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The Summer Palace

A.P. Antropov Portrait of Peter I. 1770
View onto the Neva River and the Summer Palace of Peter I. Between 1807 and 1821
View onto the Summer garden and the Summer Palace of Peter I from the Fontanka River.
Summer Palace of Peter I with a small harbour. Layout.
Ground floor rooms enfilade
Carved oak panel Minerva. Early 18th century. The ground floor vestibule.
Lower kitchen
Upper kitchen
Wind instrument. Dresden. 1714
Study of Peter I with lathes made by the tsar-s privet turner A. K. Nartov. Early 18th century
Catherine-s bedroom
Children-s room
Bedroom of Peter I
Wardrobe of Peter I. Hamburg. Early 18th century. Hazel-wood
Secretary-s room
Green study. General view.
Зеленый кабинет
Green study. Chimney
G. Gsell The Triumph of Russia. One of the first samples of the secular allegoric painting in Russia
Summer Palace of Peter I. View from the Summer Garden.
View other

To build his residence Peter I chose a habitable and favourably situated farmstead on a cape between the Neva river and the Nameless brook (now the Fontanka river). At that time there was an estate of a Swedish major Erich Berndt von Konou - a small house with a household yard and a garden.

At first Peter I could have lived in Konou-s house. However, it is also possible that a house of his own had already been built by that time. There is a paper in favour of this evidence ("- a summer house registered in the list of the Most Serene Prince was built in the year of 703") and we also have the name of the probable builder of the house - I. M. Ugryumov. In 1705-07 Ivan Matveyev (Ugryumov) supervised all the construction and engineering works on the territory of the former Swedish farmstead.

Peter I personally ordered to build a dam on the Nameless brook, to dig a small harbour - a quay of the Summer Garden, and to start the construction of a fountain system. Ivan Matveyev also built a new imperial mansion. It was this mansion that the author of "The Description of St Petersburg and Kronschlot" wrote about in 1710-11: "There is an imperial residence near the river. It is a small Dutch style house in the garden, motley coloured, with gilt window frames and lead ornaments."

In 1710 a period of construction in stone began in the city and in the summer courtyard of the monarch. Peter ordered to build a stone house at the site of his former one. The architect D. Trezzini made the project and the construction of the house was finished by 1713.

A copper weathercock in the shape of St George killing a serpent with a spear crowns the hipped roof of a two-storey brick building of the Summer Palace. In the corners of the roof there are drainpipes in the shape of winged dragons made of slitting iron.

The entrance is decorated with a black marble portal. There is a bas-relief that depicts Minerva with war booty above the portal. The main decoration of the palace facades is 28 bas-reliefs made in the rare technique of hand molding. They are placed between the windows of the ground and the first floors. The topic of the bas-reliefs is glorification of Russia-s navel power. A German architect and sculptor A.Schluter who used the prints of European artists depicting sea creatures might have made the sketches of these compositions.

Like any other residence of Peter the Great the palace is rather small: 26.5x15.5 meters; the height of two storeys is 8.1 meters; the height up to the gable is 13.3 meters; the height of the rooms is 3.3 meters. The planning of both storeys is similar. Peter I lived on the ground floor and his wife Catherine lived on the first.

The Palace was intended for living in summertime (May - October). That is why it has thin walls and single frames. There are only 14 rooms, two kitchens and two inner corridors in the palace. The rooms are arranged in enfilade; the servants- premises intercommunicate with an inner corridor. Thus, the servants did not have to appear in the main rooms. The following rooms open on the corridor: a) The cloakroom (there are still the original pine wardrobes - they are fixed to the wall with special hooks); b) The Batman-s Room (the ground floor); The Ladies--in-Waiting Room (the first floor); c) kitchens, restrooms, burner holes of the stoves; d) the secondary spiral stairs hidden behind a carved oak construction that reminds of a wardrobe (made to Peter-s decree dated of the 2nd of May 1714). The outside door faced the facade Neva gallery from the corridor.

In the early 18th century the Summer Palace was washed by water on three sides: from the North the Neva river was in close proximity, from the East - the Fontanka river, from the South there was a small harbour. During the archaeological excavations the grooves for the beams of a wooden floor were found. This floor was sort of a gallery with "balusters" (these balusters were similar to those of a ship).

The line of junction of the Eastern and Northern facades "ran into" the water as if separating the waters of Neva and Fontanka. The water of both rivers washed the ship-house thus creating an illusion of movement. Boats approached the palace from Neva and moored by the facades as if at the boards of a ship (there are still mooring rings on the Southern and Eastern facades).

As the palace was situated on a peninsula it was decided to arrange a flowing-cleansing drainage in it. Peter I could not ignore the idea of an architect G. B. Leblont since it was the latest research at that time. A drain channel was dug out under the basement of the building. It connected Neva with a small harbour where the water was circulated. 6 restrooms of the Palace were connected with the tunnel with the help of wooden boxes (the flowing-cleansing drainage functioned only until 1777 as the small harbour was filled in after the flood).

The Lower Kitchen of the Summer Palace was equipped according to the project of G. B. Leblont - there appeared a fireplace, serving tables, pantries and a kitchen sink with running water. Leblont wrote: "To have running water through water pipes from a nearby stream is very convenient and one can only dream of it." Water was supplied to the Palace by the fountain system of the Summer Garden, it was inflated by pumps into a lead tank on the garret and then flowed to the kitchen through the pipes.

There is a unique description of the interior of the Summer Palace written by an unknown author in 1720: "-the palace is beautifully decorated with different Chinese upholstery. There are velvet beds with wide gimp in three rooms that fitted the entire decoration. There are a lot of mirrors and decorations, the floor was marble. There is a kitchen the walls of which are upholstered with cloth like the walls of the rooms of some palaces. There are pumps, utility rooms, and cupboards for silver and tin ware. One of the rooms on the opposite side is filled up with lathes and small tools-"

One should pay attention to the decoration of the interior in oak panels - in Peter-s time oak wood was used only for the needs of the fleet (Peter himself planted an oak grove). Oak was used not only for making parts of ships but also for their inner decoration. In Peter-s palace doors, wall panels, stairs are made of oak.

However, there is an exception, i.e. two studies - the Green (on the first floor) and the Private Study of Peter I (on the ground floor) where the doors and wall panels are made of nutwood (this is the room that once was called the Turner-s room - there was an exposition of turning lathes that belonged to Peter I. Now they are stored in the Hermitage). The rooms adjoining the Study are the dining room and the bedroom of the tsar. There is a representation of Calvary on the panel of the bedroom door (presumably made by Peter I). A restroom with part of a drain tunnel joins the room on the side of the corridor. One of the doors in the Study faces the gallery on the side of Neva and the other leads through the dining room to the Southern gallery from the side of the small harbour.

There is a unique wind instrument in the Study. Three disks with a scale are enclosed in a carved frame. The theme of the framework is nautical symbolism. The upper disk is a clock with hands (hour, minute and second), the lower ones are "wind pointers" that are connected with a weathercock on the roof of the palace. The instrument with "wind pointers" is a nautical instrument that helps to measure the wind power and wind direction in the Baltic district. Peter I commissioned it from the Dresden craftsmen Dinglinger and Gertner in 1713. In 1714 this instrument was delivered to Saint - Petersburg and installed on the place chosen by Peter himself - in his Study.

The decoration of the Green Study on the upper floor has preserved in good condition. It is one of the first samples of the interior decoration in the style of the French Nouveau, which was brought to Russia by the architect G. B. Leblont. The walls were intended to be decorated with panels with painting, mirrors and sopraportas. It was in this Study where the first objects of Peter-s Cabinet of Curiosities were stored in the closets with doors glazed with small squares of "moon" glass of the early 18th century.

The topic of triumph allows to regard the palace as the first monument to Russia-s victories in the Northern War. The scenes on bas-reliefs are mythological, however, their meaning is far from the myths and it becomes clear only in connection with the main conflict in the life of Russia and Peter I himself - the fight with Sweden for the access to the sea. Undoubtedly the monarch chose the subjects of bas-reliefs himself and it is not accidentally that some of them coincide with the subjects of ship carvings (The Triumph of Neptune and Amphitrite, Perseus winning Gorgon, Amor on dolphins, Amors on hippocampuses). One can find the explanation of these allegories in the printed descriptions of the triumphal arch erected on the occasion of victories over the Swedes. Neptune and Amphitrite symbolize the naval power of Russia and its strengthening, Peter I is depicted as an ancient hero (Mars, Perseus, Hercules) while the tsar-s enemy - the Swedish monarchy is called "hydra, chimera, serpent".

A weathercock crowns the roof of the Summer Palace: St. George kills a serpent with a spear. Undoubtedly, for Peter I and his contemporaries it was a symbol of the tsar-s and his "-orthodox warrior-host" victory over "chimera-like dives" - the Swedes. This comparison was taken from the Description of the Triumphal Arch in Moscow after Peter-s Return after Poltava Battle in 1709. These words can help to understand the symbol-palace: victory at Poltava is considered to be the turning point of the Northern war since the success in it granted Russia control over the Baltic Sea.

The Summer Palace - the witness of the whole Peter-s life - has remained without any radical changes up to the present day. The evidence can be found both in historical plans of the Summer Garden of the first half of the 18th century and in the sketch (1727) by M. G. Zemtsov.

Thus, the Summer Palace is not only one of the first stone buildings in Saint-Petersburg, "the origin of the city", but also a unique sample of the architectural work of its founder reflecting the peculiarities of Peter-s character.

In the early 19th century the Summer Palace served as a dacha for high ranking state officials. The museum was founded in 1903, the year of the 200 anniversary of Saint-Petersburg. It housed an exhibition dedicated to Peter I.

After 1917 the Palace was kept as a historical and architectural monument. In 1934 the memorial museum of history and art was opened in the Summer Palace of Peter I.