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Peter-and-Paul Fortress

Peter-and-Paul Fortress

The history of the foundation of Peter and Paul fortress dates back to the very beginning of the 18th century. Originally this territory belonged to Russia and was a part of a very prosperous and powerful Novgorodian principality. Being a part of a world-famous trade route from Varangians to the Greeks there were several attempts to seize it, as a result of one of them Russia lost not only this area but also the outlet to the Baltic Sea which can’t but hampered the economic development of the country. Realizing it Peter the Great decided to launch a military campaign against Sweden which came into history as a Northern War and lasted for 21 years In 1702-03, when the battle scene shifted to the banks of the Neva River, a small island Janis saari (“Hare island”) in the wide estuary of the Neva river was chosen by Peter the Great deliberately-any structure on this island could be protected from any side. The construction began on the 16th (27th) of May 1703. Forced labourers, perishing in their thousands, toiled from dawn to dusk on the island and managed to construct the fortress in just seven months of 1703. But these eathern ramparts were an insufficient defence and subsequently (1706-1725) the crude earthworks were replaced by brick walls under the direction of Trezzini and later faced with granite slabs. Work proceeded on a section-by-section basis so as not to weaken the defences, whose cannons and four-metre-thick walls were never actually tested by an invander. Though the Fortress was built for the sake of protection and gained the reputation of a flawless fortress it happened so that it had never been attacked and never performed any military duties. The Fortress is shaped as an elongated hexagon with 6 bastions at the corners, each of them named after Peter’s close associates who were responsible for their construction, namely the Sovereigh (Gosudar) and his cohorts Menshikov, Naryshkin (citizens of St. Petersburg got accustomed to check their clocks with the cannon shot daily given from the this bastion), Golovkin, Trubetskoy and Zotov.

The Fortress is often referred to as “Russian Bastile”, for in 1718 it was converted into a political prison – the most dismal jail that tsarist Russia ever had. The first person to be kept here in custody and be secretly executed was Peter the Great’s son, Prince Alexis, as he opposed progressive reforms of his father. Later on Empress Anna’s opponents, the Decembrists and succeeding generations of revolutionaries were locked up here in the cells and the grim reputation of the Fortress was only growing until the Soviet era made other prisons synonymous with even greater terror.

Today the Fortress is cherished as a historical monument, especially its structural center – Peter-and-Paul Cathedral consecrated in the names of Apostles Peter and Paul who are considered to be the patron saints of our city. Its architectural decision was new for the Russia of those days – the cathedral is accomplished in the early baroque style, its facades have traces of Italian churches and monuments of the Northern Europe. The construction of the highest architectural building (about 400 feet) under the capable direction of D.Trezzini began in 1712, when the Russia''s capital was transferred to St. Petersburg. By the order of Peter the Great, Peter-and-Paul Cathedral became the burial place of the Romanov’s imperial family and even the remains of the last russian Tsar Nicolas II and his family found peace :Nowadays it is a historical and cultural reserve of St. Petersburg housing the City History museum.

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