By Viktor KORENZWIT, leading archeologist, Committee of State Control over the Use and Protection of Historic Monuments, St. Petersburg Administration
Summer Gardens, the state residence of the Russian czars in St. Petersburg, are but a year younger than the northern Russian capital: this park was laid out in 1704 on an islet bounded by the rivers Neva, Fontanka and Moika, and by the Lebyazhy Ditch. It came to be livened up with so many fountains, white-marble statues, a grotto and pavilions.
Nearly all that was wiped out by the flood of 1777.
This "paradise", surrounded by vestal forests and gnat-infested wetlands, could well cater to the educated set, be it comfortable accommodations, books or pictures. In addition to the library and picture gallery, the Summer Gardens offered other things for amusement and recreation-a Kunstkammer ("cabinet of curiosities"), a collection of sculptures, fish ponds, an aviary and menagerie, and even workshops for those seeking active occupations.
Wondrous "overseas" fruits ripened in the hothouses. Part of the gardens was set aside for a hazel-grove. There were as many fruit trees and berry bushes as there were oaks and lindens. Medicinal herbs were grown in an "apothecary's garden".
The Summer Gardens are rather small-not as large as one may think; hence the legend that the park was far larger originally. But it was not. It is still within the boundaries decreed by Czar Peter the Great. On three sides it is washed by the waters of the full- flowing Neva and its tributaries, the Fontanka and the Moika, with the Lebyazhy bypass ditch dug on the fourth side. So you get a lovely park on a small island.
The royal residence, which cost a lot of money to build, was no more than a model manorial estate in town. Yet its chambers, the "rest room" too, were equipped with plumbing and sewerage for running water and waste disposal. A canal, many kilometers
Detail of St. Petersburg plan. 1760s.
long, brought water by force of gravity to the fountains from neighboring heights. That's how Peter's practical mind solved the problem of perpetual motion he was so much preoccupied with, a problem that has defied solution to this day.
According to some authors, Peter I was eager to get the Summer Gardens on a par with Versailles. Although the czar did have such ambitious plans, they concerned primarily his suburban residences on the banks of the Gulf of Finland, Peterhof and Strelna. As to the Summer Gardens, Peter had other, just as ambitious plans. Say, French King Louis the Great was obsessed with the idea of an inimitable model, while Peter the Great gave a model worthy of imitation. A world of difference!
A close study of the Summer Gardens layout has produced surprising results-the landscape architect was not a professional, that was Czar Peter himself who sacrificed the rigorous canons of formal landscape gardening, then in vogue, for the sake of comfort.
The Summer Gardens are a unique place in the heart of St. Petersburg, the Palmyra of the North, as it is often called. A place that attracts archeologists as well.
Way back in 1974 a team of archeologists inspected the Summer Gardens central avenue-a well-trodden path!-and discovered fountains of the Petrine age. And there were other surprises in store for us too as we proceeded with our work on the park's grounds.
Needless to say, the cultural deposits underneath have to be opened now and then. This is inevitable. We carried out such diggings in 1975 to 1978, in 1980 and 1988. We recovered archeological monuments: 12 fountains, 2 cascades (small waterfalls), Lebyazhy Prud (pond), an aviary with a dovecote pavilion and other relics; all that is now under special protection of the state.
In 1998, as we were busy with drainage works around the Coffee House and Peter's Palace, and repairing the foundation of the garden's fence on the Neva quay, we found material proof that the Coffee House, put up by architect Carlo Rossi in 1826, was actually the former Grotto rebuilt.
Its architect was Andreas Schluter, an eminent sculptor and master builder of the day. In 1714, when ground was broken for the Grotto,
"Grotto" Pavilion. Architects A. Schluter, I.-G. Mattarnovi. 1715 - 1727. (a, b - fixation drafts. Drawings by Architect M. Zemtsov, 1727).
A. Schluter died; his work was carried on by the flower of St. Petersburg's architects: Georg Matarnovi, Niccolo Michetti, Jean Batiste Leblon, Domenico Trezzini and Mikhail Zemtsov. This gem of architecture amazed the contemporaries, and small wonder: the Grotto's drawings that have come down to us attest to its uniqueness. Russian residents in Venice, London and Amsterdam purchased several thousand seashells for its decor. Besides, the East India Company sent as a gift to Czar Peter nine crates of precious shells from the Indian Ocean's shores. The Grotto's three halls had eight fountains decorated with gilt sculptures of lead. The main hall had a waterfall in the shape of a stone mountain, with Neptune's quadriga rushing down. A water organ in one of the rooms reproduced the nightingale's warblings. This masterpiece of baroque architecture which took ten years to build vanished without a trace decades later.
To make room for the Coffee House, the old Grotto was rebuilt; it was not pulled down. Carlo Rossi worked fast, it took him just one season to put up a new pavilion on the old foundation reinforced at a depth of 0.6 m with brickwork (small Dutch bricks, red and yellow, were used for the purpose). Earlier we had found such kind of brickwork around Lebyazhy Pond (subsequently backfilled) in the Summer Gardens and also in Peterhof, on flower parterres near the Grand Palace and its fountains.
Archeologists recovered many architectural fragments of the Grotto in drain ditches: bits of capitals and Doric column bases, cornices, fancy cartouches* and stucco with face finish looking like coral sponge. As to the sea shells, only one variety, the kauri shell, was found, though, judging by documentary evidence, many other precious shells were used for the Grotto's decoration.
Peter I visualized his grotto pavilion as a museum of antique sculpture-its collection comprised something like thirty statues, busts and low reliefs. Among them was the famous Venus of Tauris, a Roman copy of the Greek
* Cartouches (Fr.)-ornaments in the form of shields of half-unrolled scrolls with emblems and insignia. As of the 17th century such ornamental designs adorned the house entrances, tombs and documents.- Ed.
Draft of axial section of the "Grotto" Pavilion.
original (3rd century B.C.). Another pride of this collection was Venus Sleeping which the Russian diplomat Yuri Kologrivov acquired in Rome (he attributed it to Lorenzo Bernini, an Italian baroque sculptor). Yu. Kologrivov made a pretty good sketch of this work that helped us to identify the marble head of Venus Sleeping, exquisite in its beauty, and Cupid's figure; both were retrieved from the old hothouse during excavations. Yet another sculpture, the colossal marble herma* Bacchus, was recovered in the course of diggings.
In 1710 - 1714 a summer palace was built for Czar Peter on the site of old wooden chambers. Its architect was Domenico Trezzini, who was assisted by Andreas SchJiiter. The walls of this palace sagged nearly two meters deep into the ground. During the restoration works of the 1960s about twenty inches of topsoil had to be removed. So one enters the house by taking a few steps down the slope.
In the Petrine age the Summer Palace stood on a cape formed by the Neva and its tributary, the Fontanka, two and a half meters from the Neva's left bank. Since the Fontanka had no quay at all, its waters washed the plinth of the palace on one of its sides. A small artificial inlet ("haven") in front of the main entrance on the southern side was connected with the Fontanka. In 1705 Peter ordered to deepen this tiny bay and face its bed with stone.
The eastern facade of the palace had metal mooring rings immured in the plinth. A wooden quay faced the Neva bank, as we can see it from numerous sockets for wooden beams. The czar came out from his chambers onto a wooden flooring as if on ship deck. Off the southern facade a pavement of small boulders has survived by sheer miracle at a depth of one meter.
Fearing frequent floods, St. Petersburg residents built their homes with ground floors high "above the cellars". Therefore house entrances were furnished with porches and stairways. Judging by the drawings of Petrine houses on Vasilyevsky Ostrov (island), one of the districts of St. Petersburg, such porches are still there in front of some of the
* Herma, in ancient Greece, a square pillar of stone topped by a bust or head of Hermes, used as a milestone, signpost, etc.-Ed.
houses in Amsterdam. The original height of the porch of the Summer Palace's main entrance was equal to 1.75 m. In the middle of the 18th century the outer stairway became one meter shorter after the walls of the "haven" had been raised. Early in the 1780s the "haven" was backfilled as the Fontanka's banks were being clad in granite; the ground next to the palace was leveled and made even with the rest of the park. In the course of the 19th and 20th centuries the cultural deposits of the Summer Gardens continued to pile up. But this did not happen to the site of the Summer Palace, and that is why its grounds are now in a hollow of sorts.
Another hallmark of the Summer Gardens is the decorative fence, one of the nicest in St. Petersburg. Its thirty-six ash-and-pink columns of granite are capped by vases and urns, all this in harmony with the iron-cast lattices simple and rigorous in their design. The metal parts of the fence were cast in Tula, at the works owned by merchant I. Denisov, while stone masons from the village of Putilovo, situated not far from St. Petersburg, took care of the granite columns. The classical railing, the park and the granite embankment of the Neva merged into a single ensemble which is part and parcel of the panorama of the Neva banks. "The St. Petersburg quay and the lattice of the Summer Gardens can be listed among the world's wonders," wrote D. Sokolov, an eminent mineralogist and Honorary Member of the St. Petersburg Academy, in 1824.
The famous fence lattice of the Summer Gardens was built between 1770 and 1784 to the design of architect Yuri Felten when a roadway was being laid on the left banks of the Neva. A small part of the Summer Gardens was sacrificed in the process. A comparative study of two different plans of the park shows that the fence was erected on the site of two other summer houses: a stone one of Empress Catherine I (ruled in 1725 to 1727) and a wooden one of Empress Anna Ivanovna (ruled in 1730 to 1740).
Empress Catherine's chambers were put up on a patch between the Neva and the Lebyazhy Ditch, just opposite Peter's palace, in 1721 to 1725. The architect, Johann von Swieten of Holland, used the drawings made by Emperor Peter the Great himself (Catherine I was his wife). Certain novelties were there, for one, chambers furnished with pump-operated sewers. Besides, a glass roof was built over a long passageway within the premises; a mechanical puppet, the "grenadier", opened the door to the main hall. But pride of the palace was its
picture gallery which, by Versailles' example, displayed a collection of battle-pieces glorifying Russia's victories in the Northern War of 1700 - 1721.
Peter the Great died early in 1725. Empress Catherine I, who succeeded her husband on the Russian throne, invited guests to her summer palace to mark two significant events, the founding of the Russian Academy of Sciences and of the University. In 1731, already under Empress Anna Ivanovna, spacious wooden chambers were added to the stone edifice. Barthalameo Rastrelli, then a young architect, supervised the construction work completed within a few months. Empress Anna Ivanovna moved into the new Summer Palace, and she died there in the autumn of 1740. Soon after her death, her favorite and intimus, Ernst Johann Biron (Bieren) was arrested there, in the selfsame chambers.
Picking in deposits, archeologists found what remained of the foundation and walls as well as a brick manifold draining the water from the fountains through the foundation of the railing into the Neva. Our finds-shards of majolica vases, pottery, china- and glassware, and coins-were typical of the Summer Gardens artifacts. A Russian stove tile, found in the rubble, showed a Russian army officer of the Guards holding a broadsword.
The decorative fence, separating the Summer Gardens from the Neva had a different look before 1866. Originally it had three gateways opposite the central and side alleys. On April 4, 1866, as Emperor Alexander II was leaving the Summer Gardens through the Grand Gate, Dmitry Karakozov, member of the Narodnaya Volya populist organization, made an abortive attempt on his life. A chapel (architect R. Kuzmin) was erected on that site. Two smaller gates were moved farther away on both sides. The chapel was torn down in 1930. However, the central gate was not restored, one just added a new part to the Smaller Gates. Thus mutilated, the world's best decorative fence is still there.
We have found the place (Shpalernaya street) where the central gate was taken; and we have learned that it was sold in 1923.
So the central gate is gone for good. What did it look like? Some of the drawings have survived, including those made by the architect Giaccomo Quarenghi in the 1780s (somewhat sketchy, by the way). There is also a photograph of the Grand Gate made from within
the Summer Gardens before 1866. The post cards with its image tally with its design on the assembly drawings. But we cannot tell what the upper part of the Smaller Gates looked like. The present ones differ from the working drawings and Quarenghi's sketches.
Now, who was the real author of the Neva fence of the Summer Gardens? As we learn from the 1976-published volume of the thesaurus Architectural Monuments of Leningrad, the putative designer was Yuri Felten who signed the first estimate of the erection works; architect P. Yegorov must have taken part too. According to R. Lyulina, the actual author was but P. Yegorov. Another researcher, M. Korshunova, begs to differ: No, Felten was the author, and she points to Felten's signature on the papers. But this document is not tantamount to authorship. It was I. Fok, not Yu. Felten, who was entrusted with the project in 1770. The same year he presented the design of the fence: 40 sazhens (over 80 meters) in length, 15 pillars and one gate. Empress Catherine II endorsed this plan then and there. Felten signed the estimate for this very plan.
As to Yegorov, his job was to copy the drawings and supervise the construction works. There is no documentary proof of his active creative involvement.
Listed in the archival documents are the names of foremen, contractors and common builders... But there is no mention of the designers. True, two of the assembly drawings were signed by Felten (those of the earlier version of the Grand and Smaller Gates) who must have designed the Gates, possibly all of the fence. However, the Architectural Monuments makes no mention of this fact. And to R. Lyulina, the signature of Felten was no more than a visa on Yegorov's drawings.
In 1994 V. Dmitriev published a new document, the first ever sketch of the Neva fence with an image of the Smaller Gates and part of the lattice. Obviously, the sketch was made by one and the same man, and his ideas were materialized in the gates and railings.
Yuri Felten did not append his signature as a boss. In the autumn of 1772 the architect sent his sketches to the President of the Academy of Arts Ivan Betskoy who approved the final version in December 1772. And on June 24, 1773, a contract was signed with a Tula merchant and manufacturer I. Denisov who was to make 29 sections of the fence and three gates.
In October 1773 Denisov was in receipt of two working drawings signed by Felten "for the making of three gates". Felten could not make any further corrections in his design without consulting Denisov, the contractor. Consequently, all the drawings known to us date to 1772, not to 1770 - 1784, as it was indicated before. The Smaller Gates were made wider not later than 1773. In 1775 Denisov had a contract for yet another two sections, and in 1778-for the last, thirty second. Thus the fence was extended sidewise from the Lebyazhy Ditch to the Fontanka, and the number of pillars increased from 33 to 36.
This work was continued in subsequent years, specifically, on the patterns of gate surmounts and granite vases on the columns, but all that was done in keeping with Felten's design of 1772.
Опубликовано 14 сентября 2018 года
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