St. Petersburg

Peter and Paul Fortress

06 Apr 2018
Dress appropriately and head on over to Hare’s island – the small piece of land situated at the mouth of the Neva and the heart of St. Petersburg, on which rests the foundation and first building of the city: Peter and Paul’s Fortress. Officially labelled as a “Museum of the History of the City”, the island in fact hosts a multitude of various buildings, museums, and exhibitions both permanent and private which are not always connected to the specific history of the fortress itself. The fortress, and all that lie within the walls and on the island is unique and central to the identity of St. Petersburg, and can justly be called a point of intellectual and active recreation.

How to get there

Peter and Paul’s Fortress is located on Hare’s island, about a 5-7 minute walk from the metro station “Gorkovskaya”. The easiest way to get there would be to take the metro to Gorkovskaya, and walk through Alexander Park to the entrance to the fortress, Ioannovsky Bridge, one of two small wooden bridges used to cross over onto the Island and enter the fortress. If following the instructions above, you will reach Ioannovksy Bridge. The other, Kronversky Bridge, is located a bit further and connects to Vasilevsky Island and is near the metro station Sportivnaya.

Tickets

Tickets for Admissions can be purchased directly at the entry points of all the major museums and exhibitions. However, if you already know exactly which museums or exhibitions you wish to see, and which to leave out, you can go directly to one of the central information desks and there purchase the required tickets all at once, and here one can pay with credit card. There are two of these locations on the island, one at Ioannovsky Ravelin and one at the Boat House, a small, single story building near Peter and Paul’s Cathedral.

Monument to the Hare

Upon crossing over Ioannovsky Bridge, you will see a log erecting vertically from the water, and perched atop it a small sculpture of a Hare, the namesake of the Island. Prior to the fortress being built there, the island was a mostly unused swamp, and many hares lived there. Legend has it that during a flood, a hare leapt into the boot of Peter the Great, and the hare was then saved, and this is how the island received its name. The small figure on the log was carved by the sculptor Petrovich. At some point, a tradition appeared which remains to this day: to attempt to throw a coin onto the top of the log where the hare stands. If the coin remains–your wish will be granted!

Peter and Paul’s Cathedral and Grand Ducal Burial Vault

In the middle of the fortress stands the most impressive and visible of all the structures–Peter and Paul’s Cathedral. This is the burial place of all of the Russian Emperors from Peter the Great to Nicholas the Second. The Cathedral became the first one of the city that was built out of stone, and was built from 1712 to 1733. Previously, from the year of the foundation of the city of St. Petersburg in 1703, a wooden church stood on the island in honour of the holy apostles Peter and Paul. On top of the Cathedral is a gilded spire, and on the peak is a figure of a flying angel holding a cross. This is one of the main symbols of St. Petersburg and is the tallest building in the city with a height of 122.5 metres. The spire is visible from quite far away locations around the city. The interior of the cathedral reminds one of the inside of a palace and is completely authentic and pristinely preserved. Inside you will find antique paintings and icons, carved iconoclasts in the form of a triumphal arc and an altar canopy, in front of which is situated a magnificent gilded chair adorned with two statues of the apostles Peter and Paul. The royal seat is carved and decorated with gold and crimson velvet. Several of the valuables of the Cathedral were lost after the revolution of 1917.

The church has never held such ceremonies as a baptism or a wedding–on the funeral rites and burial services of of the dead of the Imperial family, or of the commanders of the fortress. In 1896, next to the cathedral, another location was built, the Grand Ducal Shrine. From 1908 to 1915 13 members of the Imperial Family were buried in the Crypt, including 8 graves moved from the Cathedral. In the summer of 1998, on the 80th anniversary of the execution of the last Tsar, Nicholas the 2nd, and his family, their remains were laid to rest here. In September 2006, the remains of Maria Fyodorovna were reburied next to the grave of her husband, Alexander III.

Imperial Rooms of Peter and Paul’s Fortress

The Imperial Rooms are located within the Gallery which connects Peter and Paul’s Fortress with the Grand Ducal Burial Vault. In the early 20th century, they served as the resting place of the Imperial Family in the days they still visited the Cathedral. In that time, the architect L.N. Benoit created a reception room, a lounge, ladies room and smoking room–all decorated in the style of Louis XV. Unfortunately, none of this atmosphere or decor remains in tact to this day, but restorers have recreated the marble fireplaces and wall sconces. Today, tourists can see two rooms with scenic portraits of the Imperial Russian Monarchs: Peter I, Catherine I, Elizabeth I , Paul I, Alexander I, Nicholas I, Alexander II, & Nicholas II.

Another noteworthy points of interest in the exposition are the relics of Peter and Paul’s Cathedral: regalia of the deacon and details of the clothes of the priests of Peter and Paul ‘s Cathedral, the sacred altar cross; the icon on the fabric of mid-nineteenth century "the Savior in a crown of thorns". As well as items associated with the burial ceremonies and honouring the memory of the deceased members of the Romanov family.

The Bell Tower of the Cathedral

Visitors to the Cathedral are now allowed to ascend the bell tower of the Cathedral, climbing stairs to a height of 43 metres to enjoy a panoramic views and perhaps get acquainted with Orthodox music. Here one can look at the church bells and chimes–instruments which are connected to a clock mechanism and a Carillon, an instrument connected to a keyboard and a system of 51 bells, from which any music can be played with this specific and unique sound. For history buffs, along the tiers of the tower are drawing and photographs connected with the history and construction of the building, drawing of the metal spire and of the rotating angel weather vane.

Commandant’s House

In the Commandant’s house is located opposite to the Cathedral, to the left of the alley from the Sovereign Gate, and has red walls with a white base. It retains its original old appearance which is typical of the early Baroque era. This building was once inhabited by the overseers of the fortress and prison, but now holds the exhibition of everyday life of pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg. Every artefact and detail within the walls of this building displays the everyday life of the city’s inhabitants from 1703-1918. Here you can find costumes and clothes, porcelain, house crafts & tools, and Viennese furniture of the more well-to-do. Another part of the exhibition is the drawings, design, and layout of the raising of the Alexander Column on Palace Square, and a layout of a typical apartment of an inhabitant of St. Petersburg during this time. In another room of the Commandant house is a memorial to the Decembrists revolt, as the fate of the participants was read out and decreed in this very room.

Trubetsky Bastion Prison

This was the main political prison of Tsarist Russia which was built in 1872, and prior to this political prisoners (including the son of Peter the Great, Princess Tarakanova, and the Decembrists) were held in various locations on the island. To isolate the prisoners, architects designed a two-storey, pentagonal building with 72 individual cells placed in a circle. The cells were measured out by 10 steps diagonally, and 6 steps long. Wallpaper, iron bed, table, toilet, wash basin, kerosene lamp, pea soup–almost VIP conditions, so long as you ignore the constant dark, wet walls and dampness, and the terrible and harsh punishments for offenders. It some cases were recorded 8000 lashes, or 400 blows and weeks of solitary confinement and only water and bread of sustenance. After 1917, as you can imagine, the cells held different guests. Some famous inhabitants of this prison are Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Maxim Gorky, Leon Trotsky, and Lenin’s brother.

Neva Panorama and Foundation Stone

This is a walking route along the top of the fortress wall from Naryshkin to Gosudarev Bastion, which opens gorgeous panoramic views of the other Bank of the Neva river and historical centre of St. Petersburg. Here you can view the magnificent facades of St. Petersburg and the palace embankment, including the Hermitage Museum, Marble Palace, spit of Vasilevsky Island, the Admiralty, the Dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the bridges of St. Petersburg. The pathway is made of wood and goes on for 300 metres, fenced on both sides with handrails, and in the very same position it was in during the time of Peter the Great while the fortress still operated as a fortress, and from here you can also view the foundation stone, which symbolises the moment when Peter the Great laid down and crossed two pieces of turf, and declared that here will be placed his city.

The Midday Shot

Everyday at 12.00 a shot is fired from a cannon at the Naryshin Bastion. This custom was introduced under Peter the Great, only in that time it was fired from the Monarch Bastion and signified the beginning or ending of a work shift, or reported the risk of a flood. The tradition of the shot at noon appeared in 1865. In 2000 a new tradition appeared to fire a shot for guests of honour, such as Prince Charles, for example.

Secret Passage and Casemate of Gosudarev Bastion

This is a secret tunnel with a length of almost 100 metres and width of about 2, constructed in the wall of the Bastion when the fortress was rebuilt from wood and earth into stone. For defence purposes it was never used, and in the end served as a storage room. Restoration of the gallery and Casemates was a gift from the Kingdom of the Netherlands for the 300th birthday of St. Petersburg. Since then it has been open to visitors of the fortress. It is dark and cool inside, and in the dungeon, a roomy hall host exhibitions, theatre performances, conferences, and seminars.

Neva Curtain Wall

The exhibition of the history of the fortress lays within this wall, including archaeological finds, drawings, Russian and Swedish plans and maps, engravings, and photographs. Here is also a temporary exhibit of “The Secrets of Da Vinci” which contains instruments of Torture and an exhibition of wax figures.

Mint

Within the Fortress works the oldest industrial enterprise in the city, which is only a few years younger than the city itself: The St. Petersburg Mint, founded by a decree of Peter the Great in 1724. In fact, it is one of the largest in the world and mints coins, medals, and orders of merit. Visitors to such a secure and important location are not permitted, but nearby in the St Nicholas Wall of the fortress a company store is open where mint collectors and fans can purchase souvenirs.

Ioannovsky Ravelin

Here is situated a museum of Cosmonautics and Rocket Technology. In the early 1930s this room housed a gas dynamics laboratory under the supervision of the engineer V. P. Glushko which studied rocket science. Now visitors can view reconstructions of offices and work-stations of Soviet scientists, archival photos and documents, and unique rocket designs for liquid rocket engines and thrust engines of space rockets. Here you can also find models of the first space satellites, and the lander craft “Soyuz 16” which flew in space and returned to Earth in 1974.

Statue of Peter the Great

A very unexpected and controversial statue lies in the heart of the fortress compound, which was created by Mikhail Shemyakin. The bronze statue sits atop the throne of the Tsar and was put in place in 1991 and remains controversial to this day, due to the massive body of Peter being crowned by an abnormally small, bald head. The sculptor used the death mask of the Tsar to create the head, the original having been created by Carlo Rastrelli. Rastrelli added a moustache, wig, and dignified expression to the mask, but the modern sculptor left it bare, and we’re left with quite an unnatural and creepy feeling whilst gazing upon the statue. The knees and fingers appear highly polished, as it is common for tourists to take photographs while sitting in the lap of the statue.

Engineering House

This building has been preserved since its original construction and is almost unchanged, save for one small restoration in the middle of the 20th century, which adapted the building to be suitable for museum exhibitions. Today there is an exhibition of vintage packaging and advertising, which will continue until the 1st of November, 2016. Over 1000 items are here displaying the typical fashion and style of products one might find in the 19th and 20th centuries, including billboards, posters, postcards, signs, photographs, sketches, shop window designs and advertising trademarks of legendary St. Petersburg and Leningrad brands.

Sun Dial and 12 Chairs

Surreal wrought iron chairs located in the square of Peter and Paul’s Fortress is truly nothing else but a sun dial. They are located in a circular fashion, but how exactly to tell the time seems to be a well kept secret.

The Beach

Not many know this actually exists, but just outside the walls on the banks of the Neva, you can relax on a nice sandy beach right in the heart of St. Petersburg! If you’re granted with good weather, of course. Even in the winter time, however, it gives a nice opportunity to get some sun, as the corners of the walls protect visitors from the cold winds. Although the sand goes right into the water, bathing here is not recommended due to water pollution. Many from the city come here just to relax, lie on the beach, read a book, and perhaps do a bit of tanning.

Where to eat

There is unfortunately not many good options here, just small locations for tea, coffee, hot dogs, and corn. On the main alley there is there “Leningrad Cafe” which has traditional Russian foods and salads, at the Ioannovsky Revelin there is a luxury restaurant called “Austeria”, and just outside the Kronversky bridge is a restaurant called “Smelt”, which has excellent food, style, a genuine feel of St. Petersburg with a gorgeous view of the Neva.
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