Gatchina - the Versailles of Paul I
During the reign of Paul I significant changes were made to the part of the park in the vicinity of the palace. On the south side of the palace appeared the magnificent ensemble of the Palace gardens, Carp Pond and the Connetable Square.
Paul I’s personal way of life was fairly simple; however, he was very exacting in his attitude to the formal, ostentatious life of the Court and spared no expense on its correct observation. He was impressed by the solemn formalities of Italian and French gardens and their carefully thought-out order, whereby the will of the owner was imposed on wild nature. His models in this were the parks of Versailles and Chantilly, created by the celebrated Le Notre. In the period of French absolutism, these parks demonstrated to the whole world the majesty, power and authority of the King. They were intended for grandiose receptions and festivals.
The plans and other archive documents from the end of the 18th century show that Paul even planned to construct multi-level cascades and fountains in the Gatchina parks. For example, a fountain with a figure of Neptune was obtained from Nuremberg especially for the Gatchina parks; it was later installed in the Upper Park at Peterhof. It is for this reason that Gatchina may rightly be called “Paul’s Versailles.”
Despite the fact that the gardens near the Palace were a kind of tribute to the formal garden style of the past, they fitted in organically with the general structure of the Palace Park. Their solemn beauty prepared the visitor’s eye for the sight of the Palace. The architecture of the palace passed naturally into the green architecture of the park – into an enfilade of rooms under the open sky.
Watercolour by G. S. Sergeev. Kushelev album, 1798
A view of the gardens near the Palace from the Clock Tower
The gardens near the Palace were created on artificially constructed terraces in the last decade of the 18th century. They show a definite unity of style and composition. The gardens have a central path which functions as an axis, beginning at the Palace’s Clock Tower, proceeding across the Private Garden, continuing across the Dutch Gardens and ending with the prospect of the Priory Park. The panorama of these gardens can be viewed from the windows of the Palace and from the platforms of the Clock Tower. The Private Garden is set on a high artificial terrace immediately adjoining the Palace walls; it is bounded by iron railings and stone balustrades. The railings bear the monogram of Pavel Petrovich – two intersecting P’s (Latin, not Russian., letters.)
The Private Garden
The Private Garden
In the centre of the garden, where the paths come together, is a circular plot containing a number of marble sculptures. In the centre of the plot is an elegant statue of the goddess Flora, surrounded by a number of herms (square stone pillars surmounted by busts) depicting Bacchus, satyrs, bacchantes and two Roman emperors. Sculptures in the form of herms are a fairly uncommon sight in parks. The herm is a symbol of the god Hermes, the protector of wanderers and merchants. In ancient Greece, herms in the form of stone pillars bearing the head of Hermes served as signposts and milestones on the roads.
F. Medico. Flora
A herm depicting a young bacchante
A herm depicting the young Bacchus
The statue of Flora, of white Carrara marble, is by the Italian master Fabio Medico and dates from the mid-18th century. In her left hand Flora holds a bunch of flowers, and in her right hand a flower-basket. The gaze of the lovely goddess is directed towards the palace, towards the private apartments of Paul I and the balcony by which he would come out into the garden; so that every morning, when the sun’s rays struck the garden and illuminated the palace windows, the queen of gardens would solemnly greet the Emperor of Russia.
Around the goddess the denizens of the forest are grouped as if in a joyful round dance. At their head is the young Bacchus, god of wine; there are impassioned bacchantes, wild, unbridled satyrs wearing cloaks of lion’s skin, with the beast’s paws hanging down on the marble pedestal. Their heads are adorned with wreaths of vine-leaves and bunches of grapes. In their hair they sport small horns, and their ears are pointed. Humorous smiles play across their faces, disturbing the garden’s visitors. Around the perimeter of the garden run enclosed green corridors, or pergolas. The balcony-cum-porch in front of Paul’s private apartments is guarded by two winged sphinxes with women’s faces, carved in Pudost stone.
The exit from Paul’s apartments into the Private Garden
The Private Garden. A sphinx
There is another balcony at the opposite end of the garden. From it there opens out a remarkable panorama over the Carp Pond and the Dutch Gardens. The balcony used to contain a large marble sculpture, the head of the goddess Hera, copied from an antique original. This sculpture is at present undergoing restoration.
The Private Garden also gave access to the apartments of Nicholas I and Alexander III.
The “Dutch Gardens” were so called not only for their modest size, but primarily for the tulips - the symbol of Holland - which were planted there in spring. In summer the lower level of the garden formed a bright carpet of flowers growing in front of the Palace.
A statue of an Amazon
The Lower Dutch Garden
Like the Private Garden, the Dutch Gardens were adorned with statues of antique gods. In the centre of the Lower Dutch Garden there stood on high pedestals the warlike figures of Mars and an Amazon, and also a young Satyr playing a flute. In the Upper Dutch Garden, which was traversed by radial pathways, stood a statue of the goddess Athena. Although the Satyr statue was destroyed before the war, the rest of the sculptures in the gardens near the Palace were buried in a secret place to preserve them during the Great Patriotic War. Unfortunately, in recent years, these works of art, miraculously preserved since the 18th century, have been the target of attacks by modern vandals, and all of them have been temporarily transferred to the Museum vaults. At the end of the 19th century the Lower Dutch Garden bore the name “Lilac Garden”. In May and June bushes of sweet-smelling lilac grew there, planted along the paths. It was as if the walls of the palace, golden-yellow in the sun’s bright rays, were washed by pink, white, and lilac-coloured waves.
According to tradition, lilac was the favourite flower of Maria Fyodorovna, the consort of Alexander III, because it reminded her of her native Denmark.
Photographs: G. Puntusova