Restored Summer Gardens Set to Open

Restored Summer Gardens Set to Open

Published: May 23, 2012 (Issue # 1709)


The garden is now home to eight fountains, and the original 17th- and 18th-century sculptures have been replaced with copies.

After two years of large-scale restoration work, the city’s historic Summer Gardens, which will reopen to the public on Monday, have been changed beyond recognition.

The total cost of the work was 2.3 billion rubles ($74 million); restoration work on the sculptures and green areas were the most expensive, according to representatives of the State Russian Museum, of which the Summer Gardens are part.

“The main goal was to reconstruct those items that would emphasize the regular layout of the garden and demonstrate its formal splendor,” said Sergei Renni, head of the Summer Gardens, Mikhailovsky Gardens and Green Areas department recently established within the Russian Museum.

Eight fountains, four boskets, newly rebuilt structures and many new trees and bushes are among the most significant changes. All the new constructions were created from historical sketches, according to the museum, and the garden’s iconic railings have been fully restored.

Four fountains are now situated on the main alley, as they were during the era of Peter the Great, when the gardens were first laid out. Another three fountains are located inside the boskets, and an eighth does not work, but is covered with a glass box set to show the development of the technology behind fountains throughout several centuries.

“This will be one of the most attractive parts of the renewed Summer Gardens,” said Renni.

Ninety of the 91 original sculptures have been replaced with copies made of marble aggregate and polyester. The originals have been restored and moved to the Mikhailovsky (Engineers’) Castle for permanent exhibition. The only sculpture to remain in its historic place — diagonally opposite from the Summer Palace, at the intersection of the Neva and Fontanka rivers — is an allegorical statue of the Treaty of Nystad, which was made at the request of Peter the Great to celebrate the end of the Great Northern War. The total cost of restoring the original sculptures and creating new copies of them was 700 million rubles ($22.5 million).

Sable cages and a dovecote have been recreated, but will not be inhabited. “There will be no animals in the garden, except for a couple of white swans,” said Renni.

Cultural and historic preservationists have, however, expressed criticism of the restored Summer Gardens.

“Tourists pay money and they want to see certain things, even if they are crude imitations,” said Alexander Kobak, executive director of the Likhachev Foundation. “It is a European-wide tendency that we must resist.”

“The notion of ‘restoration’ is absent in the Russian legislative system, and all restoration work is classified as ‘reconstruction’. All our efforts to change this situation have been unsuccessful for the last 20 years,” said Alexander Margolis, head of the St. Petersburg branch of the Russian Society for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments, which didn’t support the restoration plan.

“Businesses actively lobby their interests through the government,” he said. “The Summer Gardens are one such example. The mentality of Russian people is based on a fundamentally pejorative attitude to the original works,” he added.

Beata Nykiel, deputy director of the Research Institute of European Heritage at the International Cultural Centre in Krakow, emphasized that the problem of originals and fakes is one faced by most European countries.

“We can’t rely on self-development from society,” he said. “We need to instil a sense of originality in people.”

Renni acknowledged that parts of the Summer Gardens restoration project had elicited a mixed reaction.

“But in our opinion, the Summer Gardens have now regained that historic formal splendor that they possessed in the past,” he said.

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