Built to secure Russia’s hold on the Neva delta, Peter and Paul Fortress (Petropavlovskaya Krepost) is where it all started for St Petersburg.
During 1703, forced laborers toiled from dawn to dusk, and died in the thousands, completing the initial construction in only seven months.
The crude earthworks they constructed were subsequently replaced with monstrous brick walls, high arched gates and menacing spearhead like bastions, which jut out from all directions.
The main entrance gate from the Neva River side is probably the most imposing, situated between the Gosudarev and the Naryshkin Bastions and is preceded by a long granite pier, it is from here that prisoners would leave the fortress bound by boat for the gallows of Shlisselburg.
Standing upon this pier, one gets a glorious view across the Neva but just turn around and take a long look at the Neva Gate and Neva Curtain Wall of this fortress and feel slightly unnerved by it’s strong, dark, towering ramparts.
Within these walls one gets the feeling of a small town with its paved main roads and cobbled side streets and the buildings, some of which we now list below, have seen and been apart of the whole history of St Petersburg.
Peter and Paul Cathedral
The golden spire of the cathedral signifies defiance from the heart of the fortress and within is found the tombs of the Romanov monarchs from Peter the Great onwards and most importantly, the remains of Russia’s last royal family who were finally laid to rest here, exactly eighty years after they were killed by the Bolsheviks in Yekaterinburg.
Grand Ducal Mausoleum
Built to intern extended members of the royal family when the cathedral became too crowded for burial of any but the closest relatives. The principle tomb belonging to Archduke Vladimir, the heir to the Romanov dynasty, who was born in Belgium after the revolution and died in Miami, his remains were returned to Russia in 1992.
Boat House and Mint
Opposite the cathedral exit, in the courtyard, stands a Boat House topped by a nymph with an oar, symbolising navigation and inside lies an exact replica of the small boat in which Peter made his first sailing trips.
Across the courtyard looms the Mint and the world’s first lever press for coining money was devised here in 1811. The mint continued to produce coins till the end of the Soviet era and it still produces military medals and commemorative coins to this day.
The Fortress’s infamous prison is also known as the ‘Russian Bastille’, it was here that Peter the Great had his son tortured to death and later revolutionaries such as the Decembrists were incarcerated. The prison was designed to be virtually silent and all prisoners were kept in strict solitary confinement. Among some of the well known inhabitants were Lenin’s brother Alexander Ulyanov and Gorky and Trotsky in 1905.
Housing an exposition about the history of St Petersburg, whose occupant’s responsibilities included the security of the prisoners in the fortress and informing the Tsar when the Neva became navigable by bringing him a goblet of river water.
Your tour guide
As mentioned earlier the fortress has seen the best and worst of St Petersburg’s history and our guide will tell you the stories connected with all there is to see and do here.