St. Petersburg, Russia
The Peter and Paul Fortress is the greatest Russian citadel of the gunpowder age. Because of its extended western border and endless frontiers in the east, it was impractical for Russia to defend itself with fortresses and traditionally built few. But the new capital of St. Petersburg merited an exception. As a result the Peter and Paul Fortress was the largest Russian military building project of the Colonial era. Its construction challenged the other European powers of the Baltic, notably Sweden, and played a pivotal role in Russian history right through Cold War. It is also home to the Peter and Paul Cathedral, where many Russian monarchs are buried. The Peter and Paul Fortress is one of the largest and best preserved gunpowder fortresses in Europe and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Russia. The Peter and Paul Fortress is part of the Historic Center of St. Petersburg UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 1703, the aptly nicknamed Peter the Great decided to enter the European political arena by establishing a new capital city for the Russian Empire. Choosing a site where the Neva River empties into the Baltic Sea, the first project was the construction of a new, immense ultra-modern fortress to defend the city and harbor. Dubbed the Peter and Paul Fortress, named in part for the czar’s namesake saint, the citadel was completed in earth and wood within the year. This original fortress was then slowly replaced by a permanent stone structure over the next three decades.
Designed both to impress other European powers with their engineering capabilities, as well as a military base to use against the ever-present threat of Sweden, the fortress never actually witnessed fighting until the 20th century. However, for many years it was used as a political prison, both in the czarist and later in the communist periods. Among its most famous inmates were Leon Trotsky and Fyodor Dostoevesky.
The Peter and Paul Fortress was at center stage for the Russian Revolution, and in 1917 and 1918 witnessed several important events. It was fought over by the Red and White factions, changing hands several times before becoming a communist stronghold. The fortress became the base from which the Winter Palace and most of the rest of St. Petersburg were later captured, after which it was used as a holding site for captured government officials.
World War II brought the about the Siege of Leningrad, one of the most terrible engagements of the war. The Peter and Paul Fortress was used as an operational command center by the Russians. However, while it did come under heavy bombardment from artillery fire, thanks to its central position in the city the fortress never came under direct attack. The Peter and Paul Fortress was rebuilt after the war, and is now home to the City Museum.
The Peter and Paul Fortress is the oldest structure in St. Petersburg. It stands at the very heart of the city on the small Zayachy Island in the middle of the Neva River, with the outer fortifications encompassing a little over half of the island. The most dramatic view of the fortress, and the place from which the military design can best be appreciated, is from a boat actually on the river. The outer walls form the classic star pattern, at least on three sides, that was in general use in Europe at the time.
The inside of the fortress is home to some of the most historic sites in the city. Among these is the fortress cathedral, where many of Russia’s monarchs are buried. The stories of Peter and Paul’s use as a prison are as famous as those of the Tower of London. Located within the Trubetskoy Bastion is an exhibit where visitors can see where Dostoyevsky and others were imprisoned and where Peter the Great had his own son beaten to death. Also within the fortress is the St. Petersburg Museum of History as well as one of the city’s early mints.
The Peter and Paul Fortress is conveniently located in the city center, just across the Neva River from the Winter Palace. It is open daily from 10:00am-5:00pm (longer hours in Summer). As of this writing the cost of admission was not available. Web: www.museum.ru/M112 (official website).
For many centuries the area around St. Petersburg was a battleground for warring factions and a long string of invaders, from the Vikings to the Teutonic Knights. Among the oldest castle left behind by the invaders is the Staraya Ladoga Fortress, originally built by Norse Vikings. Sweden also built many castles during their occupation of the region, including Vyborg Castle, Shlisslburg Castle and the Korela Fortress. Teutonic Knights from Germany founded the Koporye Fortress, though this was later destroyed and rebuilt by the Swedes in later years. The magnificent Ivangorod Fortress was one of the latest to be completed and one of the few that was built by Russians.