THE WINTER PALACE
Pavilion Hall Gardens

At the State Hermitage (former Winter Palace) there is a hall that is especially adored by visitors--the famous Pavilion Hall.
Its decor unites features of various cultures and historical epochs, traditions of Western and Orient styles, producing
quite a harmonious, integral effect. Artist: Eduard Hau (1865)

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We often perceive winter gardens and fragrant "islands" of greenery in the interiors as a miracle , something from "One Thousand and One Nights", something to compare with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. According to historians, once a gardener paid with his life for an especially successful work. In winter 1240, Cologne awaited an arrival of Wilhelm the Dutch, a German king. They prepared a splendid reception, and one of the halls was converted into a blooming garden. It was so impossibly beautiful that the gardener Albert Magnus was accused of sorcery.

In Saint Petersburg winter gardens gained popularity in the middle of the 18th century, remaining popular until the beginning of the 20th century. However, their exterior, decorations, assortment of plants and choice of the garden accessories were always changing, following the fickle fashion. If in the beginning of the 19th century, Italy was the most beloved cultural center of the Russian public (that's why gardens and halls were created in the "Pompeiian" style), the second quarter of the century saw Spain as the favourite.

East plays an important role in romantic art. "Alhambra" described in the Art Gazette of 1838 as an architectural masterpiece, becomes a common name. The first winter gardens in the Moresque style appear in Saint Petersburg: winter garden in the Mariinsky Palace (architect Andrei Stackenschneider), winter garden in the Yusupov Palace on the Moika Embankment (architect Bernard de Simon), etc. These interiors are very similar to each other. They are halls "in the Moorish taste", with opened arcades and a fountain in the center. Another necessary attribute is a fountain similar to the fountain of Bakhchisaray: thin streams of water running from one bowl to another.

The influence of the Moresque motifs also appears in the interiors of the main imperial residence. A bathroom in the Moresque style, designed by Alexander Brullov, was built in 1839-1840 at the Winter Palace. In 1859 Ippolit Monigetti, participating in the competition for creating interiors of the Golden Drawing-Room of the Winter Palace, presents another project in the Moresque style, which, however, was never brought to life.

Not one Moresque interior of the Winter Palace has survived, but in the Small Hermitage there is a hall, in which eastern decor elements are used. It's the well-known Pavilion Hall. Not everybody knows, however, that it was designed as a single whole with a winter garden. Combining classicism, antiquity and Renassaince, Andrei Stackenschneider created one of the finest interiors of the period.

Florian Giles, author of the Hermitage guidebook, wrote in 1861: "A room of the upper part of the pavilion was expanded and refashioned. It's a white, marble room occupying two floors of the pavilion windows overlooking the Neva, and the hanging garden with light golden lattice galleries, held on light columns. It's a wonderful construction, an epitome of what can be now called the 19th century style and also serve as a monument to this sytle. Stackenschneider combined Renaissance style with motifs of the Arabian architecture from Spain and with legends of ancient architecture. The floors are covered with Roman style mosaics, and the mirror doors lead right into the garden".

We can imagine how the Pavilion Hall impressed the audience of that time. Entering the hall, a guest saw the Neva behind the windows. Walking through the colonnade, he came first to the winter garden, and then--to the usual garden in the open air. Just imagine, how spectacular was this walk during the winter: a cold Neva covered in ice, then--the Pavilion Hall with its wild greenery and birds singing, and then--hanging garden covered with snow. The hall was flooded with light. It seemed to sparkle, because the light coming through the subtropical greenery of the winter garden, played with the reflections on the white marble walls. And how many hues there were!

The first "Moresque" gardens were as alike as twins, but the Pavilion interior was different. It combined miraculously Renaissance traditions (stucco decorations on arcs: arabesques, putti, rosaces), memories of ancient Pompeii (mosaics on the floor and walls, fountains in atriums and gardens), and Eastern motifs. Each element here is ambiguous: for example, Eastern "fountains of tears" are made in the style of antique monuments. The pattern of the upper galleries' lattice (gilded rosaces of four parts) reminds one of the Moresque architecture, but it has a distinct imprint of the European culture.

The same can be said about the design of the winter garden, about the assortment of plants, which were very different from the other two winter gardnes of the Winter Palace. For example, one of the central places in the composition was occupied by cedars, which according to the Eastern tradition, are symbols of enernity and poetic feminine beauty.

The Pavilion Hall is usually compared with the Lion Courtyard of the Alhambra, where the inner section of the patio is divided in four parts with a fountain in the center. The fountain of the winter garden has eastern motifs of the fountain from the Vorontsov Palace in Alupka (architect John Blore), but at the same time has an austere shape, characteristic to the antiquity.

In the flower gardens layout elements of a traditional Muslim garden or a courtyard are evident. It was usually divided in four parts with a fountain dominating its center (such courtyards were present in the caliphate palace complexes or simple dwellings, at markets or in mosques). However, we should not forget about the symbolical meaning of "4", which dates back to the ancient past of our civilization, and represents four sacral elements--water, fire, earth and air. In the first book of the Old Testament, there is the following passage: "From Eden a river flowed out to water the garden, then it divided into four rivers". For the Persians of the ancient world, a cross divided the universe in four parts with a spring (or fountain) in its center. The hunting parks in Mesopotamia were also divided in four parts with a building in the center.

After conquests of Alexander the Great, the Greek aristocracy started copying elegant gardens of Persia and the East. The sophisticated Hellenistic epoch greatly influenced the development of the gardening in the Roman Empire. East (from Egypt to Persia) was again taken as a fountain.

Perhaps, that is the reason why the Pavilion Winter Garden in the antique style of the wonderful Pompeii has a slightly softened imprint of the interior. It completely exposes a myth that architecture of the period was only a mechanical mix of various styles. On the contrary, we can see a harmonious integrity, an amazing combination of various cultural traditions. In that period general fascination with gardening led to the organization of the Garden Society. From 1858 gardening exhibitions, in which many famous gardeners,members of the society and patrons participated, were regularly organized. A prominent architect Harold Bosse designed the first three exhibitions.

Perhaps, a lasting impression of the Pavilion Hall and the Pavilion garden brought him to the idea of designing the third exhibition in the Moresque style. The exhibition took place in the manage near the Winter Palace, and it was accessible only through the terrace, on which, as was then written, "a peristyle of a Moresque Palace was erected, a drawing of Bosse, brought from Granada". The exhibition was a great success. It had more visitors than the previous two.

After the 1917 revolution, the winter gardens became too expensive a luxury. The winter garden of the Pavilion Hall fell into decay. The plants were left without care; the glass was broken. In 1925 it was almost completely in ruin. On August 27, 1925, the winter garden ceased to exist.

Pavilion Hall, Winter Palace, St. Petersburg
Artist: Eduard Hau (1864)

Text by Maria Dubrovskaya ©