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The Fountains

The Fountains


The Great Cascade

The main structure of the majestic fountain system of Peterhof is the Great Cascade. By its dimensions and abundance of water, by the wealth of its architectural decor, by the graphic variety of its water-jets, and by the compositional unity and expressiveness of all its elements, the Great Cascade, a beautiful monument of Baroque art, ranks as one of the best among the most famous fountains all over the world.

The focal point of the Great Cascade is the Lower (Great) Grotto. Its outer wall faced with tufa is pierced with five high arches and their keystones are decorated with gilded mascarons. The site in front of the Lower Grotto is limited by two cascade stairways. The seven stairs of each of the stairways are decorated with gilded low-relief sculpture, corbels, water-spouts and gilded statues alternating with bowls. In the centre of the site is the Basket Fountain. Water streams down from the fountain along the three waterfall steps into the Pool. The wall of the Lower Grotto is completed by the granite cornice with a marble balustrade adorned with vases and located in front of the terrace of the Upper (Small) Grotto. The grotto facade has been apparently designed to match stylistically the architecture of the Great Palace which is seen in its decor subordinated to three-partite articulation, its semicircular arches and niches, its keystones and, finally, its white-and-yellow colouring. Another feature blending these two structures is a balustrade marking the centre of the palace, which is also decorated with vases and echoes the design and materials of the terrace railing of the Upper Grotto.

The present-day aspect of the cascade has been formed over a century ago, but it was Peter the Great himself who conceived its general scheme. His first surviving sketches of the future Peterhof structures show that the Tsar was familiar with their European prototypes. Peter the Great offered to erect on the slope of the terrace two grottos and two cascade stairways to let water run down to a rectangular pool connected by a canal with the sea. The construction of the canal began in 1715 and of the Lower Grotto in May 1716. The French architect Jean-Baptiste Le Blond who arrived in Peterhof that year proposed that water-jets be placed, in order to enlarge the stream of water, on the eight steps of the cascade, the Pool be reshaped as a semicircle, the canal extended and its banks strengthened.

After Le Blond's death in 1719, the construction was led by Johann Braunstein for a short time, and during the next year the work was continued by the Italian architect Niccolo Michetti. Under his direction, the grotto was decorated with stones and shells and the balustrade was adorned with vases. A little later two mascarons, depicting Bacchus and Neptune, were placed on the terrace above the Lower Grotto and four marble busts, allegories of the seasons, were installed in the niches between them. The Upper Grotto was also erected there. Michetti reduced the number of the cascade stairs to seven and embellished them with low-relief sculpture. The trial startup of the waterworks took place in the presence of Peter the Great on 13 July 1721. At that time sculptural decoration had not yet been produced, but work on low-reliefs was under way. In the summer of 1723 three fountains and a trick table-fountain were built in the Lower Grotto and the entrance to the grotto was covered by water curtains. The Ring Fountain with its 17 water-jets decorated the centre of the site.

In August 1723 the inauguration ceremony marking the putting of the fountain system and the Great Cascade into operation took place. But the work did not cease after that date. Soon the figures of Perseus, Actaeon, Galatea, Mercury and two new mascarons were put up. In 1735, already after Peters death, the figure of Samson was installed in the centre of the Pool, and three years later a group of two tritons blowing conches, a work by Carlo Rastrelli, was placed (above the Lower Grotto) within the gap of the marble balustrade. After that the basic amount of work on the cascade decor was finished.

Over the next sixty years the cascade and the grotto were repeatedly rebuilt - the wooden pedestals were replaced by stone ones, the pool surrounds were changed and the sculptures regilded. However, the sculptural decor became deformed, some low-reliefs and other decorations disappeared and the fountains in the grotto ceased functioning.

It was Emperor Paul I who resumed repair work at Peterhof in the late 18th century. The lead sculptures were replaced by bronze ones. Some of the statues were moulded from the plaster casts of Classical originals preserved in the Academy of Arts in St Petersburg; the Bacchus and Satyr group reproduced Michaelangelo's famous work. Several groups were cast from original models by Feodosy Shchedrin, Jean Dominique Rachette, Fiodor Shubin, Ivan Prokofyev and Ivan Martos.

The Samson Rending Open the Jaws of the Lion group was intended to decorate the most powerful water-jet in the Lower Park. The decision of its construction was taken in 1734, when the 25th anniversary of the defeat of the Swedish troops near Poltava was celebrated. This major event in the Northern War took place on the feast day of St Sampson, and therefore the historic battle was represented allegorically as a fight of the Biblical Samson with a lion. The sculpture was supposed to symbolize the victory of Russia over Sweden (the lion is depicted in the Swedish coat-of-arms). To make the jet rise as high as possible, a special wooden pipeline, over four kilometres long, was laid, at the orders of the fountain-builder Paul Joseph Sualem, from the Bibigon Pool to the cascade. In 1736 the whole amount of work was completed and the fountain spurted a powerful water-jet to the height of twenty metres.

The Sampson Rending Open the Jaws of the Lion group cast in lead was in need of restoration already ten years later and towards the end of the 18th century it had become necessary to replace the sculptures.

Mikhail Kozlovsky, one of leading Russian sculptors, using the original design, created a new composition in the Classical style breathing new life into the heroic theme. In 1802 Kozlovsky's Samson, cast in bronze, was installed on the pedestal put up of granite slabs. At the hero's feet, as before, eight dolphins were gamboling, and four half-figures of lions directed to the cardinal points were installed in the niches at the feet of the pedestal. In June 1806 the cascade acquired a new appearance.

In the course of the 19th century the Great Cascade was twice repaired and reconstructed. In the middle of the century, when its poor condition became apparent, the architect Andrei Stackenschneider offered a detailed project for the reconstruction of the Great Cascade. The cost of the project, however, was too large, and it remained unrealized.

The problem of the cascades restoration grew more urgent every year, and at last in 1859-60 the work began under the leadership of Nikolai Benois. It was necessary to build galleries for the inspection of the fountain pipes and to make special openings for the ventilation of the grottos. The openings cut through the side walls of the cascade staircases were to serve the same designation. The architect changed the pattern of the Ring Fountain in front of the Lower Grotto. The interlacing jets of its outer ring gave the fountain its new name, the Basket Fountain.

Benois's project, however, was not carried out to the full extent, and as a result the structure became somewhat different from its original design. The unfinished state of the reconstructed cascade had its deteriorating effect, and towards the beginning of the next century it acquired a rather neglected look. A new period of restoration work, however, came only in 1928 when the Pool and the marble balustrade were repaired, and the partly lost decorative details of the corbels and low-relief decorations were reconstructed.

The Great Cascade suffered the greatest damage during World War II. All the decorative details and the four major sculptures - Tritons and The Volkhov River by Ivan Prokofyev, The Neva River by Feodosy Shchedrin and Samson by Mikhail Kozlovsky - which had not been evacuated because of the lack of time were lost. The reconstructed fountains of Peterhof became open to visitors on 25 August 1946. During the next summer the powerful figure of Samson Rending the Jaws of the Lion, reproduced by the sculptor Vasily Simonov from surviving photographs, could be seen once again on its pedestal in the Pool of the cascade. The entire restoration of the fountains and of the sculptural decor of the cascade was completed in 1950.

A new lease of life was given to the Great Cascade in 1995, as a result of seven-year restoration. The restoration was necessary because of the poor state of the grottos and underground pipeline systems supplying water to the numerous fountains of the cascade. The authors of the project also planned to restore the details of the cascade which have been lost in the course of its long history. The research was based on a scrupulous study of various documentary materials - drafts made by architects and fountain engineers, engravings and watercolours of the 18th to 20th centuries, archival documents and memoirs. The main source of information and artistic material for the re-creation of the lost elements were axonometric plans made up by the mathematician Pierre de Saint-Hilaire at the commands of Catherine the Great in 1772-74, as well as the albums of sketches drawn by the architects A. Bazhenov and P. Neyelov in the late 18th century.

The inauguration ceremony of the renewed fountains of the Great Cascade took place on 4 June 1995. On that day all 138 jets of one of the most perfect acting fountains in the world, spurted streams of water into the sky.

See also:
· the Basket Fountain;
· the Siren Fountains;
the Naiad and Triton Fountains

mpeg The Great Cascade (962 Kb)
mpeg The Great Cascade - Water and light fiery.(3.145 Mb)

The Great Cascade.

Samson Rending open
the Jaws of the Lion.

The Western Cascade Stairway.

The Eastern Cascade Stairway.

The eastern cascade stairway:
Copy from the original
of the IInd c. B.C.

The eastern cascade stairway: Aphroditae.

Cascade stairway:

The Great Grotto:
arcade and sculptural

The Great Cascade

The Great Cascade

Central cascade stairway:

The western cascade stairway:

Cascade stairway:

The Great Cascade.
The enter to the Upper Grotto.

Cascade stairway:

The western cascade stairway:
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