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Stroll through the Beautiful Letniy Sad

The exquisite Letniy Sad (Summer Garden) in St. Petersburg, Russia, occupies almost 12 hectares of an island adjacent to the Summer Palace of Peter the Great and is surrounded by the Fontanka River, Moika River and Swan Canal. In 1704 Peter the Great commissioned LeBlond, a Frenchman, to design a formal garden in the style of the gardens in Versailles, France.

Letniy Sad was laid out between 1712 and 1725, and three years later the walkways of the garden were lined with one hundred marble sculptures. These were produced by renowned sculptors including Marino Gropelli, Pietro Baratta and Alvise Tagliapietra. Through the years, more statues were added throughout the garden, bringing the total to over two hundred. The garden was landscaped in a sequence of parterres – beds of plants edged in stone or low compact hedging with paths arranged to form symmetrical patterns. The gardens were the venue for many Imperial gatherings and lavish parties, with only members of nobility and those with court privileges allowed access to the gardens. This changed when Tsar Nicholas I was ruling (1825-1855) as he allowed members of the public to enter the gardens, although they had to adhere strictly to a formal dress code.

Another interesting feature of Letniy Sad is the fountains, which are reputed to be the oldest in Russia. They depict scenes from the legendary Aesop’s fables. Between 1771 and 1784, decorative iron-cast railings were installed between 36 granite columns to separate the park from the public walkway. In the mid 1800s a monument honoring children’s story writer Ivan Krylov was erected in the park. This was the first monument in Eastern Europe to honor a poet - the majority of monuments being politically motivated – and was seen as a sign of Romanticism creeping into Russian culture.

After the 1777 flood which destroyed large parts of the garden, including a number of fountains and statues, restoration work was overseen by Catherine the Great. She made changes according to her tastes, resulting in the park which stands to this day. In an effort to preserve the remaining statues in the park, these are covered by wooden boxes through the harsh winter conditions that prevail in Saint Petersburg.

Peter the Great was particularly fond of spending time walking and relaxing in Letniy Sad. To this day these impressive gardens in Saint Petersburg continue to be a popular place to visit. So when you travel to Russia, be sure to take a walk through Letniy Sad and maybe think back to a time when these beautiful gardens were a meeting place for Russian royalty and nobility.


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