St. Petersburg, a European city of Russian Federation, is often called a cultural capital of Russia thanks to magnificent architecture, beautiful palaces, striking bridges and canals, world recognized museums, theaters and of course spectacular gardens.
Saint Petersburg was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, who designed a city to be similar to Venice or Amsterdam with canals instead of streets. It is sometimes called ‘Russian Venice’ because of multiple rivers and canals. It is also a city of White Nights from the end of May to the middle of July, the best time to explore the beauty of this breathtaking city.
In 1704, Peter the Great ordered to set up Summer Garden and he himself took part in planning it. It was laid along the Fontanka River at the place where it flows out of the Neva River. The Garden was built following strict principles of geometry by Jean-Baptiste Le Blond and Mikhail Zemsteiv. It was designed and decorated as a french garden similar to the Versailles gardens. Straight rows of symmetrical, well trimmed trees are decorated with seventy fountains and marble statues delivered from Italy.
In 1710, a famous Italian architect Domenico Trezzini started the construction of baroque style, Peter’s the Great first Summer palace on the territory of the Garden. The building was one of the first stone constructions of the new city. Its interiors are open to the public today and well kept in its original Dutch style. Very quickly a beautiful garden and palace became the summertime place for the court where balls and summer walks were taking place.
In 1777 a severe flooding damaged the garden, the fountains were destroyed and sculptures broken. Fountains were never rebuilt then but relatively quickly the garden was restored. Today it is a home of seventy nine statues of Italian masters of the 17th and 18th centuries. The collection of these sculptures is considered to be the oldest in Russia. The statues are devoted to the Greek and Roman gods and heroes reflecting Peter’s ideas of state rebuilding.
The Summer Garden is well recognized by its famous 18th century wrought iron fence designed by Yury Felten that can be seen from the Neva River granite embankment.
During World War II St Petersburg (Leningrad at that time) was under military siege (blokade) for 900 days that claimed the lives of 800,000 citizens. The city was fiercely bombed by the Nazis. To save the art the statues of the Summer Garden were carefully buried deep into the soil that protected them from the damage.
In 2012 a big restoration work of three years ended and the restored Summer Garden was opened to the public. The Garden got its new view as close as possible to the Peter the Great original plan. The eight fountains were restored as well as a small vegetable garden. Peter the Great was a very practical person and liked growing fresh vegetables and plants for his table.
If you happen to travel to St Petersburg don’t miss the place on a hot summer day. Its shady venues, fresh breeze from the Neva River, mature trees, beautiful fountains and sculptures are magnificent. The Garden is also worth visiting in the early fall when it is covered by yellow, ginger and red tree leaves.