Peter and Paul fortress

The Peter and Paul Fortress at Zayachy Island is St. Petersburg’s version of the Kremlin, the most popular tourist attraction in the entire city. The fortress is a historic landmark and its curtain walls and bastions are now home to the State Museum of the History of St. Petersburg.

Legend has it that on 16 May 1703, Peter the Great, accompanied by his retinue, took a boat to the island, got a spade, cut out two strips of the turf, made them into a cross and ordered construction to be started on that spot. The future fortress was given the name of St. Petersburg. The Peter and Paul Fortress was originally built in one year out of wood and soil; it then took another 30 years to reconstruct it in stone.

People usually enter the fortress from Gorkovskaya metro station, crossing the wooden Ioannovsky Bridge, the city’s first bridge, built over the Kronverk Strait in 1707. For the city’s 300th anniversary, one of the bridge piers was decorated with a monument to a hare - many of the animals live on the island around the fortress.
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Ioannovsky Gate takes you straight to the courtyard formed by the Ioannovsky Ravelin and the Petrovskaya Curtain Wall. The ravelin houses the ticket office, where you can buy tickets to the fortress’ museums, the cathedral and the prison. Petrovskaya Curtain Wall is the fortress’ eastern wall. There are six such walls - Petrovskaya, Nevskaya, Ekaterininskaya, Vasilievskaya, Nikolskaya and Kronverkskaya. Together, they bridge the six five-cornered bastions that were capable of providing a comprehensive defence in the event of an attack on the fortress.
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To get from the Ioannovsky Ravelin to the fortress, use the Petrovsky Gate, the only surviving triumphal arch from the time of Peter the Great. You can also use the postern, a secret passage through the thick Petrovskaya Curtain Wall leading to the Gosudarev (Tsar) Bastion.
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Between the Engineer’s House and the Peter and Paul Cathedral is a monument to Peter I by well-known sculptor Mikhail Shemyakin. The monument was erected in 1991. The Art Deco-style sculpture was designed to resemble the wax figure made after the Emperor’s death.

To the right of the cathedral, behind the fence, is the Commandant’s Cemetery. This was the burial ground for the fortress’ superintendents.

From the Commandant’s Cemetery, the Peter and Paul Cathedral looks like a two-masted ship ready to sail west. Architect Domenico Trezzini used the Baroque churches of Rome and the Protestant cathedrals of the Baltic countries as his prototypes. At 122.5 metres (380 ft), the cathedral is still the highest building in St. Petersburg. Its weather vane, in the form of an angel holding a cross with one hand and stretching the other high above, is one of city’s principal symbols. Its bell tower is equipped with a carillon, a special instrument used for playing the church bells and today, Cathedral Square often plays host to concerts of bell music.

The altar screen made by Ukrainian craftsman Ivan Zarudny is 30 metres (93 ft) in height and does not quite fit into the central space of the cathedral, so its upper portion has been fitted into the dome space. Some parts of the altar screen are carved from basswood and stained oak.

Peter the Great moved the family vault of the Romanov dynasty from the Kremlin’s Cathedral of the Archangel to the Peter and Paul Fortress while it was still under construction. The cathedral (without the side-altar) holds a total of 41 tombstones. It was the burial place for 11 emperors and empresses and their relatives. All of the tombstones (which were made uniform in 1864) are crafted from white Carrara marble with only two exceptions - the enormous tombs of the assassinated Alexander II and his wife Maria Alexandrovna. The Emperor’s tomb is made of green ribbed gem jade, while the Empress’ tomb has been constructed from pink rhodonite.
The Boat House in the centre of Cathedral Square was built at the beginning of Catherine the Great’s reign in honour of the “grandfather of the Russian fleet” - a small boat that was gifted by the English to Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, the father of Peter the Great.
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The square’s southern side is occupied by the Commandant’s House. The second floor was the residential quarter for the fortress’ superintendent, while the ground floor was used for offices. Today, the building houses a museum about St. Petersburg’s pre-revolutionary history.

The most interesting part of the museum is on the second floor, which houses the room where the noblemen who took part in the Decembrist Revolt of 1825 were sentenced by the highest criminal court. Six of the insurgents were hanged and the rest were exiled to Siberia. Next is a large-scale model showing how the Alexander Column in Palace Square was erected. The next room houses a famous panorama of Nevsky Prospect in the time of poet Alexander Pushkin.

Next is a suite of rooms dedicated to St. Petersburg in the early twentieth century. These rooms host one of the world’s best collections of household items of that era. You can find almost anything in here - adding machines, bonnets and shoes, luggage and shop signs, a huge vault, numerous sets of dishes and sanitary porcelain. There is even a 1906 Benz automobile. Visitors are allowed to touch everything, and there are lots of audio and video materials explaining the various exhibits. Children will be particularly intrigued by the “tenement house in profile” which is a scale model of a residential building with miniature residents, furniture, cookware, clothes and so on.
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The entire eastern side of Cathedral Square is taken up by the facade of the Mint. This semi-palace and semi-fortress was built in the French Neo-Classical style. It continues to mint Russian coins and make medals to this day.
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If you leave the fortress through the Vasilievsky Gate, you will reach the helipad from where you can take an airborne tour of the city. If you head to the opposite side, skirting around the Mint, you will end up near the prison in the Trubetskoy Bastion.
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The Peter and Paul Fortress was used as a prison for a long time. In 1872, a two-storey prison comprising 69 single cells was built in the inner courtyard of the Trubetskoy Bastion. Its prisoners included the elder brother of Vladimir Lenin, Alexander Ulyanov; Leon Trotsky; writer Maxim Gorky; and left-wing People’s Will revolutionaries Andrei Zhelyabov (who directed the assassination of Alexander II) and Alexander Morozov.

Today, you can visit the prison and see inside. You enter through the guardhouse where the sentries were posted and the guards could go for some warmth in the winter. Not a single escape was made from the Trubetskoy Bastion or other prisons of the Peter and Paul Fortress in all the years of their existence. The perfect system of double control is displayed on the ground floor, in a small wax figure museum.
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Walking from the prison past the Kronverkskaya Curtain Wall and the Mint, you will reach the Naryshkin Bastion and the Flag Tower. The Flag Tower served two purposes. It was a pavilion where Empress Anna Ioannovna used to sit and take some rest after walking the fortress walls and it was the place where the flag was raised. To the right of the Flag Tower is the signal cannon that is still used to mark noon with a blank shot.

You can walk from the Naryshkin Bastion to Gosudarev Bastion along the wooden scaffolding that has been laid across the fortress walls. The views of St. Petersburg are quite breathtaking.
Ruslan Shamukov/TASS
Using the Neva Gate, you exit to the Commandant’s Pier. If you look under the gate’s arch, you can find marks indicating the levels reached by the greatest St. Petersburg floods. A special dibhole was dug at the average height of the Neva and memorial plaques marking the water level during the six most catastrophic floods in the city’s history were hung on the wall.
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