Fountain House: The First Aristocratic Palace of St. Petersburg

The Fountain House was built by the Sheremetevs in 1712 on a plot of marshland given to them by Peter I.  The original Fountain House was constructed of just wood, and resembled a dacha.  However, in the 1740’s, Petr Sheremetev decided to expand and embellish the home, transforming it into a palace.

Some speculate that the Italian architect Rastrelli, who designed the Summer Palace and the palace at Tsarskoe Selo during this period, was also responsible for the renovation of the Fountain House.  The new Fountain House was opulent.  The exterior was decorated with wrought iron gates, a classical façade, marble statues, lush gardens, and – of course – fountains.  The interior was extravagant as well, featuring European sculptures, furniture, and wallpaper.

Over the years, the Fountain House established itself as a cultural center within St. Petersburg.  In the late 1700’s, it was the location for the Shemetevevs family’s extravagant dinners and balls.  Many important literary figures paid visits to the salons held at the Fountain House or were close friends with the Sheremetevs, such as Tiotchev, Viazemsky, and Pushkin.

The Palace of Sheremetievs (Fountain House)

When the Revolution broke out in 1917, Boris Sheremetev gave his family’s home over to the state in an effort to save it.  In doing so, he made an agreement with the Soviet government that said that the Fountain House was to become a museum.  However, the Bolsheviks eventually divided the rooms of the Fountain House into apartments.  It was in one of these apartments that Anna Akhmatova would live from 1918, until 1938.  These were rough times at the Fountain House, which was struck with dysentery, and whose inhabitants often did not have enough to eat.  Despite the conditions, Akhmatova idealized the Fountain House, and the special connection she felt it had with Russia’s literary and cultural past, and she often wrote about it in her poetry.

Today, the Fountain House is home to several museums, just as Boris Sheremetev had hoped it would be.  A Museum of Music can be found in the upstairs rooms, while most of the others rooms feature the Akhmatova Museum.

Works Cited:
Figes, Orlando. Natasha’s Dance A Cultural History of Russia. New York: Picador, 2003.
Richardson, Dan.  A Rough Guide to St. Petersburg.  New York:  Rough Guides, 2008.

Question for discussion:  Why do you think Anna Akhmatova might have felt such a strong connection to this place?  What might this house have signified to her, other than being an important and and beautiful historical building?

 

By Will Sinnott and Tara Calloway

Comments

  1. kwafolie says:

    The Fountain House carried a history and a memory of a time that Anna Akhmatova wished to preserve. It represented a prosperous period of artistic freedom mimicking that of Western Europe: classical forms and styles, a social elite, exploration. As a poet from (formerly) upper class society, she embodied what the Fountain House represented. She also adhered to a classical form of writing and was the “last great poet of Orthodoxy.” Through her refusal to leave Russia under the Soviet Regime and her upkeep of the Palace, she felt that she was the guardian of the House and of the past. Both endured the oppressive revolutionary regime and the NKVD. Indeed, even in times of great tribulation, her husband hosted many people in his Fountain House apartment, reminiscent of pre-Revolutionary days.