The Dragon or Chessboard Hill Cascade
The Dragon Cascade is the main feature of water display in the eastern section of the Lower Park. It is over twenty-one metres high. Decorated with rock-work of porous tufa - the material also used for the Upper and Lower Grottoes - the Hill looks like a natural cliff. Four sloping cascade terraces are cut in its face; they are patterned with black and white squares, like a chessboard. On the topmost terrace, in front of the grotto, are three dynamic figures of dragons, who seem to be preparing for combat. The bodies of these fantastic creatures, strongly modelled and painted in many colours, are tense, and from their jagged, gaping jaws spout wide jets of water. The water runs down the terraces in a transparent moire sheet, and after this gradual drop of thirty-two metres, falls into the figured pool below, concealing the mouth of the Lower Grotto like a curtain. Ten marble sculptures of mythological characters are set on high stone pedestals, five on each side of the cascade.
The first construction on this spot was the Small Grotto, built by Braunstein between 1716 and 1718. Three years later Peter the Great approved Michetti's design for an ensemble which included the Small Marble Cascade, or - as it was then known - Ruin Cascade, with two artificial ruins of towers, fountains on a terraced slope and, at its foot, a berceau d'eau (water arcade). In 1723 it was decided to place over the top of the cascade Rastrelli's sculptural group, The Chariot of Neptune, which was later installed in the Upper Gardens. Work on the project began with the Small Cascade, which incorporated the Small Grotto; this was built between 1722 and 1725 under the direction of the architects Michetti, Braunstein, Zemtsov, and Usov, and the hydraulic engineer Tuvolkov, and decorated by the sculptor Ossner. In 1731 and 1732 Zemtsov, with the assistance of Ossner and Conradt Haan, completed the main part of the cascade, decorated it with tufa, and started the flow of water over the steps.
During the years that followed Zemtsov worked steadily on the preparation of materials for the remaining portion of the project. However, in 1737 Zemtsov, Blank, Davydov, and Ossner were ordered to draw up new plans for the decoration of the cascade, and to complete it as quickly as possible. Two years later the four-tiered cascade was ready, decorated with tufa, carved wooden dragons, and statues by Italian sculptors of the first quarter of the eighteenth century on either side of the lateral staircases. The sketches for the dragons were made in 1739 by Blank and Davydov, and the wax models by Ossner; the carving was carried out by Ivan Kazantsev, Moїsey Alexandrov, and Artamon Kirsanov, and the painting and gilding by Bronkhorst; Sualem constructed the pipe for feeding the cascade with water. In 1739 the Dragon Cascade was completed.
During the next century only minor changes were carried out in the decoration of the Dragon Cascade. In the mid-eighteenth century the sloping cascade steps were painted in black and white squares, which gave rise to the name of Chessboard Hill. In the 1770s the number of marble statues was increased to twelve, and stone pedestals were made for them. A hundred years later, in 1874, new figures of dragons were cast in Berlin from drawings of Nikolay Benois and models by the sculptor Barella. From then until 1941 the cascade remained unaltered. During the Nazi occupation of 1941-44, it was damaged and the sculptures of the dragons were destroyed. The restoration of the cascade began when the ten statues which had been buried for safe keeping, were put back on their pedestals. In 1953, the sculptor Gurzhy made models for the three dragons from eighteenth century drawings, and these were cast in bronze at the Monumentskulptura Foundry and painted by Oreshin. The Dragon Cascade, a rare example of ornamental architecture of the first part of the eighteenth century, thus resumed its former appearance.
The Dragon Cascade (587 Кб)
The Dragon Cascade:
detail of the decoration.
Tha Dragon Cascade
or The Chessboard Hill.
Tha Dragon Cascade.