In 1714, large-scale construction work began at Peterhof. Under the personal supervision of Peter the Great, a “small palace” called Monplaisir was built right on the seashore. Monplaisir paved the way for the entire ensemble of the Lower Park, although back in the early 1710s it was only one of a number of other “mansions at the bottom.”

Monplaisir is the same age as Peterhof itself and was the favourite residence of Peter the Great. The tsar himself chose the location, perched right on the Gulf of Finland. Besides planning the inner layout and much of the interior decor, Peter also came up with the name for the palace – Monplaisir (from the French mon plaisir, meaning “my pleasure”).

The idea for the palace of Monplaisir  belonged to the tsar himself. He chose the site and, with the help of Andreas Schlüter, planned the layout, interior design and architecture of the building. He personally laid the foundations of the palace sometime around 17 May 1714, and kept a close eye on the process of its construction.

The palace was built between 1714 and 1723 by Andreas Schlüter, Johann Friedrich Braunstein, Jean-Baptiste-Alexandre Le Blond and Nicola Michetti. The interiors were decorated by leading painters, sculptors, plasterers and carvers.

Over the last couple of years, Monplaisir had changed beyond recognition. Peter could now walk from the old chambers, along the galleries built in 1717, to a series of pavilions or “lufthauses” (fun houses) hung with paintings by Dutch and Flemish artists. During his second trip to Holland in the winter of 1716–17, the tsar had conceived a passion for collecting. He brought many paintings back to Monplaisir, amassing a collection of over two hundred works.

Improvements had also been made to the Monplaisir Garden. Peter could walk under the green arches of the allées and admire the new Sheaf and Cloche Fountains. He enjoyed leading an unsuspecting guest over to the Sofa – a trick fountain – and inviting him to sit him down, before signalling to the attendant to turn on the water!

By 1723, the Monplaisir Garden already boasted greenhouses, where vegetables were ripening. In those days, “useful agriculture” was an essential feature of parks and gardens. There was also an orangery, a poultry yard and a pond for swans and ducks. This part of the garden was known as the Menagerie. On the sea terrace, leaning on a trident, stood a figure of Neptune.

In 1719 and 1720, two new wings were built to the left and right of Monplaisir. They contained small guestrooms, used to accommodate the tsar’s relatives and close friends. In 1724, Peter, a great lover of rules and regulations, compiled a series of special “points” governing the behaviour of guests at Monplaisir. These were like the rules of a strict hotel. No one could come here without an invitation and a “card with the number of the bed” (the guestrooms were numbered). Swapping rooms was forbidden. Members of the first five grades of the Table of Ranks could each bring one servant; the rest had to do without. Inside the rooms, guests were not allowed to lie on the beds “without first taking off their boots or shoes.” Visitors were advised not to break the rules, unless they wanted a taste of the emperor’s cudgel...

As in the reign of Elizabeth Petrovna, Monplaisir was a private residence during the time of Catherine the Great. The empress lived in the wing and ate in the Dining Room, in the company of a few select friends. They dined at a round table “without ranks,” i.e. without any special place for the empress or the guests. In the late 1760s, these intimate suppers began to be held in the Main Room of Monplaisir – also known as the “Dutch Room” of the “Dutch House.”

Built by architects Johann Friedrich Braunstein, Jean-Baptiste-Alexandre Le Blond and Nicola Michetti after a blueprint by Peter the Great (1714–22). Central wing of the one-storey brick building ends in a four-tier terraced roof. Joined by low glazed galleries to small pavilions with two-tier roofs and lanterns. Original Petrine interior decor survives. Wide terrace with a stone balustrade facing the Gulf of Finland stands before the northern facade. Before the southern facade is a garden with the Sheaf Fountain in the centre and four “bell” fountains.

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