- The Peter and Paul Fortress
A monument of military engineering and architecture, the Peter and Paul Fortress is the historical nucleus of St. Petersburg around which the construction of the city began. The 16th (27th, New Style) of May 1703, when the foundation stone of the fortress was laid on Zaiachy (Hare) Island by order of Peter I, is considered the date of birth of the northern Russian capital. The fortress has had a varied history, but never has it served its main purpose of protecting the city from an oncoming attack. It’s been a military base, home of government departments, the final resting place for the imperial families, the site of ground-breaking scientific experiments and also a jail for political prisoners. During the October uprising of 1917 it housed the field headquarters of the Petrograd Military and Revolutionary Committee, which was the command post for the storming of the Winter Palace. In 1924 a museum was opened here and in 1956 the main structures of the fortress were turned over to the Museum of the History of Leningrad. In 1993 the Peter and Paul Fortress was given the official status of a historical and cultural reserve.
The six bastions of the fortress are named in honour of Peter I and his closest associates, who supervised the construction work. As well as the bastions there are several other buildings and monuments within the fortress, including the St. Peter Gate which was built in 1708, the Nevsky Gate which was cladded in granite in 1781, the Commandant’s house, the Mint which continues to produce coins and state awards, and also the boathouse which has a replica of the dinghy which it used to house.
- The Peter and Paul Fortress
It has to be said that the focal point of the ensemble is St. Peter and Paul's Cathedral (1712-33, architect Trezzini). Its bell-tower served as the city's watch-tower and became a symbol of the consolidation of the new capital on the Baltic lands. Crowned with a gilded spire, the bell-tower remains the tallest building in the city (122.5 m). It is possible to climb the bell-tower but that has to be organised on a guided tour, which run every hour. The centrepiece of the interior of the church is the gilded iconostasis (1722-29), which was executed in Baroque style by several Moscow carvers. From the very beginning, the cathedral served as the sepulchre of the Romanov Dynasty. All of Russia's emperors, from Peter I to Nicholas II, and their families (except for Peter II and Ioann VI) are buried here. East of the cathedral one can see the Grand Dukes' Burial Vault (1896-1908, architects David Grimm, Anthony Tomishko, Leonty Benois), where thirteen members of the imperial family were buried before the 1917 revolution.
By the east wall of the cathedral is the Commandant's cemetery where 19 of the 32 fortress commandants are buried. In 1991, a monument to Peter the Great was erected at the central alley, near the cathedral. This was a gift to the city from the famous Russian artist, Mikhail Shemiakin. It caused a lot of controversy because Peter the Great seems to be out of proportion and for those living in St. Petersburg this was an insult to their hero.
- St. Peter and Paul's Cathedral
The Museum of the History of St. Petersburg has several exhibitions on the premises of the fortress. The Trubetskoy Bastion is where criminals accused of treason against the State were kept fortress and later moved to the dungeons of the Secret House in the Alekseevsky ravelin. Among the prisoners of the Russian Bastille were Peter's own son, Tsarevich Alexei the Decembrists, the great writer Fedor Dostoyevsky, the revolutionary democrat Nikolai Chernyshevsky, the writer Maxim Gorky, members of the People's Will organization, socialist-revolutionaries and Bolsheviks... After the February Revolution of 1917 the ministers of the overthrown Tsarist government were incarcerated in the Trubetskoy bastion and on the night of 26 October 1917 members of the Provisional Government were brought to its prison. During the Civil War, victims of the "red terror" and participants in the Kronstadt revolt of 1921 were held here. The exhibition, which was first opened in the former prison in 1924, gives an idea of its construction and the conditions in which several generations of prisoners were kept.
In 1975, a permanent exhibition about the history of St. Petersburg was opened in the building of the former Commandant's House. It provides insights into the history of the Neva lands from early times to the founding of St. Petersburg in 1703, and traces the development of the city until the mid-19th century. The Engineers' House is now used for various displays of material from the museum's rich reserves. A museum devoted to Russian rocketry and the history of cosmonautics is also to be found within the Peter and Paul Fortress. It is situated in the halls that served as the testing grounds of the first Soviet rocket engine laboratory in the 1930s. Here you can see the starting control apparatus of the spaceship Soyuz-16, models of various types of rocket engines and spacecraft equipment, authentic space suits worn by cosmonauts and photographs of the Moon, Venus, Mars and Saturn taken by Soviet astronauts. Documents and photographic material on the testing of rocket engines and the launch of the first Soviet missiles are also on display. Every day at noon a shot is fired from the cannon on the Naryshkin bastion and every year, on 27 May, the Peter and Paul Fortress is the site of celebrations marking the Day of the City. It’s definitely worth going for a walk around the walls of the fortress onto the beach for some spectacular views of the Neva embankment, the Church on Spilled Blood, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the Hermitage and Vasilievsky Island Spit.