The Catherine Park
The Catherine Park is one of the finest monuments to the art of landscape gardening. Its grounds are richly populated with different kinds of palace buildings, pavilions and bridges make it the pearl of Tsarskoye Selo.
- The beauty of the Catherine Park was immortalised in verse by the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin – whose poetry describes the marble sculptures of the Old Gardens here.
- During the soviet period, the park complex here was taken into national ownership, and awarded the status of a museum. During the Second World War, the German front line came so close to Stю Petersburg – which was then called Leningrad – that suburban areas of the city such as Tsarskoye Selo were occupied by the Third Reich. Over a quarter of the trees in the park were torn down for firewood – the palace buildings were used to billet the German High Command, then desecrated once the Germans withdrew. Work on repairing the desolation began immediately after the end of the war – and is still ongoing.
- The local authorities pursue a tough policy on the maintenance of the environment of the Catherine Park. This methodology has led to the area around the Catherine Park being hailed as the cleanest district of St. Petersburg.
Prior to the early 18th century, the location where we now find the Catherine Park was called Tsarskoye Selo, and the land was in the Finnish provinces of what was then the Swedish Empire. On successfully defeating Sweden in the Great Northern Wars, Russian Tsar Peter the Great donated the estates here to his wife, Marta Skavronskaya. This led to the foundation of a palace here in 1717, around which the Catherine Park appeared in 1727.
The main work of landscaping the park was undertaken by a later Empress Catherine – Catherine the Great, from the 1760s onwards. The similarity to natural woodland was achieved by planting thousands of trees, shrubs and bushes, and digging artificial canals and lakes.
A large area of the park is occupied by the Great Pool, at the centre of which is an elegant pavilion. A distinguishing feature of the park is its absence of natural rivers and lakes. All of the water resources within the park are the work of human hands.
Later in life, the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin rented a dacha at Tsarskoye Selo. It was here that he completed his great poetic novel Evgeny Onegin. He also immortalised other local landmarks in verse.
What to see
- The Catherine Palace is the true highlight of the Catherine Park. The palace astounds us with its rich ornamentation – a cultural monument not just on a European level, but of truly global significance.
- The Hermitage Pavilion at Tsarskoye Selo is another magnificent sight – some specialists have called it a smaller-scale copy of the Catherine Palace. The two palaces are linked by a straight avenue, along which a walk brings to mind the times of Empress Catherine. The Hermitage Kitchen is nearby – set apart from the rest of the ensemble by its Gothic styling.
- The Cameron Galleries are set on an elevated stretch of land, which offer magnificent views of the park and lake. The Galleries have a pavilion called The Cold Baths – which were built to provide bathing opportunities for the royal family.
- The Lesser Rostral and Chessmen columns were built in honour of a victory by the Russian fleet over Turkey.
- The Marble, or Palladiev Bridge was built in imitation of Ancient Greek style, is always an attraction for tourists.