No real discussion of St. Petersburg (originally, 'Petropo', then 'Pieterburgh') is complete without a nod to and props for Peterhof. Peterhof. God, where to begin....
'Petrodvorez' was commissioned in 1714, built on a steep hill overlooking the Baltic, some twenty miles from St. Petersburg. Peter the Great built it as respite from summer in the city and it was his ambition to rival Versailles. You might remember the reign of Peter the Great was the turning point in Russsia's history. He was the Great Change Agent, building factories and schools and universities, whole cities even (St. Petersburg?) , raising the first Russian army and creating the Russian fleet. So Peter was not unaccustomed to doing anything in a faltering or tentative manner. Peter had big ideas and vast resources. Hence, Peterhof.
The baroque gardens feature the most beautiful of fountains; they are an hydraulic marvel, bringing water in from the Bay of Finnland in a purely genius manner to make a bold artistic statement that is unrivaled. The fountains of Peterhof are grandeur personified.
The house, the royal residence, is no less. The crystal chandeliers are massive, weighing over 10 tons. The wooden floors are exquisite parqueted. The silks on the walls luscious in weave and color and the paintings expansive as the grounds.
The Throne Room is smaller than the Throne Room in St. Petersburg; this IS the summer palace after all, but gorgeously appropriate nevertheless. We did a true double take when we realized the portrait that hangs above the throne is that of Catherine the Great on her horse; Catherine was just not short on anything it took to be a member of the Russian royal family or a tsarina of Mother Russia.
I loved this room, The Picture Hall, because I have never seen anything like it. The ceiling features a magnificent scene of Peter himself, powerful and wise, cavorting with the gods. Apollo, Mars, Juno and Neptune that I could recognize. The walls are covered in their entirety of portraits of young girls. It's wild! Actually it was Catherine who commissioned the girls--they are in different garbs and native costumes, perhaps, in a variety of poses. They are atheletic, educated, afficionados of the arts and sciences, home and garden; some mythological.
The Chesme Hall features massive depictions of the naval victories over Turkey. These are awesome in the real sense of the word. They are so big that as you gaze upon the oil of 'The Burning of the Turkish Fleet in Chesme Harbour', it is like looking at it from a balcony, as if the harbor and this furnace of battle are 50 yards on the horizon. You smell the smoke. Then you realize, you don't. Awesome, as it's said.
Because the house was built by Peter, but augmented and expanded by Catherine, it is a tantalizing mixture of masculine and feminine taste. The Divan Room is divine. The walls are covered in exquisite Chinese silk, the floors are covered with beautiful wood from the Russian forrests laid in a geometric maze, and the room features large feather pillows and an immense Turkish sofa, hence the name. It's a Girlfriends' Paradise.
I do have to say my favorite room in the whole house is Peter's study. I loved his bedroom but walking through his study gave me goosebumps: just imagine what ideas he nursed and flogged to fruition here. What plans he laid and what revisions and and amendments he made as the updates became available. Such a thinker. Such an innovator. This was his private space. One of the world's all time great leaders.
As it's said, there's no place like home.
After all of Peterhof, the Hermitage, St. Peter and Paul and so much more to boot, we were sated. We were exhausted. We were ready to sail. We stocked up on Russian vodka and headed back to our boat. The crew gathered up the gang plank, put on the sailing music and we were off. Dreamland awaited.
The 'Kan EWA