Treasures of Scandinavia & Russia


Sunday July 20, 2008

Our visit to the Imperial Palaces and Villas

On this tour we were introduced to the aristocratic world of Russia, some centuries ago, with its grandeur of court ceremonies and idyll of private life. A one hour drive (through the rain) brought us to Peterhof, the town of palaces, fountains, and parks and the most brilliant of all the summer residences of the Russian Tsars. It is located on the Gulf of Finland and was conceived by Peter the Great to rival Versailles in splendor and indeed, one could spend the whole day enjoying the extravaganza of the fountain display. Unfortunately, a driving rain diminished the experience. Prior to admission to the Palace, we were required to stand in this rain for over a half an hour prior to the opening. Once inside we were required to check everything except our cameras, and put slippers over our shoes, so as not to damage the beautiful floors. Our wet raingear and coats also checked so as to not affect the humidity in these priceless rooms. Although we were permitted to take photographs, no flash was permitted. One room was so fragile, we were ushered right through; NO PHOTOGRAPHS!! Husky Russian women attended each room to ensure that nothing was touched or leaned upon. An alarm was sounded if one ventured one footprint beyond barrier ropes.

The above painting depicts the Summer Palace Grounds as it appeared in it’s heyday.

Peterhof was officially opened in 1721 and has a commanding view over the Lower Park and the Gulf beyond. The palace has changed considerably over the decades; some of the rooms are in the Rasrelli’s flamboyant style, others in later reworks by Velton. The main staircase is adorned with gilded carvings (the Tsars loved their gold, as evidenced everywhere) and leads into a suite of staterooms. The staterooms are sumptuously appointed, especially the opulent Throne Room used in the past for great receptions and official ceremonies. Peter’s Oak Study is one of the few rooms to have survived unaltered from the days of Peter the Great….. I could go on and on with descriptions of this treasure, but it could get a bit boring. It has to be seen to be believed.

During the Second World War, the Nazis (not Germans – the term our guide used) used the palace and grounds as headquarters and barracks for the siege of St Petersburg, and when, after 900 + days of battles and bombardment, were turned back by the Russian Army. On their way out of Peterhof, they intentionally did what they could to destroy this treasure. However, just hours prior to the arrival of the Nazis 900 days earlier, nearly everything was removed and transported away for safe keeping.

Below are photos that are a small representation of the craftsmanship and intricate detail of the treasures of Peterhof.

Final thoughts on our visit to Russia. With the exception of our guides and drivers, we did not experience the warmth and friendliness of Tallinn and Copenhagen. Use of public bathrooms in most places is for a fee, as well as the privilege of taking photographs. Although perestroika improved life for most Russians, the decades of living under the heel of Communism, still causes visitors like myself to feel suspect. Of course, I, on the other hand did not feel like I needed to purchase anything “Russian” from that era.

Tomorrow – wonderful Helsinki…….

One thought on “Treasures of Scandinavia & Russia

  1. Both The Hermitage and Peterhof (do hope the fountains were turned on) makes one realize the enormous wealth of the Czar’s at this time. It is going to take many years for people to be completely relaxed with there lives, is it any wonder with what they suffered in the past. St.Petersburg has the amazing tourist attractions, however it is still a poor city in comparision with Moscow, who seem much better off, especially young people seem to enjoy there life and have money to spend.

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