Petit Futé's opinion on FORTRESS STONE-AND-PAUL
This is where it all started for SPB, on the Île aux Lièvres where this fort and the Romanov cathedral-crypt stood
Like the Kremlin in Moscow, the Peter and Paul Fortress was the first building around which St. Petersburg was built. But, unlike the Kremlin, its primary vocation was almost exclusively military and not political (the Senate was only established there from 1712 to 1715). When Peter the Great laid the foundations on the small island of Zayatchiy (Hare Island) on 16 (or 27) May 1703 - the date chosen as the date of the city's foundation - it was to counter the Swedish threat. Hare Island, a small island on Petrogradskaya Island, is a sort of small enclave, protected to the south and west by the Neva River (particularly wide at this location), and to the north and east by impassable swamps. In less than a year, Peter the Great succeeded in the feat of building an impressive military structure whose thick ramparts, forming an irregular hexagon advancing like a bow at the confluence of the Neva and the Petite Neva, are able to dissuade the enemy.
Peter the Great spared neither his efforts nor his men to build this monumental complex, which includes the ramparts, several outbuildings and especially the grandiose Peter and Paul Cathedral. Tens of thousands of men worked and died on the gigantic construction site during the seven years it took to give the citadel its final appearance.
The Italian architect Domenico Trezzini was entrusted with the management of the work, and he is closely monitoring its progress. In 1703, the first fortress was built of earth and wood. This foundation symbolizes the beginning of the construction of St. Petersburg, even though the banks around the fortress were then deserted.
The pace of construction was particularly fast, as work began in May and was completed in October. Several thousand men lost their lives. In 1706, the first installations gave way to stone, but it would take another four years for the citadel as we know it today, with its impressive dimensions, to emerge from the ground. The citadel follows the contours of the Ile aux Lièvres, that is to say that of a stretched hexagon. Some 700 m of walls, 2.50 m to 4 m thick, stretch along the Neva; the dark red wall, whose design owes much to Vauban, is flanked by six bastions, three in the north, on the small Kronwerk canal, and three in the south, on the Neva. The most important is naturally the Emperor's bastion; the other five bastions bear the names of the Czar's relatives, Menchikov, Golukin, Zotov, Narychkin, Troubetskoi.
But this fortress has never had to withstand a siege! It saw fire only once: on October 25, 1917, when its cannons fired shells on the Winter Palace, reaching right in the heart of the tsarist regime that gave birth to it... On the other hand, from 1718 it served as a political prison. The first prisoner was Alexis, the son of Peter the Great, accused of having plotted against his father... There followed many "illustrious" prisoners such as the writers Radichtchev and Dostoyevsky, Princess Tarakanova, democrats, socialists, Lenin's brother Alexander Ulyanov, and the anarchist Bakunin, not forgetting some members of Kerensky's provisional government, the sailors of Kronsdtadt, and some members of the Romanov imperial family.
The ramparts, 20 m thick and 12 m high, housed troops and artillery stores.
St. John's Gate (where the date 1740 indicates the end of the construction of the fortifications) is located in the axis of the Petrovsky Gates, which pierce the eponymous curtain wall to the east. This first main entrance, originally built in wood by the architect Trezzini in 1708, affirms with great allegories the invincibility of St. Petersburg, placed under the protection of celestial forces. Due to Osner, the bas-relief The Defeat of King Simon by the Apostle Peter symbolizes the victorious struggle of Peter the Great against the Swedish King Charles XII. The same bas-relief shows the plan of the first Peter and Paul Church, the foundations of which were laid on 29 June 1703 and which was replaced in 1712 by a monumental cathedral with a bell tower topped by a golden spire. You also see the two-headed eagle, the symbol of imperial Russia.
Of the six gates of the fortress, only the Nevsky Gates, dating from 1730-1740, overlook the Neva River. The southern facade, which opens onto the river, was designed by the architect Lvov. These gates have been called "the gates of death". Under their arch, where the dates of the great floods that struck the city (1824, 1924, 1777, 1975, 1752, and 1788) can be read, the prisoners of the fortress, sentenced to death or imprisonment, passed through. The occupants reached the city by the Nevskaya or Komendantskaya quay, in winter sleighs would venture out onto the frozen Neva River. From the quay there is a beautiful view of the Neva: you can see the Zimniaya Kanavka, where in the 1710s the first Peter's Winter Palace was built, and later the Winter Palace of Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the fifth palace of the Russian Tsars on the banks of the Neva. The tsars crossed the Neva at solemn moments to attend mass at the Petropavlovsky (Peter and Paul) Cathedral.
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Territory of Hare Island accessible 7 days a week from 6am to 9pm; Fortress enclosure from 10am to 8pm (museum closed on Wednesdays).
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