Exploring St. Petersburg’s Gardens
Tauride Garden – Таврический сад
The English gardener William Gould was charged with designing the Tauride Garden in true Romantic style, and it was originally laid out in 1783-9 for the estate of Catherine the Great’s favourite (and alleged lover) Grigory Potemkin. The Garden and the adjoining Tauride Palace are named after Potemkin’s title: Prince of Tauridia. A German bomber plane crash-landed there in November 1941 but it was restored after the war. Since the Garden’s opening to the public in 1866, it has been a firm favourite among the city’s inhabitants: the pond is popular with skaters in the winter and the playground and paths popular with walkers, dancers, couples and runners in the summer. It is not very touristy so never gets too busy, making it a lovely place to spend a warm evening.
Look out for the groups meditating outside in the summer.
To get there, get the metro to Chernyshevskaya station, exit onto Furshtatskaya ulitsa and walk to the end of the street.
Alexander Garden – Александровский сад
Construction of the very central Alexander Garden began on 3rd July 1872 as part of celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Peter the Great. The Garden was formally opened two years later on 8th July 1874 in the presence of Alexander II, who graciously agreed to having the garden named after him and ordered 52 types of trees and shrubbery to be planted there. It was a very fashionable place for the aristocracy to walk and gossip, even making it into Pushkin’s ‘Evgeny Onegin’. During the Siege of Leningrad, anti-aircraft battery was installed between the trees, but the space is so revered that not one tree was cut down, although most of them fell victim to the constant bombardment. It was restored and opened to the public very soon after the siege was lifted. In 1989, the name was changed to Admiraltesky, only to be changed back in 1997.
Look out for the statues of the Russian greats, including Gogol and Lermontov.
To get there, get the metro to Nevsky Prospekt and wander up, the Garden is next to Palace Square.
Michael Garden – Михайловский сад
The land which the Michael Garden encompasses belonged to a Swedish landowner before St. Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great. Before the construction of the Mikhailovsky Palace (better known as the Russian Museum building) which it adjoins, the Gardens served varying purposes: at one time exotic trees were planted here, and during Empress Elizabeth Petrovna’s reign a maze was built. The Palace was built in 1817-25, and the Gardens were laid out after the completion of building. It was only opened to the public in 1898, but recreation and sports grounds were built there after the 1917 Revolution, so the rest of the Garden fell into disuse. Only in 1924 were the ponds cleaned and new trees planted. During the Leningrad Siege, the Soviet government used the Garden to bury precious sculptures, one of which was the unpopular Monument to Alexander III (you can find it reinstated in front of the Marble Palace). The Garden was closed for renovation until 2003, and since then has continued to be popular for walks and the occasional summertime concert.
Look out for a small pavilion on the banks of the Moika River, this was designed and built in 1825 by Carlo Rossi but the site had been previously occupied by a wooden palace belonging to Peter the Great.
To get there, exit onto Griboedov Canal from Gostiny Dvor metro station and walk along the canal on the same side as the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood. One entrance to the Garden is opposite the Church.
Summer Garden – Летний сад
Last but not least (actually the most famous of the lot): the Summer Garden. It was founded in 1704 by Peter the Great, who was personally involved in its planning and laid it out according to strict geometrical principles. The marble statues acquired specially from Europe began to adorn the Garden from 1707, and by 1736 there were over 200 busts and statues. Peter also had a great love of fountains, and ordered many to be built there – they were the first fountains Russia had seen. It was a traditional location for balls held by the nobility. In 1777, it was severely damaged by flooding, several statues were destroyed and fountains broken, and not all were restored. This happened again in 1824, and restoring the Garden took about three years. The Garden was a favourite of many famous Russians. Pushkin wrote to his wife in 1833:
“Летний сад мой огород… Я в нём дома.”
It received museum status in 1934, the sculptures were all preserved during the Second World War and like in the Alexandrovsky Garden, not one tree was cut down to aid the city – it reopened as early as 1947 for visitors.
Look out for the oldest collection of garden statues in Russia: 79 sculptures by Italian sculptors of the 17th and 18th century. The selection of mythological themes is meant to reflect the ideas underpinning Peter’s state.
If you’re on a self-led tour of the gardens, leave Mikhailovsky Garden by the back entrance (opposite Mikhailovsky Castle), turn left, crossing over a bridge, then turn right and cross the road when you get to the Field of Mars, keep going straight on and the entrance will be obvious.
This post was brought to you by Claire, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz.