The palace and park complex of Alexandria created at Peterhof in the second quarter of the nineteenth century by eminent Western European and Russian masters is unique both as regards its eventful history and an extraordinary wealth of its architectural and artistic decoration.
The landscape park of Alexandria, located on the shore of the Gulf of Finland to the east of the Lower Park, occupies an area of 115 hectares.
In the eighteenth century these lands belonged to Peter the Great's closest associates including Prince Alexander Menshikov and later the Princes Dolgoruky. During the reign of Anna Ioannovna the area was employed as the royal Jagdgarten or hunting ground, with stables, kennels and enclosures for beasts brought from all the ends of Russia and from abroad. In the second half of the eighteenth century the territory of the park ceased to be used for hunting. Only deer who quickly became accustomed to men survived there and the locality became known as the "Deer Bestiary". In 1825 Emperor Alexander I presented this tract of land to his younger brother, Grand Duke Nikolai Pavlovich, for building a house for summer rest. The next year, on becoming the Emperor of Russia, Nicholas I issued a decree "to build on the site of Menshikov's ruin a country house or cottage, with all auxiliary services and with a park". Nicholas I presented the area of the former Hunting Park to his wife, the Prussian Princess Charlotte (daughter of the Prussian King Frederick William III and Queen Louisa) who was named Alexandra Feodorovna after her conversion to the Orthodox Church and marriage. The park was called "Alexandria" in her honour.
Alexandria was created under the supervision of the architects Adam Menelaws, Joseph Charlemagne, Andrei Stakenschneider and Eduard Gahn, the master gardeners Friedrich Wendelsdorf and Peter Ehrler. To make the territory more picturesque, extensive earthworks were undertaken. A great variety of trees and bushes were brought from the Botanical and Tauride Gardens in St Petersburg, from Moscow, Marseilles and Hamburg. They were skillfully arranged in matching decorative groups.
The shadowy groves and sunlit glades, hills and smooth ponds, mysterious thickets, a network of roads and paths, suddenly opening vistas of the sea, the ruins of old structures, small bridges, summerhouses and benches - all this turned Alexandria into a magnificent park reminiscent of the age of Romanticism.
The central axis of Alexandria is the straight Nikolskaya (Nicholas) Avenue which transverses the park from west to east and divides it into a seashore section and an elevated part.
The basic architectural structures of the park occupy the upper terrace. In its eastern part stands the central edifice, the so-called Cottage Palace put up in 1826-29 by Adam Menelaws. The English name of the palace unusual for the Russian ear, its location in a remote corner of the park, its small dimensions as well as the features of its architectural design and inner decor testify to the new function of the building - this is a place of private habitation rather than a formal state residence. After the construction had been completed, Nicholas I presented the Cottage to Alexandra Feodorovna and therefore the estate received the name of "Her Majesty's Own Dacha Alexandria". Only the closest associates of the Imperial family, their teachers, doctors and attendants on duty were admitted to these private royal premises. But once a year, on 2 July (14 July Old Style), the day after the Empress's birthday, when the celebration was still under way, everybody was allowed to come to Alexandria.
The architectural and decorative design of the Cottage Palace was carried out in the English Gothic manner imitating the medieval European traditions and known as the Neo- or Pseudo-Gothic style.
The Cottage is a compact, clearly designed two-storey building with a mezzanine. All its fronts have a three-partite articulation. There are elements protruding from the walls - the semicircle granite porch, covered balconies, terraces and bay windows. The palace is surrounded on all sides with openwork cast-iron arcades - Adam Menelaws was the first to use cast iron as a structural and decorative material in the design of the facades on such a large scale.
The decoration of the interiors of the Cottage was entrusted to the best Russian and Western European masters. Sketches of the famous decorator Giovanni Scotti were used in 1828 to embellish the State Staircase, the ceiling of the Large Study, the Maritime Study and the walls of the Vestibule. The artist Vasily Dodonov adorned the ceiling borders on the first floor and the mezzanine rooms "in the Gothic taste". Adam Menelaws created ornamental compositions of the ceilings reproducing the rosette window patterns of Gothic cathedrals and the motifs of richly developed Gothic rosettes and grilles. The stucco work of the friezes and cornices in the form of vines, oak twigs and arcature fillets, the coat of arms of Alexandria and wrought-iron elements on the facades and in the interiors were executed from models by Mikhail Sokolov. The window and door surrounds in oak and ash carved with alternating garlands of flowers, fruit and leaves were produced by the artist V. Zakharov in 1828-29. The seven fireplaces of white Carrara, yellow Sienese and green Genoese marble as well as the marble floors of the Vestibule and State Staircase were made by the Italian sculptors of the Triscorni family in their St Petersburg workshop. The parquet floors with a simple yet elegant geometric patterns were produced by the well-known master craftsmen A. Tarasov and M. Znamensky.
The articles of china, glass and bronze, pieces of furniture and numerous everyday objects were fashioned in the Gothic style. The collections of painting and sculpture consisted of works by outstanding Russian and Western European artists of the first half of the nineteenth century.
Portrait of Emperor Nicholas I. Yegor Botman. 1849.
The Cottage Palace.
The Alexandria Park. The Church of St Alexander Nevsky (The Gothic Chapel).