Along the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland, some seventeen miles south-west of the city of St.Petersburg, a palace is set up in an old park of Alexandria which adjoins the Lower Garden of Peterhof on its eastern side.
Alexandria Park covers a square of 115 hectares. Almost two thirds of the park is situated along the coast of the Gulf of Finland and the natural terrace follows the slope. One third of the park is spread along the upper part of the total area with the architectural constructions such as the Cottage, Kitchen Wing, Farmer’s Palace and Gothic Chapel. The rest of the buildings are situated along the southern side of Alexandria, close to St.Petersburg road. They are the Guardhouse with the Gates, the buildings of the New Farmhouse and the Telegraph House.
This area was presented to Menshikov by Peter the Great in the early 18th century. After his closest friend and associate’s death the lands were passed to his political opponents, Dolgorukov’s Counts. After them the lands became state property and they were turned into the hunting lands famous for its Deer menagerie. Alexander the First, shortly before his death, decided to construct a countryside palace there for his brother Nicholai Pavlovich and his family. Initially they planned to have a wooden building and Russian architect Vasilii Stasov was asked to carry out the project.
In December of 1825 Great Duke Nicholai Pavlovich became the Emperor of Russia and presented the lands to his wife Alaxandra Feodorovna, daughter of Prussian King Friedrich the Third and Queen Luise. The new Emperor commissioned the construction of the Cottage as a private retreat for the family. But instead of the modest wooden house the construction of the spacious countryside residence as a stone palace was started.
Five thousand workers were moved from different places of Russia to provide the non-stop process of construction. On the first of August of 1825 the Ministry of the Imperial Court declared the new name for the former wooden Cottage. The site received the name of its owner Alexandra Feodorovna. Alexandria became the country residence of her majesty.
The ensemble of Alexandria was created thanks to the labour of an enormous number of serf workers and the talent of outstanding architects. Its compositional layout, the use of the landscape and the combination and selection of plants for Alexandria is an excellent example of outstanding and monumental landscape architecture in the 19th century.
The central compositional axis of the park is the Nicholas alley which goes across the park from the west to the east. The alley divides the park into two large parts along the coast and the other one above it. The other paths are winding around the park which is typical for landscape parks. Apart from Nicholas Alley in the same direction from the east to the west the area of Alexandria Park is intersected by four more roads. They connect exits and entrances to the park and lead to the architectural constructions. The system the roads is intersected by three paths leading towards the sea.
The numerous roads and alleys are arranged especially to have different platforms to observe the landscape of the park from the best points and to create an illusion of endless space and variety of the natural surroundings. Close arrangements of different trees like silvery birch, dark firs, linden trees and oaks are alternating with luxuriant rolling meadows. The combination of thick trees, shrubs and green meadows visually increases the comparatively small area and at the same time makes it very charming and comfortable.
There are different types of green plantation here. Oaks, maples, linden trees, silvery birch, poplar, ash and willow stand in the close proximity to each other. Along with them there are different types of shrubs and rare samples of exotic species like hawthorn, larch and others.
Natural ponds are included into the panorama of the Alexandria Park and they invite the wanderer to plunge deeper into the park. The seascape is taken into some views. Thanks to that it’s possible to experience the richness of palette which is created by the colour of the tops of the trees and the sea waves.
The creation of the spacious seaside park is indicative of the talent and experience of the architect Menelaws, the Scottish architect, who was supported by the professional mastership of the Peterhof gardeners. Thousands of workers dug out the pits, planted trees and bushes, moved the earth, added black soil to the flower beds, made the roads and dug the drains along them.
Every day tens, hundreds and even thousands of trees and shrubs were delivered to Alexandria.
In the years 1827-1828 according to the records there were 224 flower beds and more than 30 plants of different species in the park. Over a number of years Alexandria Park was enriched with different applied decorations like sculptures, garden pavilions and small guide houses.
All over the park along the alleys benches were set up and near the Cottage there were 'gothic sofas' with intricately carved backs.
In 1828 Nicholas the First ordered the installation of trophies of the Russian-Turkish war. Two light cannons were installed on both sides of the gates to emphasize the military glory of the owner of the residence.
In 1835, referring to the sketches of another architect J.J Charlemagne the roof for the well (is this a ‘well’ for water or an ‘arbour’) was constructed. It is an excellent example of Russian art cast iron work.
The entrance to Alexandria Park is marked by the pavilion, the Gothic Guardhouse with faceted towers, tall windows, zig-zag fence and metal gates on both sides.
One of the most interesting constructions of Alexandria is the Gothic Capella, (Gothic Chapel) the church which is dedicated to Alexander Nevskii. It looks very slim and harmonious thanks to its proportions and the distinctly medieval architectural design. The construction of the church began in 1830 under the supervision of Adam Menelaws who was succeeded by Joseph Charlemagne.
The church is a small building, square in plan, with similar fronts completed with parapets.
The corners of the Chapel are emphasized by eight towers with spires and crowned with gilded Orthodox crosses. The walls are cut with rosette windows and lancet portals and forty-three figures of saints produced from embossed copper after models by the sculptor Vasily Demuth-Malinovsky.
Very close to the road leading from the Chapel to the Cottage there is the Farmer’s Palace. The very large two storeyed premises consist of several sides with big windows, cast iron balconies and erkers (windows that stick out from the side of the house).
The modest house was originally just a pavilion of the farm, constructed by Menelaws in the 'pastoral taste' with the roof paint imitating the hay colour and the terrace, with roof on green-garlanded columns, later becoming the palace. All of the works — from 1838 to 1859 — for the expansion of the palace and converting it into the summer house for the Tsesarevich, the future Alexander the Second, were supervised by the architect Shtakenshneider.
The ensemble of Alexandria Park boasts of having very valuable 19th century architectural monuments. They are the buildings constructed by Shtakenshneider: the Cottage, Constantine House, New Farm- house and the telegraph station building. All of these buildings have elements of the gothic style.
The last big palace building of Alexandria is the four-storeyed Lower or New Palace of Nicholas the Second, famous as the Lower Dacha. At the beginning in 1883 there was a dacha with a tower constructed by Tomishko. In 1895-1896 the same architect made it bigger to have the appearance of a palace with the household pavilions. The Lower Dacha was completely destroyed during the WWII. But it has been decided to restore the complex on the original foundations which have omit ‘been’ survived. Only the gala gates with guide’s house remind us of the complex’s being here.
The main architectural construction of Alexandria as well as the Great Palace in Peterhof is situated on the edge of the natural slope. But, unlike the Great Palace, the Cottage doesn’t dominate the park but blends with the landscape.
The difference in scale and decoration of the main buildings in the parks reflect in its names. The Palace in Alexandria was called the 'rural house' or Cottage unlike 'the Great' Palace in Peterhof.
The Cottage is a compact, clearly designed two-storeyed building with a mezzanine. All its fronts have a three-partite articulation. The semicircle granite porch, covered balconies, terraces and bay windows protrude from the walls of the Cottage. Adam Menelaws used cast iron in the design of the facades for all sides of the Cottage surrounding it with arcades.
The decoration of the interiors of the Cottage consists of ornamental compositions of the ceilings, the stucco work of the friezes and cornices, wrought-iron elements. Carved oak and ash with alternating garlands of flowers, fruit and leaves go around the window and the door of the Vestibule.
Trophies from the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 greet the visitor to the Cottage in the Vestibule. When the impregnable Turkish fortress of Varna was captured by the Russian troops two marble stones were taken as a trophies, one of them with the inscription 'This stone is from Varna, 29 September 1828'. It bore a tugra -the monogram of the Turkish sultan Mahmud II- that was brought to the Cottage.
The Vestibule of the Cottage has the shell of a giant tortoise bearing the arms of Alexandria — a sword within a wreath of roses on a blue shield and the motto: 'For the faith, the Tsar and the Fatherland'.
The whole space of the Cottage is full of authentic pieces such as personal belongings of Alexandra Feodorovna, gifts, souvenirs and family relics. In a special case in the small study there is a porcelain cup decorated with a golden ornament and enamel — Queen Luisa, mother of Alexandra Feodorovna had used this cup for drinking milk shortly before her daughter’s birth.
In the Dining Room stands Her Majesty’s Own Service for twenty-four diners produced in the late 1820s-1830s at the Imperial Porcelain Factory especially for the Cottage Palace. The service includes snow-white porcelain articles of simple and austere forms, crystal glass vessels with diamond-faceted decoration and glassware of ruby, cobalt, opal and emerald colours.
The walls of the Dining Room are embellished with paintings by Ivan Aivazovsky including the large-scale painting 'View of Constantinople at Sunset'.
The book collection of the Cottage Palace amounted to some 1000 volumes by famous writers of the Romantic period in English, French, German and Italian. It included works by George Byron, Thomas Moore, James Fenimore Cooper, Victor Hugo, Friedrich Schiller, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Walter Scott as well as works by Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol. An interesting feature of the Library is the painting by Fiodor Moller which is based on the subject of Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. It features Tatyana writing her letter to Onegin.
One of the most valuable works of decorative art represented in the Cottage Palace is the silver chandelier shaped as an openwork basket for flowers entwined with twigs bearing twenty-five roses. The chandelier made by Johann Georg Hossauer from a drawing by the Empress’s brother, Frederich William IV, the King of Prussia, was presented to Alexandra Feodorovna and Nicholas I on the occasion of their silver anniversary by their German relatives in 1842.
Worthy of attention among objects of daily use is a gilded bronze casket inlaid with malachite, lapis lazuli, agate, semiprecious stones and stresses (glass imitation gemstones). The casket was used to keep the baptismal accessories of the heir-his shirt, cap, etc.
One of the interiors contains a highlight of the palace. It’s a unique clock showing the time in sixty-six towns of Russia including that in Moscow, St.Petersburg and New Archangel in Alaska.
On the desk of the Maritime Study there are maritime instruments — telescopes, a compass, a sundial, a geodesic device and a silver megaphone of Nicholas I. Using the megaphone, Nicholas I could transmit his orders from the balcony to the signal telegraph tower built on the seashore in the park. This enabled him to maintain communication with Kronstadt and exercise control over maneuvers of the Baltic Fleet.
The Cottage, the favourite palace of Nicholas I and Alexandra Feadorovna, was carefully preserved throughout the nineteenth century and continued to be used by the Imperial family for summer repose until the revolution. During the Second World War this unique monument suffered minor losses. Most o of its artistic exhibits were evacuated and today the building houses a museum.