Monrepos Park,Vyborg, Russia

Posted on March 9th, 2011 by Charles Boot

Mikhail Efimov & Julia Moshnik write:

In 2010 Monrepos Park celebrated its 250th anniversary. Located near Vyborg (the Finnish town of Wiipuri) about 250km from St Petersburg, it is the only rocky landscape park in Russia. It is a remarkable case of a dialogue between different cultures, the final result being a great example of European landscape art from the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries.

The waterside setting of Mon Repos, positioned on an often frozen inlet near Vyborg. Photo by Sergey Kiselev

The waterside setting of Mon Repos, positioned on an often frozen inlet near Vyborg. Photo by Sergey Kiselev

The story starts in 1760, when Peter Stupishin (1718–82), the commander of Vyborg’s fortress, acquired ‘Old Vyborg’ manor on Linnansaari Island. Here he began the creation of Sharlottendal Park, named after his wife Charlotte.
The manor and park were then bought by Friedrich Wilhelm Karl Herzog von Wu?rttemberg (1754–1816), the brother of Grand Duchess Maria Fedorovna (future wife of Emperor Paul I of Russia). Prince Friedrich gave the park its present name ‘Monrepos’ (‘My rest’ or ‘My repose’), presumably to remind him of the Swiss house Monrepos near Lausanne where he had spent his youth; thus the park was designed according to European precedent. On his forced departure from Russia (following a divorce scandal), Friedrich gave his German residence near Stuttgart the same name, Monrepos.

It was the manor’s next owner, who bought it in 1788, the German born Baron Ludwig Heinrich von Nicolay (1737–1820), who was to play the greatest part in the creation of today’s landscape park. Upon graduation from Strasbourg University Nicolay had gone to Paris, where he made various acquaintances amongst the French Encyclopaedists. A versatile translator, an admirer of Rousseau and acquainted with Voltaire, Diderot, and d’Alembert, he personified the ‘Siecle De Lumieres’, the Enlightenment. In 1769 Nicolai was invited to the Russian Empire to become tutor of the then Grand Duke Paul, and later the private secretary of Grand Duchess Maria Fedorovna, and on Paul’s succession he was appointed as President of the St Petersburg Imperial Academy of Sciences (1798– 1803).Von Nicolay was now a high-ranking court official, as well as a renowned poet, translator and playwright.

Having a profound knowledge and love of Classicism in both art and literature he was at the same time sensitive to new artistic trends. Circumstance now gave him an opportunity to realise his main intent, to enrich a majestic and wild landscape without destroying it, with taste and in the manner of an exquisite artist. Nicolay was to record his creation in a long poem ‘Das Landgut Monrepos in Finnland, 1804’ [The Monrepos Estate in Finland], illustrated with lithographs by Luis-Julien Jacquotte. It was both a kind of guidebook and an embodiment of the aesthetic views of ‘the poetic gardener’, idyllic in spirit with an emphasis on emotional sensitivity and the elevated sentiments of Neoclassicism. One can unmistakably recognize here many cross-European trends of the epoch, including Rousseau’s cult, a vivid interest in Northern mythology (epic of Ossian etc.) and the English garden style. Nicolay spent the last seventeen years of his long life at Monrepos.

Among majestic rocks Paul erected the sculpture of Va?ina?mo?inen, hero of the ‘Kalevala’ epic. . Photo by Sergey Kiselev

Among majestic rocks Paul erected the sculpture of Vainamoinen, hero of the ‘Kalevala’ epic. . Photo by Sergey Kiselev

Under Nicolay’s son Paul Nicolay (1777–1866), a notable Russian diplomat, the ensemble of Monrepos was completed. Paul Nicolay had spent more than thirty years in Denmark in Russia’s diplomatic service; perhaps thanks to this the theme of the Scandinavian North has a special resonance at Monrepos.Among majestic rocks Paul erected the sculpture of Vainamoinen, hero of the ‘Kalevala’ epic; a powerful seer with supernatural origins, he was a master of the kantele, the Finnish harp-like stringed instrument. This monument has been named by academician Dmitri Likhachev ‘the first such monument of this literary personage in Europe’. On Ludwigstein Island he built a memorial chapel in Neo-Gothic style, establishing a Nicolay family mausoleum.
In addition to this, Paul set up a magnificent obelisk in memory of his brothers-in-law, Charles and Auguste de Broglie, Russian Imperial Army officers who perished in the Napoleonic wars.

The spectacular waterside setting of Mon Repos, with its cliff-top memorial chapel, the Nicolay family mausoleum. Photo by Sergey Kiselev

The spectacular waterside setting of Mon Repos, with its cliff-top memorial chapel, the Nicolay family mausoleum. Photo by Sergey Kiselev

The artistic and aesthetic background of Monrepos comes from a diverse lineage and owes much to the contributions of architects and sculptors of different styles and nationalities; the Italian Giovanni Martinelli, the Russian Alexander Pavlov, the Dane Gotthelph Borup, the French August de Mountferrand, English Charles Heathcote Tatum, the Finnish Johannes Takanen and others.Tree saplings for Monrepos were sent from Poland, the garden sculptures from Italy and Denmark, and garden works were conducted under German gardeners.The style of Monrepos was influenced by various European fashions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. So, among other park pavilions there were ‘The Turkish tent’, ‘The Chinese parasol’ and ‘The Temple in a Greek style’.

The manor remained within the Nicolay family until 1942, when it passed into the ownership of Count Nicolas von der Pahlen, nephew of Marie Nicolay, the last member of the original family of owners. Count von der Pahlen owned Monrepos until 1944. During 1918–1939 and 1941–1944 Monrepos, with Finnish Wiipuri, was part of an independent Finland, in 1939–1940 and again since 1944 it became part of territory of Soviet Union (now Russian Federation). Under the Soviet regime Monrepos Park was transformed into ‘the city park of rest’, the sorry state of which Peter Hayden wrote about in Russian Parks and Gardens (2008). It was only in 1988 that the State Historical and Architectural Cultural Preserve of ‘Monrepos Park’ was established, with invaluable encouragement given by the outstanding Russian intellectual and literary historian academician Dmitri Likhachev. Thanks to translations of Likhachev’s book The Poetry of Gardens, 1982, many people around the world have now heard about Monrepos. ‘Monrepos Park’ was established to keep and save its natural and cultural milieu. Monrepos Park is confronted with the more than serious problem both of how to restore the lost, and to maintain what survives. Unfortunately in modern Russia there is no legislation on Cultural Preservations, hence its legal status is not defined.

For modern Vyborg’s town-dwellers, Monrepos is one of the favourite recreation areas and one of the main city sights. How to combine its status as both reserved territory and recreation zone? Park plantings require protection and careful treatment; it concerns memorial alleys, as well as rare species of mosses and lichens. Moreover the sheer size of the park’s landscape (over thirty hectares of historical park) rules out reliance on mechanized maintenance.At the same time one of the most valuable parts of the Monrepos ensemble is the wooden manor complex; for the last twenty years this has been under restoration financed from the budget of Russia’s government but the future of this work is now uncertain.The rocky landscape park demands from visitors a solicitous attitude, for modern Monrepos now receives around 80,000 visitors annually.

Cooperation with the Finnish association ‘Pro Monrepos’ has resulted in the restoration of 'Neptune’s Temple’. Photo by Sergey Kiselev

Cooperation with the Finnish association ‘Pro Monrepos’ has resulted in the restoration of 'Neptune’s Temple’. Photo by Sergey Kiselev

An important feature of Monrepos’ activity has been cooperation with the Finnish association ‘Pro Monrepos’. As a result of this joint work, signs of restoration are evident to any visitor; the two ‘Chinese bridges’, ‘The Tea Arbour’, and Neptune’s Temple’.The key event of 2007 was when the statue of Va?ina?mo?inen was restored at last (by Konstantin Bobkov from St Petersburg).

The Research Department of Monrepos Park Museum conducts research work in various fields; the history of the park, the biographies of its owners and theirs relatives, the study of the famous Monrepos Library etc. In July 2010 the launch of the ‘Monrepos Almanac’ took place in Monrepos Park Museum; this book has no parallels in Russian or in Russia, among its authors are researchers from Russia, Finland and Germany. The Monrepos Park organizes international conferences and workshops, which gather participants from many countries. The history of the park draws attention of experts both in Russia and Europe. The author of one of the best books about Monrepos [Monrepos: muistojen puutarha, 1993] is Eva Ruoff, a Senior Reader in History and Theory of Landscape Architecture at the Technical University of Helsinki. The uniqueness of Monrepos is recognized by everybody who learns about this park; to save it is our principal goal, despite the numerous obstacles.

Mikhail Efimov is the deputy director of the State historical and architectural culture preserve “Monrepos Park” (Vyborg, Russia)

Julia Moshnik is the Head of the Research Department of the State historical and architectural culture preserve “Monrepos Park” (Vyborg, Russia)

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