself, Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837). English Majors, Rejoice!

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A small portion of the famous Amber Room. Completely lost during WWII, it has never been recovered, so has been replaced at enormous expense, based on detailed drawings of the originals.

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