Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Petersburg

What’s the history of the Peter and Paul Fortress?

  • Romanov Russia: Peter the Great founded the fortress to defend his future capital from Swedish attack. It housed 6 formidable bastions, a military base, political prison, cathedral, and the Russian treasury
  • Revolution: The fortress’s garrison supported the revolution and surrendered to the Bolsheviks. Tsarist officials, members of the Romanov family, and the Provisional Government were incarcerated there
  • Soviet Russia and beyond: Over the next few decades the fortress was turned into a museum and used as a research site. After the collapse of the USSR, the last Tsar’s family were reinterred at the cathedral

Romanov Russia

Peter and Paul Fortress in the 19th century

Photo of Grand Ducal Burial Vault, around 1915, photo by unknown author

Peter the Great intended the fortress to defend his future capital from Swedish attack. He chose Zaiachy Island for its location, well positioned on the widest part of the Neva.

Did you know? The name ‘Zaiachy’ comes from the Russian word for hare, ‘zaiats’. Look out for a small rabbit statue in the fortress moat - if you throw money onto its platform, you’ll get good luck!

The fortress is truly impermeable, with walls 12m high and 20m thick, and six bastions named in honour of Peter and his right-hand men. Despite all of this, the Peter and Paul Fortress has never been directly attacked.

Did you know? Despite never falling to enemy attack, the fortress has been threatened by the catastrophic floods befalling the low-lying marshland. Under the arch of the Neva Gate are marked the highest water levels from the 1700s until the present day.

St Petersburg’s first church was built inside the fortress just one month after the founding of the city, and rebuilt as the Peter and Paul Cathedral by Dominico Trezzini in magnificent Baroque style. The cathedral served as the tomb of the Romanov dynasty, and the remains of all but two of Russia’s emperors were laid to rest there.

Did you know? The Peter and Paul Cathedral remains to this day the tallest Orthodox church in the world. At 122.5m tall and crowned with a gilded spire, it can be seen from all over the city and is an integral part of St Petersburg’s skyline.

During Tsarist times, the Peter and Paul Fortress was home to the main political prison in the Russian Empire, the formidable Trubetskoy Bastion. Amongst those incarcerated there were Peter the Great’s own son Tsarevich Alexei, the great writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Lenin’s brother Aleksandr Ulyanov.


The first anniversary of Russian Revolution

Despite being a symbol of imperial power, the fortress’s garrison supported the Bolsheviks’ cause and aided them in the storming of the Winter Palace. During the Red Terror and Civil War, members of the imperial family, Provisional Government, and many others were incarcerated and executed within the fortress walls.

Soviet Russia and Beyond

Under the Soviets, the Peter and Paul Fortress was no more. In 1924 the Trubetskoy Bastion and Cathedral were turned into museums, and the fortress was given to the Museum of the History of Leningrad 30 years later. In 1998, the bodies of Tsar Nicholas II and his family were finally reinterred at the Peter and Paul Cathedral alongside the other Romanov graves. However, since 2000, services have continued at the cathedral.

Did you know? The first Soviet research laboratory was located in the fortress, designing rocket engines which would become prototypes for the Soviet space programme. Craters on the moon are named after the employees of the rocket research laboratory!

What can you see at the Peter and Paul Fortress today?

  • Trubetskoy Bastion: Explore the cells of Tsarist Russia’s main political prison, counting Trotsky, Dostoevsky and Lenin’s brother amongst its inmates 
  • Peter and Paul Cathedral: St Petersburg’s first church and the world’s tallest Orthodox church. Visit the imperial tombs and climb the bell tower for a superb view
  • Nevskaya Panorama: A walk along the fortress’s curtain wall gives a gorgeous view of St Petersburg’s major landmarks and the chance to observe the Noonday Gun
  • Museum of Cosmonautics and Rocket Technology: Located in the first Soviet research laboratory, see spacecraft equipment and Soviet space footage, and learn about the development of Soviet missiles
  • Festivities: Experience one of the festivals held at the fortress, such as the Maslenitsa celebration of Shrovetide, and the City Day celebration on 27th of May

Trubetskoy Bastion

Visitors can experience the Trubetskoy Bastion, recreated exactly as it was in Tsarist times. As well as exploring the prison and cells, you can view photographs and archive materials of the prisoners who languished in this dank and dark place.

Peter and Paul Cathedral

Peter and Paul Cathedral - the burial place of Nicholas II

Photo by Luidmila Kot from Pixabay 

A visit to the cathedral will give you a glimpse of those who shaped Russia’s history. Imperial graves from Peter the Great to Alexander III lie in the main church, and the remains of Nicholas II and his family lie in the adjoining Catherine Chapel. There is also a small exhibition detailing the history of the Romanov family. The magnificent interior showcases former imperial opulence; the centrepiece is undoubtedly the gilded iconostasis. It is possible to climb the bell-tower on a guided tour for an unparalleled view over the city.

Nevskaya Panorama

Nevskaya Panorama in Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Petersburg

Photo by mobinovyc from Pixabay 

Visitors may walk along the fortress’s curtain walls. This vantage point provides a beautiful view over the Neva to the Winter Palace, Spit of Vasilievsky Island, Admiralty and St Isaac’s Cathedral.

Did you know? From the Nevskaya Panorama you may watch the firing of the Noonday Gun, ongoing since the 1730s. This allowed people to synchronise their watches and marked the beginning and end of the working day.
On Saturdays in summer, a changing of the guards ceremony accompanies the Noonday Gun.

Museum of Cosmonautics and Rocket Technology

Museum of Cosmonautics and Rocket Technology in Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Petersburg

Photo by Vladimir Makeev, Photobank Lori

Located in the former rocket research laboratory, anyone interested in the Soviet-USA Space Race should pay a visit. Visitors can see rocket engines, spacecraft equipment and Soviet space footage, and learn about the testing and launches of Soviet missiles.

Peter and Paul Fortress Tours

Discover Peter and Paul Fortress for yourself on one of our tours. We carefully tailor our excursions and hand-pick our tour guides so that your visit is both fascinating and stress-free.


Festival in Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Petersburg

Photo by Dmitry Fufayev, Photobank Lori

Visitors can enjoy many festivities taking place in the Peter and Paul Fortress. Tourists in St Petersburg during Shrovetide must visit the Maslenitsa festival and enjoy music, markets, pancakes, and a special bonfire. To celebrate City Day on the 27th of May, concerts, parades and fireworks are held at the fortress.

A walk in and around the Fortress

A walk around the perimeter of the Peter and Paul Fortress will allow you to appreciate the monumental architecture of its bastions and gates. You can also enjoy the small sandy beach on the bank of the Neva.

Did you know? The fortress houses a statue of Peter the Great, a gift to the city which caused controversy due to its slightly grotesque and disproportionate form. However, if you rub Peter’s hands you’ll come into good fortune, and if young women want to have a happy marriage they should sit on his lap!

Essential Information for Visitors: 

Metro: Gorkovskaya (500m), Sportivnaya (1200m).


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