Russia Peterhof Palace English Palace

English Palace

On 25 June 1772, Catherine the Great wrote to Voltaire: “I now love to distraction gardens in the English style, the curving lines, the gentle slopes, the ponds in the forms of lakes, the archipelagos on dry land, and I scorn straight lines and twin allées. I hate fountains, which torture water in order to make it follow a course contrary to its nature; statues are relegated to galleries, halls etc. In a word, anglomania rules my plantmania.”

During the reign of Catherine II, the regular Baroque parks at Peterhof were conjoined on the south-west by a new landscape park created around the English Palace. The English Palace was commissioned by the empress from Giacomo Quarenghi as a “place of seclusion on her visits to Peterhof.” The surrounding English Park was, in the words of the last king of Poland, Stanislaw II August Poniatowski, who visited Peterhof in 1797, “one of the most beautiful gardens of its kind.”

Built on the banks of a large pond, the English Palace was simple, austere and elegant. Work on the building began in 1787 and only finished in 1796, the year of Catherine’s death. The English Palace was used to store a collection of family portraits of all the European dynasties during the reign of Catherine the Great.

The English Palace was Quarenghi’s first major project in Russia. Unfortunately, unlike the other buildings designed by the Italian architect, this masterpiece suffered an unhappy fate. After Catherine’s death, Paul I turned the palace into barracks. Later, during the reign of Alexander I, the palace was redesigned under the supervision of Giacomo Quarenghi.

In the nineteenth century, the English Palace housed members of the diplomatic corps attending receptions in Peterhof. The building was used for receptions and imperial tea parties. It was occupied by the Peterhof Home for Veterans Committee in the 1860s and the court choir from 1885 to 1917.

For many subsequent years, the building stood empty. During the Second World War, the frontline ran through the English Park. The English Palace was blown up by the Germans in 1942 and later demolished by the Soviet government.

A similar tragic fate befell the English Park, which was known as the New Park during the time of Catherine. The park was laid out by James Meaders, a Scottish landscape gardener who arrived at Peterhof in May 1779. The Scotsman created a romantic park of Russian birch groves, which formed the perfect setting for Quarenghi’s Birch Cabin – a summerhouse in the form of a Greek temple.

Birch bridges led visitors across streams to an outwardly unassuming wooden cabin with a thatched roof, “tiny windows, bast mats and an ugly-looking door.” But anyone crossing the threshold was immediately struck dumb. Guests found themselves on a magnificent parquet floor, surrounded on all sides by an endless world of mirrors.

The Birch Cabin had six rooms. All the walls and ceilings were lined with mirrors, so that “every object is not only multiplied, repeatedly and incomprehensibly, but is seen far away, as if at a distance of seventy yards or more. One seems to be standing in an enormous, manifold quad. Those brought here are so overcome that some faint and have to be taken outside for air.”

Random articles