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THE NEVA PROJECT: SITE 2

History and Design of the Summer Garden

 

The Summer Garden was one of Peter the Great's favorite residences in his new city. Planning began in 1704 under the tsar's close supervision. The architect Domenico Tresini began building the palace in 1710. The overall plan and boundaries of the garden were defined around 1714-1716 and remain essentially intact today. The Summer Garden has a typical early 18th century formal structure with a geometrical system of alleys, parterres, and bosquets. An unusual feature of the Summer Garden planning structure was the asymmetrical location of the palace.

The Tsar consulted a number of talented architects and gardeners such as Ivan Matveev, Andreas Schluter, Dominico Trezzini, Jan Roosen, Ivan Zemtsov, and Alexander Le Blond. The grotto with its water organ, the carp pond,an extensive fountain system, the central bosquets with different decorative features and the maze, with fountains illustrating Aesop’s Fables, appeared in the garden during the first few decades of its existence.

The Coffee House/Rossi Pavilion on the site of the former Grotto

Sculpture by M. Gropelli, "Truth"

The middle of the 18th century was the golden age of the Summer Garden. There were now 222 sculptures from Roman and Venetian schools (specially made to ordered for Peter the Great), 50 fountains, the amphitheater and cascade, the Carp Pond, the palace, the grotto, several greenhouses and a series of other buildings. Along the alleys cages with rare birds and animals were also displayed.

The 92 sculptures that remain in the Summer Garden comprise Russia's most extensive collection of original marble works from the 18th century. Their allegorical content and glorification of Peter's power and achievements is typical of Baroque iconography.

 


The different parts of the Summer Garden were characteristic of the early Petrine period. The part adjacent to the Neva was a pleasure garden where all the decorative elements were concentrated. A canal perpendicular to the river marked off a more utilitarian area with a vegetable garden and fruit trees and shrubs (apple, cherry, pear, and black currant). This practical feature of the Tsar’s residence was an ‘echo’ of the practicality of gardens in the days of Old Muscovy.

 

--Pond with gazebo. Perspective plan by St.-Hilaire, 2nd half of 18th century

The catastrophic flood of the Neva river in 1777 changed the appearance of the Summer Garden forever. The fountain system and grotto were destroyed completely, many of the marble sculptures were damaged, and hundreds of trees disappeared. By that time the garden fashion had changed too. It was decided do stop tree trimming giving them a “freedom” as in the rest of European romantic gardens by the second part of the 18th century. The fountains and grotto as well as other classical formal “tricks” were not restored. The Summer Garden was transformed into the city’s public garden.

Between 1770 and 1784 the architect Felten designed the wrought iron grille that surrounds the garden., It soon became one of the most famous landmarks of St.Petersburg.

After the October Revolution of 1917 the Summer Garden was listed as an important historical heritage site and declared a governmental protected site. During the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45 the Summer Garden suffered serious damage from bombing and artillery shelling. Amazingly, during the 900 days of the seige of Leningrad, not one tree in the Garden was cut for firewood!

The decades since World War II have seen a number of important archeological research and restoration works carried out in the Garden.

Questions for our readers: What is your scenario for the future development of the Summer Garden? Do you think it should be restored to its early 18th-century or early 19th-century form, or neither? Please share your thoughts with us
Further topics and interdisciplinary essays
History and Design of the Garden

Garden and River

Ecology of an Urban Greenspace

The Summer Garden in Poetry

Nostalgia as a Cultural Force

References and links

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