The first house of St. Petersburg
The Cabin of Peter the Great was the first house to be built in St. Petersburg. Peter the Great ordered the construction of his house on May 27th (June 5th) 1703. The tsar designated the spot for its construction on the left bank of the Neva not far from the fortress on Beryozovy Island.
The first tsarist “mansions” look lake the rectangular “six-wall” traditional Russian peasant’s log cabin “izba”. Raw, resinous logs were shaped and painted like bricks only after they dried. “Dutch” windows stretched horizontally with small square window glasses were tipical for the houses of the time. The high wooden (shingle) roof was also painted imitating the bright turquoise tiles. On the ridge of the roof carved wooden cannons and two “blazing bombs” (lost in the 18th century) were installed. The cannons were a reminder that a captain –bombardier lived in the house.
Seven wide windows framed by lead bindings shone with the iridescence of “moon” glass. The door jambs and window frames were decorated with floral garlands on a black background and the the door were decorated with paintings of landscapes. The shutters painted richly with vermillion were hung on ornate gilded hinges. At night, the windows were shuttered and bolted. The ceiling in the rooms was lower than 2.5 meters. The doors of Peter’s Cabin decorated with two metal ornamental plates were replica of the doors of Moscow chambers of the 17th century. A bronze plate with Peter the Great’s height- two meters and four centimeter- hangs above the door.
The first St. Petersburg home of the tsar was not large. It is 12 meters long by 5.4 meters wide and 5.8 meters high. There is a small anteroom in the center. Like in all Russian izbas it divides the Cabin into two halves. The room on the right from the anteroom served as an office where the ruler worked and received visitors, and on the left is the dining room to which the kitchen is attached. A door leads from the dining room to a cramped bedroom.
The Cabin’s architecture is a reminiscent of Dutch construction fashion.
Initially the Cabin stood on a promontory from which a panorama was opened onto of the opposite bank of the river, as well as a view at the Peter and Paul Fortress. Later after the reconstruction of the low and frequently flooded bank of the river was made the promontory disappeared, and the Cabin of Peter the Great appeared to be at some distance from the Neva.
Cabin of Peter the Great after his reign
During the reign of Emperor Nicholas I a chapel was built in the Cabin, which featured an image of the Savior in a carved wooden frame that Peter the Great had taken with him on military campaigns. A copy of the prayer “Our Father” rewritten by Peter’s daughter Elizabeth was hanged on the wall.
After the Winter and the Summer palaces were built the ruler did not return to the Cabin. In 1714, a wooden “cover” in the form of a gallery was designed by Domenico Trezzini.
The open gallery was impractical due to autumn with its floods and winter with snow drafts, and upon the order of the tsar, Trezzini developed a new design. In August 1723 by a special decree of Peter the Great a stone gallery began to be built over the Cabin in order to preserve it “for the future.” The stone cover’s construction was an affirmation of the architectural and historical significance of the city’s first building. Since then, the Cabin of Peter the Great has become a memorial; it has been protected and carefully passed down from generation to generation as a witness to a heroic epoch that was a turning point in Russia’s history.
In 1765, the architect S. A. Volkov dewsinged a garden around the house.
The Trezzini cover stood until 1784.
After the 1777 flood Catherine the Great orded “To protect the Cabin with a wooden cover on a solid foundation with a metal roof.” The old cover was dismantled and the new one was constructed in 1784 on the foundation of the old, preserving its architectural appearance. This construction has not survived to present day.
Cabin of Peter the Great in 19th century
In 1833, Nicholas I ordered the installation of piles by the bank near the Cabin as well as a garden and a trellis, which were carried out under the supervision of an architect by the name of Williams.
During the period 1841-1844 the garden was created according to the design of architects Roman Kuzmin and Reimers. This time there was a suggestion to construct a high cobblestones bulwark around the gallery with layers of moss and greensward between them following the line of the garden. In two corners of the wall supports made from large rocks were added and placed on moss for durability so that the river waves would break on them. Around the garden, a bulwark of 1 arshin (71 cm) was constructed on the southern side (from Petrovskaya Street), 2.5 arshin on the Neva side, and from 1 to 1.5 arshin on the other two.
At the same time the garden was designed, paths were laid and tamped down, soil was brought for five flower beds, lawns were lined with greensward and flowers from the Tavrichesky Glasshouse were planted. A new garden was planted along the bulwark. In connection with major work on the construction of a new cover for the Cabin of Peter the Great, which began summer 1844, Kuznetsov, the garden master, transplanted the bushes and flowers into the Summer Garden. On the spot of the former gallery a new stone cover was built that consists of 16 brick columns with arcades, plastered brickwork, and wide windows with small panes. Trees, bushes, and flowers were planned at the area around the cabin.
Vaulted tunnels that served as drainage were built underneath the Cabin. In 1889 designed by Nikolai Salko two kinds of “pockets” were built on the northern and southern sides. The structure resembled a cross. After nearly 100 years in 1971-1972 the cover was restored and measured. The results showed that despite the prior constructions, the cover retained the proportions and size of Trezzini gallery.
Garden around the Cabin of Peter the Great
In the second half of the 19th century on the territory adjusted to the cabin on the bank of the Neva a garden was designed (architects Roman Kuzmin, Reimers, and garden master Kuznetsov), which was surrounded by a diagonal cast-iron fence which construction was funded by private donations.
In 1875 a bronze bust of Peter the Great was installed at the entrance of the garden. It was cast from a model by the sculptor Parmen Sabello and was surrounded by a cast-iron fence. The fence and bust of Peter the Great exist till today.
In autumn 1889 after the completion of work on the reconstruction of the cover was finished the garden was redesigned. 500 hawthorn bushes were planted along the fence. The paths that visitors still walk along today were created from hand-rolled brick fragments and the lawns were laid with greensward. The garden required watering and in the spring of 1890 the first water supplying system in the city was created especially for the garden.
In 1899, the central gate on Petrovskaya Street was redone. It became a three-part gate. Along the sides of the fence two streetlamps on cast-iron columns were installed which have survived to present day without any alterations.
The waterfront of 1874, the location of which is reminiscent of the second garden fence, closer to the Neva, existed until the late 19th century. The Petrovskaya Embankment acquired its current appearance in 1901-1903 as a result of a reconstruction designed by the architect L. I. Novikov and the engineer Fyodor Zbrozhek.
Damaged by bombs and shells during the Siege of Leningrad the Cabin was reconstructed in 1944. It was the first museum to reopen for the public after the Blockade ended. In 1971-1976 major restoration work was done from a plan by architect Alexander Gessen.
In 1999 a full-scale restoration was undertaken, featuring the recreation of the historical layout of the land and the fence of the external garden. The inner fence was restored with all details and it was painted using an authentic paint color