Peterhof – Russian Travel

The large castle of Peterhof, built by Peter I. and enlarged by his daughter Elizabeth, like the palace of St. James, now serves only for representation. Villas and country-houses are scattered over its extensive grounds, and are occupied by the imperial family and their guests. Prince Hohenzollern, Heinz, Katte, and I lodged in one of these. I have a cheerful, spacious chamber, with a pleasant outlook open to the sun, which in this cold, damp region is a great advantage. Nevertheless, last night I had recourse to my cloak.

The castle is a straggling three-story building in the French style, connected with two pavilions by galleries. The color—yellow and white—corresponds with the white sheet-iron of the roof and the rich gilding of the cupolas. The building stands upon a terrace about forty feet high, which is formed by the natural declivity of the main-land toward the Gulf of Finland. The grounds are laid out down to the water’s edge a thousand feet front. Perpendicularly from the middle of the castle a reservoir leads down to the landing-steps, surrounded on either side by a row of fountains which make a most singular avenue of water-jets. On either side of these is a road, and the whole is surrounded by high, dark pines, through which one overlooks this foreground and gets glimpses at the horizon of the coast of Finland.

The park is very pretty, and receives a peculiar character from the innumerable water-works with which it abounds. The highest jets, even those before the grotto under the palace, are not more than forty or fifty feet high, nor thicker than my arm, and therefore are not to be compared with Wilheimshohe or Sans Souci; but their number is countless.

Everywhere under the shadow of the trees the water gargles and splashes from temples and statues in cascades and reservoirs. The grass is neither the velvet of Windsor nor the artificial turf of Glienecke, but it is fresh and green. The most common trees are the alder, willow, and pine, but, above all, the white-barked birch. The oak is rare; the lime and the elm trees are planted and cultivated. The scarlet service-berry, mallows, hollyhocks, and dahlias scatter a little color over the prevailing green, and are the melancholy precursors of fall, before there has been any summer. All besides is exotic. It is noticeable by the vegetation that we are here twice as near the north pole as to the equator.

What both pleased and surprised me most in this park was a brook—a real German, clear, crystal brook—that dashed over large granite blocks. I had not suspected Russia of such a fall of water from the Valdai Mountains to the coast. The brook in Peterhof is natural, and if trout could be contented with sixty degrees northern latitude, they might live in it. Higher up the treasury of water has expanded into wide lakes, surrounded by trees and pleasant villas. Every one has built according to his own fancy. There are Italian villas, with the characteristic quadrangular towers, flat roofs, outside steps, verandas, and statues. Then comes a manor of the Saxon-Norman style, with massive gables, projecting balconies, and wide windows. A. Swiss chalet peeps out from a birch forest, with its white gables and carved piazzas. Most of the houses are of wood roofed with sheet-iron, which last is painted red or green. They are all calculated for a summer that does not always appear, and that promises this year to fail them entirely. The day we landed was almost the only fine day we have had.