Peter and Paul Fortress – Peter’s Dream

Peter and Paul Fortress
Peter the Great inspects his new territory.

Before conquering the territory that is now St. Petersburg from the Swedes, the only Russian port was in Arkhangelsk. The problem with this port was that it was way up North and was frozen for most of the year. Peter, who was always fascinated with ships, dreamed of having a port city that was closer to Europe and readily available.

Once he had his new land, Peter immediately began to build his ‘window to the West’. St. Petersburg’s DOB is May 27, 1703 but it wasn’t officially Russian territory until 18 years later with the signing of the Treaty of Nystadt in 1721. So the first step in securing the new Russian land was to build a fort to ward off the Swedes should they return to claim what was still theirs.

While inspecting the occupied land, Peter came ashore an island and noticed an eagle (the symbol of the Russian imperial family) flying overhead and interpreted that as a good sign and decided that this was where the fortress would be built. Peter himself designed the hexagon-shaped fortress and dedicated its 6 bastions to 6 of his best friends and supporters who donated not only financially but also assisted with supervising the construction. 

Work on the Peter and Paul fortress began immediately. Since they were in a hurry to provide protection to the new port city, the first fortress was made of wood. In 1706, one of Peter’s favorite architects, Domenico Trezzini, designed the star-shaped fortress made of stone that we see today.

Peter and Paul Cathedral

Peter and Paul Fortress in 1703

A month later on June 29th, a wooden cathedral was built in the center of the fortress and named in honor of the apostles Peter and Paul. This is where the fortress gets its name. 

In typical Peter fashion, the cathedral’s design was unlike any Orthodox temple. Designed by Trezzini, the cathedral was built in the style of “Peter’s baroque” which has features of European protestant churches.

The bell tower was delivered from Holland in 1720 and played the song Since the Glory every hour and God save the Tsar ever noon until 1917. In 1952, a new clock was installed that played the Soviet hymn four times a day.

Grand ducal tomb - Peter and Paul Fortress
Peter died in 1725 before the cathedral was finished and this is when the cathedral started to function as it does today, as the final resting place of the Romanovs. His grave is at the front right side. 
Now the cathedral is the burial ground of all of the tsars and tsarinas from Peter I to Nicholas II with the exception of Peter II and Ivan VI who are buried in Moscow. In the 18th C, the Grand Dukes were relocated from their burial inside the Moscow Kremlin to the Grand Ducal tomb that was added onto the cathedral. 

The Mint

The Mint at Peter and Paul Fortress

On February 27, 1721, Peter ordered the coins to be made in the fortress in order to ensure the quality and design of the money now that the capital was moved from Moscow to the new city of St. Petersburg. Peter ordered cutting-edge technology to be installed and the fortress mint was one of the most modern in all of Europe at that time. This is the oldest money printing company in Russia that still maintains its historic function. It’s in such mint condition that it continues to produce coins, state awards and other official medals. 

Peter and Paul Fortress Prison

Prison at Peter and Paul Fortress

The fortress also served as a prison for high-ranking officials. One of the first prisoners in the fortress was Peter the Great’s son, Alexei, who was imprisoned in 1715 for a planned coup d’etat and died in the fortress from the stress of interrogation. ‘Princess Tarakanova’, who claimed to be the daughter of Empress Elizabeth I and her lover Razumovsky, was imprisoned in 1775 where she died of Tuberculosis. 

The main prison block was the Trubetsky Bastion Prison which was the main prison for the political prisoners. The prison contained 69 isolation cells and housed well-known Russians such as Lenin’s brother, Leon Trotsky, Maxim Gorky and Fyodor Dostoevsky just to name a few. 

Revolution at the Fortress

Cruiser Aurora fires at Winter Palace
After the Cruiser Aurora fired on the Winter Palace in 1917, the fortress shelled it. Just 2 shells hit the building causing only minor damage. The captured ministers were then escorted to the fortress and housed in the bastion. 
112 people (including 4 Grand Dukes) were murdered here in the years 1918-1921. 

Statues at the Peter and Paul Fortress

hare statue - Peter and Paul Fortress

The first statue you’ll encounter at the fortress is the hare statue to the left of the bridge as you enter. Peter and Paul Fortress is located on Hare Island. There’s a legend that the island got its name after a hare, trying to escape the flood, jumped on Peter’s boot when he landed on the island, however the island was given its name from the Swedes who previously occupied the land. 

Peter the Great Statue
Further inside you can find a statue of Peter the Great designed by Mikhail Shemyakin. Shemyakin may or may not have come up with this design at a bar but based on other statues of his, it’s clear that he has a flair for the dramatic. The statue was made using Peter the Great’s death mask which is now housed in the archives at the Hermitage. The people hated this disproportioned image of Peter so much so that it had to be protected against vandalism but nowadays it has become an integral part of the fortress. It is said that if you want to return to St. Petersburg, you need only to ask Peter’s permission here. Sadly, today the statue is fenced off so I’m afraid you’ll have to shout out your request! 

Other Facts

wedding at the tower
  • The fortress was never attacked by the Swedes and has never been used to fight against another country’s attack.
  • Peter and Paul Fortress was converted into a museum in 1924.
  • You can get married or hold events in the Naryshkin tower.
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Tips for Visiting

Every day at 12pm, a cannon is fired. This tradition was initiated by Peter the Great. During his time, not everyone had a watch so the cannon fire was used to help others orient their day. If you are going to be there at 12, be ready and cover your ears! 

Changing of the guards takes place on Saturdays at 12 in the summer months.

In addition to the fortress, cathedral, prison and mint, there are other exhibitions in the Fortress you can visit:
– History of the Fortress
-History of St. Petersburg/Petrograd 1703-1918
-Museum of Cosmonauts
-History of the Bell Tower of the Peter and Paul Cathedral
-Collection of Porcelain and Glassware from the 18th-21stC
-Collection of Furniture from the 18th-20thC

The Fortress grounds are open from 6am – 21pm. The ticket office is open 10-6pm everyday except Tuesday. On Tuesday the ticket office closes at 5pm.  Last admission is sold an hour before the ticket office closes.

Exhibitions are closed on Wednesdays.

For more on St. Petersburg’s must-see sights, continue reading about the Church on Spilled Blood. Follow SAFS on Facebook and Instagram for city updates and other historical tidbits.