The world-famous "capital of fountains" or "Russian Versailles" was founded by Peter I. In 1918 the main summer residence of the Russian emperors became state property and by 1941 ten museums of art and history had been opened on its premises. During the war of 1941-45, Peterhof was razed to the ground by the Nazis. Restoration work began in as early as 1944, after the Nazis were expelled from the town, and, for the most part, the ensemble was returned to its former splendour. The first fountain began to operate once more in 1946. The Hermitage pavilion reopened in 1952 and the Great Palace in 1964. In 1966 the Great Cascade was fully reconstructed. Restoration work is, however, still in progress.

Building of the palace and park ensemble and a landing-stage for boats bound for Kotlin Island began in the early 1700s. The first palaces and pavilions were erected, parks were laid out and a network of fountains constructed. These were later repeatedly expanded and modified.

The centrepiece of the Peterhof ensemble is the Great Palace, which stands on a natural terrace facing the sea (original building 1714-25, designed by Johann-Friedrich Braunstein, Mikhail Zemtsov and Jean-Baptiste Le Blond). To this day, the palace retains the appearance that it acquired in 1745-55 after reconstruction work was carried out by the outstanding representative of Baroque architecture, Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli. The interiors of the palace - the Throne Hall, Peter I's oak-panelled study (carved by Nicolas Pineau), the Chinese Lobbies, the Portrait Hall, the White Dining-Room, and others - are all master pieces of decorative and applied art.

The picturesque parks play an important part in the Peterhof ensemble. These include the regular Upper Gardens, the Lower Park, the gardens of Venus and Bacchus and the landscaped English and Meadow Parks, amongst others.

Peterhofs unique network of fountains has brought it worldwide acclaim. The better-known Great Cascade, consisting of 64 fountains (the largest of which is Sampson Tearing Open the Jaws of the Lion), is the work of the sculptor Mikhail Kozlovsky. Its 225 sculptural decorations were contributed by Fedot Shubin, theodosius Shchedrin, Ivan Prokofiev, Ivan Martos and others. The Avenue of Fountains, the Fountain of Marble Benches, the Chessboard Hill, the Golden Hill, the Pyramid and the Sun are the only ones of their. kind. There is a total of 3 cascades and 144 fountains in Peterhof s parks.

On the shore of the Gulf of Finland stands the one-storey Monplaisir Palace (1714-23, designed by Le Blond, Niccolo Michetti and Braunstein; supervised by Peter I). Items of 18th-century palace decor and Western European paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries taken from Peter I's collection are on display in the rooms and galleries, that lead off from the central State Hall.

Peter I's relics, and paintings by Western European artists, can be seen in the Marly Palace (1720-23, architect Braunstein).

The Hermitage Pavilion (1721-25, architect Braunstein) served as the prototype for all similar 18th century pavilions in St. Petersburg and Moscow. The interiors of the vestibule, kitchen and pantry on the ground floor have been restored along with the large hall on the first floor in which 124 Western European paintings are exhibited.

The Cottage Palace in the Alexandria Park was erected between 1826 and 1829 by the architect Adam Menelaws as a summer residence for Nicholas I's family. It was built in the style of medieval English architecture. Its interiors have been completely restored and now contain display of works by Russian and European painters,, as well as diverse objets d'art and sculptures.

In 1988 the museum of the Benois family opened in the western wing of the Maid-of-Honour Houses, built in 1864 according to a design of Nikolai Benois. The bulk of its collection consists of gifts presented by Benois' descendants. The exhibition focuses on the work of such members of the dynasty as Alexander and Leonty Benois, Evgeny Lanceray, Zinaida Serebriakova, Peter Ustinov and other luminaries. The museum holds temporary exhibitions of works from the Peterhof palaces and private collections and hosts displays by modern artists.