A brief guide to St Petersburg’s stunning Summer Garden
Peter the Great was passionate about his Summer Garden. Inspired by the imposing Palace of Versailles in Paris, the park was personally designed by Czar Peter in 1704, supposedly, with the assistance of the Dutch gardener Nicolaas Bidloo.
The Summer Garden was largely completed in 1719, and is a must-see for anyone visiting St Petersburg to this day. Here are a few facts and figures...
- The work on laying out the Summer Garden began in 1704. The garden originally had dozens of fountains depicting subjects from Aesop's fables. It was in those years that the river feeding those fountains got its name – Fontanka (derived from the Russian word for fountain). The fountains existed until 1777, when they were damaged by floods that affected much of the city.
- In its early years, the alleys of the Summer Garden faced directly onto the Neva – there was no embankment. The main entrance to the garden was a marina, which contained three wooden galleries. One of the galleries housed a marble statue of Venus, perhaps the most famous decoration of the Summer Garden. Made in the third century BC, the statue was found in 1718 underground in the vicinity of Rome. Today, you can view the statue in the Hermitage.
- The Summer Garden is set apart from the river embankment by a splendid railing erected in 1770-1784. The 36 granite columns, embellished with alternating vases and urns, are complemented by a light grille which appears to hang in the air. Experts agree that this is one of the finest examples of artistic wrought-iron work in the world.
- Many of the sculptures that now adorn the Summer Garden date back to the early 18th century. In front of its northern facade stands the group Peace and Abundance depicting Russia's victory in the Northern War.
- One of the oldest sculptures in the Summer Garden, a bust of the Polish King Jan Sobieski, famed for his victories over the Turks, was modelled in 1683 and can be found in Palace Alley.
- Work on the Summer Palace in the Summer Garden began soon after the laying of the garden. The palace building is typical of the early architecture of St Petersburg: simplicity and severity of form, geometric clarity and modestly decorated facades. A small number of rooms (six on each of the two floors) were designed only for the personal needs of the tsar and his family.
- In 1755, it was announced that the Summer Garden would be opened to the public twice a week. They were, however, expected to be well dressed – workmen, sailors and soldiers were prohibited from visiting the park.
- The last major restoration of the Summer Garden was carried out between 2009 and 2012. Today, the garden is mainly planted with elms, lindens, maples and oaks. While some were only planted within the last 5 years, about 30% are 100 or even 200 years old. The oldest oak tree, according to a recent study, is 250 years old.
- Ninety of the garden’s 91 sculptures were replaced with copies (the originals were being damaged by the dripping linden tree juice). Made of marble chips and polyester resin, they look exactly like their originals.
- During the last restoration project, eight of the original fountains ruined in the flood of 1777 were recreated, four of them located in their historic locations.
- In the evenings of July and August, the public flock to the Summer Gardens to take a stroll and listen to the bands of the Imperial Guards.
- If you visit the Summer Garden on a Sunday, drop by the Coffee House for live jazz performances.
- There are a number of soda and ice cream stands around the park, restrooms are free, and if you need to get online, head to the Tea House where there’s Wi-Fi.
- Although you can smoke in the garden, you’re strongly encouraged not to, as a number of posters clearly state. You’re not allowed to drink alcohol or lie down on the lawn, and cycling is forbidden.