A Czar’s Summer Palace to Rival Versailles
To get a taste of the mind-boggling opulence of imperial St. Petersburg, take the boat service from the riverside Winter Palace (The Hermitage) and motor on the Neva River to the Gulf of Finland to Petrodvorets, Peter the Great’s Grand Palace.
Just as St. Petersburg was built as a powerful combination of both East and West – too Russian to be European, too European to be Russian – Petrodvorets was Peter’s “window on Europe.” He built it in the early 1700s to rival the architecture and glittering court life of Versailles, and to show European royalty that he could keep up with the best of them.
Peter personally drew up the plans for the extravagant summer palace and 300 acres of gardens, where 66 fountains, 39 gilded statues, and 12 miles of manmade canals were constructed by the finest French and Italian architects and engineers. St. Petersburg experienced near annihilation during the 900-day German siege in World War II, but the czar’s pet project, completed after his death by Catherine the Great, was painstakingly rebuilt according to Peter’s original plans.