October 5, 2012 by dsalkowski
Disney’s Magic Kingdom gets about 17 million visitors per year. Thanks to geography, Russia’s number one tourist attraction – Peterhof – gets about 4 million per year. The guest list at Peterhof, however, is arguably more illustrious.
Like Disney World, Peterhof was built on a swamp, but the similarities end there. Peter the Great built this sweet pad for himself just outside the city when he founded St. Petersburg in 1703. Being the crafty devil that he was, by the way, Peter managed to name just about everything after himself under the ruse that it was really after Saint Peter; just as Saint Peter holds the keys to heaven, St. Petersburg holds the keys to Russia (or Europe, depending upon your perspective).
Peter wanted a swank pad for himself, and, having travelled Europe as a lad incognito, he decided to model his palace after Versailles. Set on the Gulf of Finland, Peterhof is a sprawling Baltic estate. The gardens boast some 1000 fountains and countless gilded statues. Besides being Peter the Great’s brainchild, the estate has been added upon by each consecutive ruler, until the Communists made it an official state museum.
The site has actually seen a lot of changes in the past century, as well. During the siege of Leningrad (Petersburg), the Nazis occupied the territory including Peterhof. The Russians continued evacuating art and artifacts to Siberia until 3 hours before the Nazis took the area. This is when the disappearance of the famous Amber Room took place. When the Nazis did take it, much of the property and natural surroundings were damaged, so much of what can be seen are relatively recently restorations, and the landscape is composed mostly of – in the words of our guide – “post-war trees.”