In 1704, Peter I presented an extensive land plot on the southern coast of the Finnish Gulf, 40 km away from St. Petersburg, to his associate and friend Prince Alexander Menshikov. In the 1710s, the farmstead was named Oranienbaum (from German Oranienbaum, a bitter orange tree). The Tsar often visited Menshikov's mansion during his trips to Kronstadt which was under construction.
The first design of the Grand Palace in Menshikov’s Mansion was prepared by Italian architect Francesco Fontana who worked in Russia in 1703–1713. After his departure, the construction was continued by German architects Johann Braunstein and Gottfried Schaedel who expanded and enriched the original concept offered by the Italian architect. The main building of the palace has two levels. The one-storey arc-shaped wings adjoin to it on both sides, ending with high pavilions — the Church Pavilion and the Japanese Pavilion. The Maid of Honor and Kitchen wings adjoin the pavilions on the southern side, flanking the Main Courtyard.
The Lower Garden with fountains and sculptures was laid out when Menshikov was alive. Initially, the garden was much larger than it is now, occupying all the area from the palace up to the shore of the Gulf of Finland. A parterre with three flower beds arranged in complex geometric patterns was set up along the center line of the building and framed with six clipped bosquets. The green area was comprised of trees and bushes of local species. Free-growing lindens and maples were interspersed among spruce trees and juniper trees, with the latter being clipped into pyramid shapes. Fruit trees and berry-producing shrubs were planted to follow the tradition of Moscow gardens of the 16th-17th centuries.
The central line of the composition of the palace and park ensemble was the Marine Channel connecting the Great Palace with the sea. It ended with a ladle-shaped harbor and a berth near the gates of the Lower Garden. The banks of the channel were planted with two rows of trees. A water conduit to feed three fountains was installed, running from a dam on the Karosta River. The Menshikov Garden had 39 cut wooden sculptures painted in white in imitation of marble and four statues of gilded lead. The garden and garden benches were enclosed by trellises.
A plank pavement was laid and five stone houses built east of the Palace. The houses were connected with each other by a stone wall to comprise a kind of ensemble. Two buildings at the edges of the Lower Garden — the Bitter Orange Greenhouse and the Painting House – were built but not finished. Two ponds — the Upper and the Lower —were built. The latter was also known as the “Little Amusement Sea” with small ships available to residence guests for having fun on the water. The Lower Pond had a berth which could be reached by a staircase running from the Japanese Pavilion. The Lower Pond connected by a creek with another large water body was almost immediately adjacent to the southern façade of the Palace. The two served as reservoirs for supplying water to the fountains in the Lower Garden.
Contemporaries noted the unheard-of luxury of the country residence of His Highness Prince. French traveller Aubrey de la Mottraye wrote: “Oranienbaum is a wonderful entertaining palace…. Nothing can be compared with it, neither in its splendor, nor in any other respect.”
In September 1727, soon after the completion of work, Menshikov was arrested and exiled with his whole family to the remote town of Berezov in Siberia where he died and was buried in 1729. All of the manors and palaces owned by Menshikov were confiscated by order of Emperor Peter II. In 1745, Karl Peter Ulrich von Schleswieg-Holstein, the future Emperor Peter III, became the owner of the Grand Palace. For him, Francesco Rastrelli redesigned the interiors of the Palace, built a palace wing behind the eastern pavilion, designed an approach alley as an extension of the main staircase of the Palace, decorated the terraces with decorative sculptures and the garden with marble statues, and built a new garden fence with a gate. The Peterstadt Fortress was built for amusement of Peter III in the Upper Park. Its only surviving structures are the Ceremonial Gates and the Palace. At that time, a town began to take shape around the manor, and in 1780, it became the chief town of the district (uyezd). In 1948, the town was named Lomonosov after a prominent Russian scientist. The reason was that in the middle of the 18th century, Mikhail Lomonosov established the world’s first factory to produce smalt for mosaic in the village of Ust-Ruditsa not far from Oranienbaum.
Two identical buildings — the Greenhouse and the Painting House (the latter survives to this day) — stood symmetrically near the northern border of the Lower Garden. Built in the 18th century, the Painting House is a one-storey stone building with a mezzanine that was used to house the court theatre, a collection of paintings, a library and a room with rarities of Grand Duke Peter Fedorovich.
When she was a Grand Duchess, Catherine Alexeyevna, the future Empress Catherine II, invited architect Antonio Rinaldi to do some work in the palace. He rebuilt the terrace again, built a splendid granite staircase with a semi-circular balcony and two fountains in the Lower Garden. In the south-western part of the ensemble, Rinaldi built the Chinese Palace which was named so because of having several Chinese style interiors. The Chinese Palace became part of the ensemble of Catherine II’s own summer residence along with a sophisticated amusement pavilion “Katalnaya Gorka” (a slide) and the Concert Hall building, which was at various times named as the “Kammenoye Zalo” (Stone Hall) or the “New Palace”.
In the end of the 18th century, the Palace housed the Naval Cadet Corps. Then the Palace was owned by Alexander I and later by his brother Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich. Until 1917, Oranienbaum had served as a country residence of members of the royal family. The last owners of Oranienbaum were the Dukes of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, George Georgievich, who was buried in the park (his grave, which was ruined during the Soviet period, is now marked by a memorial stone), and his younger brother Michael.
After the 1917 Revolution, the Palaces of Menshikov and Peter III were used to house the Forestry College. A museum was opened in the Chinese Palace in 1922.
Unlike other suburbs of Leningrad, Oranienbaum was not destroyed by German troops during the Second World War.
In 1996, the Central Building of the Palace was placed under the supervision of the Oranienbaum Museum-Reserve and has been under restoration since 2004.
The palace and park ensemble is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Historic Center of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments”. Since 2007, the palaces and the park have been managed by the Peterhof Museum-Reserve.