If we were to cast a mental gaze over the majestic panorama of palace and park ensembles situated on the banks of the Neva and its tributaries, lining the shores of the Gulf of Finland and prevailing over the rural landscape, our hearts would be filled with an indescribable sense of emotion. The image renders conventional descriptions flat and meaningless. Instead, 18th-century panegyrics and odes spring to mind, their imagery and lexicon embodied in the highest degree.
The imperial palace and park ensembles are a unique visual chronicle of the Russian empire, the pages of which record the fate of all the family members of the Romanov dynasty in both its years of success and days of tragedy. The names of architects and sculptors, skilful creators of artistic treasures who have contributed to the immortal spirit of Russia, live on in the memory of the grateful heirs to this legacy. This explains the incredible efforts that were made to restore Saint Petersburg's royal residences after the devastation brought about by the Second World War. Having been raised from the charred ruins, these monuments now permit us the pleasure of communing with eternal beauty.
On the southern shores of the Gulf Finland stand the residences of Peterhof and Oranienbaum (Lomonosov). Their organic link with the sea symbolises the attainment of the highest goal of their time, namely, to assert Russian authority on the shores of the Baltic. The prowess of Russia's military and naval forces can be found represented in the complex of powerful fountains and monumental cascades at Peterhof - a unique artistic oratory in which the aesthetic properties of the water alone are further enhanced by the dynamic forms of gilded and marble sculptures and the musical sound of foaming jets.
Tsarskoye Selo, Gatchina and Pavlovsk are different from the coastal residences. Tsarskoye Selo is situated in the midst of a vast expanse of rural land, far from the seashore. The lake, the mirror of the Catherine Park, is a natural body of water, which has been enlarged and enhanced by architectural features. Gatchina is an imperial estate hidden in the depths of a thick wood, surrounded by a string of springfed lakes. Over one of these lakes towers the austere hunting castle. A stern northern leitmotif prevails over the Gatchina ensemble, permeated with an air of austerity that is juxtaposed with the luxury of the royal chambers. The imperial summer residence of Pavlovsk, situated in one of the most picturesque settings in the vicinity of Petersburg, the valley of the River Slavyanka, both assimilates and reflects the many nuances of the Russian countryside.