Gatchina - the Versailles of Paul I
Part 6

On the Orlov estate, not far from the orangeries, were cattle- and poultry-yards, situated on the opposite shore of the Kolpanka, or Saw River. At the turn of the 18th-19th centuries a new complex – the Palace, or Dairy Farm and the Aviary – was built in their place. The stone pavilions of this complex survive to this day.

The Farm Pavilion - view from the Kolpanka River. Photograph from 1917
The "Farm" Pavilion – view from the Kolpanka River.
Photograph from 1917
The interior of the Domed Room in the Farm Pavilion. Photograph from the 1930s
The interior of the Domed Room in the "Farm" Pavilion.
Photograph from the 1930s

The main attraction of the Palace farm is the pavilion which was used for the reception of the hosts and their guests. For this purpose there was, in the centre of the building, a large reception room "beneath a dome", into which one could pass from the shore of the Kolpanka River. The walls and ceiling of the room were decorated with paintings of flowers. Until the beginning of the 20th century a splendid glass chandelier hung here; the room was exquisitely furnished and there were dinner-services of Chinese and Saxon porcelain.

M. Zichy. Alexander II on the Gatchina Farm
M. Zichy. Alexander II on the Gatchina Farm
Plan of the Farm. Kushelev album
Plan of the Farm. Kushelev album

Today, as in former times, the building impresses the viewer with its striking form. Its central part projects forward and is surmounted by a dome. The single-storey wings are surmounted by high roof. Like the Forest Orangery, the building in its outward aspect is reminiscent of French architecture.

It is possible that the idea for the construction of such a pavilion in Gatchina came from the "pleasure-dairy" which Paul and Maria Fyodorovna saw at the chateau of the Prince de Cond? during their tour. Built at the end of the 17th century, this dairy was hymned by poets and musicians and served as an example to be copied in the most fashionable parks of the day. Later, during the French Revolution, it was destroyed.

Later the blocks of the Gatchina pavilion were used to build two small stone structures: the "Well" and the "Ice-house". Wooden structures to house the cattle and the workers were also added to the Dairy-Farm, and the whole complex was surrounded by a fence. Accounts show that at the middle of the 19th century the farm possessed about thirty pedigree cows.

The "Farm" Pavilion, like other park structures, suffered greatly during the Great Patriotic War. In 1970 the pavilion's "Domed Room" was restored; the building was then used for exhibitions relating to the history of Gatchina's palaces and parks, and for exhibitions of works by Leningrad artists.

For two centuries visitors have been struck by the beauty of the Aviary, or Fasanerie, as it was called in the 18th century. Built of pale limestone, it served to beautify the romantic landscape of the winding Kolpanka river.

The Aviary
The Aviary
The Aviary
The Aviary

After the Great Patriotic War this building, on the boundary between the Palace Park and the Menagerie Park, was for a long time used to house the administration of the Palace Museum and park, which had been compelled to leave the half-destroyed palace in 1950.

In 1983 the Aviary accidentally caught fire. Today only the burnt-out stone walls remain as a reminder of the work of the famous architect Andrian Zakharov, who would go on to create the Admiralty building in St. Petersburg. For almost two years he was employed by Paul I as Gatchina's chief architect.

The construction of the Aviary began in 1800: “In the town of Gatchina, in Vologda province, in the Solivychevodsky uyezd, the serf Dmitri Zaits is hereby engaged to build a poultry farm according to the attached plan and under the guidance of the architect, to dig trenches, lay foundations, erect walls with perches and ledges for birds, a pedestal of black stone, columns of Pudost stone, and a stone stairway.

However, following the events of that fateful night in March 1801, the Aviary project, like other works by Zakharov in Gatchina, was never realised. Later the pavilion was extensively remodelled, but the architect's basic conception was nevertheless retained.

On the plans the Aviary was a Ο-shaped building, with a two-storey central section and single-story wings, at the edges of which were small round towers. The main fa?ade, on the side towards the river, was adorned with wide arched doorways. The wide balcony of the central section, and the two towers of the wings, made excellent observation points.

Until 1917 the Aviary was used for the rearing of pheasants, farm birds, water fowl and goats. In the year when the construction of the Aviary was completed, it contained: 44 American geese, 9 Greenland geese, one Chinese goose, 4 scarlet, multicoloured and white peacocks, 18 young geese, 37 golden, silver, English and German pheasants, and 20 various young birds. In our time the tradition of rearing pheasants in the Gatchina parks has been revived. In 2002 several dozen handsome specimens were released "to roam feely in the park", and they soon became used to their new home. A few years later this experiment was repeated. Today one may encounter these beautiful birds not only in the quiet areas of the park, but also near the public highways.

At the end of the 18th century, near the Aviary, Nikolai Lvov created a series of interesting structures: a cascade, a bridge and a ruin, the "Naumachia".

The bridge over the cascade on the Kolpanka river. Photograph from before 1917
The bridge over the cascade on the Kolpanka river.
Photograph from before 1917
Plan for the
Plan for the "Naumachia" and the cascade
on the river Kolpanka. Kushelev album

Nikolai Lvov, an extraordinarily gifted and imaginative person, loved to create foaming cascades, bridges of unusual shape, grottoes and household buildings on the estates and parks of the Moscow region and his native Tver region. In creating them he often used large boulders, which gave these structures a quite fantastic aspect.

In Gatchina, Lvov interrupted the tranquil course of the Kolpanka river by building a dam. Over it the water cascaded into a wide pool. Over the cascade went a low bridge, strikingly decorated with tufa.

Lvov, a connoisseur and admirer of the art of ancient Greece and Rome, also beautified the Kolpanka river near the cascade and bridge with a ruin, the "Naumachia", named in memory of the mock sea-battles of the ancient world. He closed off the stream beating against the bank with a pool lined with granite, and built a small terrace and steps leading down to the water. Fragments of marble columns were artfully disposed around the pool in a manner reminiscent of an ancient ruined temple.

The Naumachia pool. Photograph from before 1917
The "Naumachia" pool. Photograph from before 1917
Plan of the Naumachia on the Kolpanka river
Plan of the "Naumachia" on the Kolpanka river

In landscaped parks of that time artificial antique "ruins" were often built, showing their owners' devotion to ancient philosophy and history.

Historical documents show that the "Naumachia" was presented to Paul as a surprise, to delight the Tsar on his walks round the park. When as a result these new structures appeared, as the Empress Maria Fyodorovna wrote in 1799, this part of the park far away from the palace "was made charming, adding greatly to the beauty of the Sylvia Park."

The Sylvia Gate
The Sylvia Gate
The Sylvia Park
The "Sylvia" Park

One may continue this fascinating journey into Gatchina's past by studying the history of the park with the magical name of Sylvia. The park is situated to the north-west of the palace. It is small in area, approximately 20 hectares. The park is bounded on one side by a thick stone wall, and along its border flows the Kolpanka river.

Beneath a triangular portico over the arch of the gate is the inscription "Sylvia", and the keystone bears a carving of the broad, shaggy-bearded face of Silvanus, the guardian spirit of the forests. Through the arch three straight alleyways can be seen, flanked by dark-green firs, radiating into the distance.

The Sylvia Gate
The Sylvia Gate
Plan of the Sylvia Park. Kushelev album
Plan of the "Sylvia" Park. Kushelev album

Today the Sylvia park has a gloomy aspect and resembles a wild forest. But at the end of the 18th century the character of the park was very different. It was a place of happy and light-hearted recreation, in the spirit of France's "fetes galantes".

The beautiful name of "Sylvia" was also brought back from France by Grand Duke Pavel Petrovich, a memory from the Cond? chateau. The charming hostess of Chantilly, the Countess Montmorency, was given the name of Sylvia – a nymph of the forest – by the poet Th?ophile de Viau, because she loved to take her ease fishing in a pond in a secluded corner of the park. Later, in honour of the fair Countess, a pavilion in the park with a small garden, and then the park itself, was named "Sylvia" after her.

The Sylvia Park at Gatchina was created in the final decade of the 18th century under the supervision of the master gardener James Hackett.

The plan of the park was exceedingly complicated. The three radial paths were traversed by smaller paths, and between them spinneys, or "green rooms", were planted, with complex mazes, flower beds, miniature ponds, grottoes, cascades, and a network of pathways and ornamental squares. On these squares various games could be played; many of the spinneys were adorned with sculptures. For example, at the end of the 19th century there was in the Sylvia Park an antique statue of the Capitoline Venus, brought from Rome by Count I. Shuvalov. Today it is in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

To create the spinneys a great number of large linden-trees were planted, and for the espaliers or "green walls", thousands of "small ones, with their roots entwined".

The Sylvia Park was like a garden of Paradise, where birds sang and flowers bloomed. In early spring tulips, daffodils and anemones were planted there, and in summer various kinds of roses. The lawns abounded in summer violets, daisies and forget-me-nots.

Of course, the upkeep of such a park required considerable funds, which the subsequent owners of Gatchina were unwilling to lay out. During the reign of Nicholas I the Sylvia Park was little by little converted into a forest park, and the forest deity Silvanus became its true patron.

And yet the splendour of the Sylvia Park has not entirely vanished. It became apparent, during an inspection of the park in 1970, that underneath the thin layer of turf, under the shrubbery and centuries-old tree roots, its old layout sill exists in full. Another area for rest and recreation was built nearer to the palace at the end of the 18th century. On the plan the area had a shape reminiscent of a countess with her breast turned in the direction of the White Lake. In it a small round section was set aside where there were swings, carousels, skittles, and other playground attractions. A small terrace was added to this area with stone steps; on this terrace, in Paul;s time, a pavilion was placed in the form of a Turkish marquee: “In a wooden house possessing the form of a marquee, the Court is often accustomed to be served at table.

The Turkish Marquee
The Turkish Marquee
The Turkish summer-house
The Turkish summer-house

The "Decanter Ground" with its Turkish marquee was built on the same axis as the Pavilion of Venus on the Island of Love, which was clearly visible across the open expanse of Long Island. In the 19th century the decrepit Turkish Marquee was replaced by a succession of summer-houses in various forms.

Continuing the park's historical tradition, after the war a wooden dance-hall was built on the former site of the Turkish Marquee. Swings were erected nearby, and a boating station was set up on the shore of the lake.

In 1970 an attempt was made to restore this part of the park to its former layout. However, the restored "Decanter Ground" quickly became once more overgrown with grass.
V. Fedorova
Photographs: G. Puntusova

Historical Magazine "Gatchina Over the Centuries"