The history of the Peter and Paul Fortress dates back to the 17th century when the Russian lands along the Baltic Sea were occupied by Sweden. After this Russia became landlocked. In 1700 Russian tsar Peter I started the war against the Swedes known as the Great Northern war which lasted till 1721. In 1703, after the first important victory he decided to found a fortress in order to strengthen the control of the territory. The Tsar`s eye was caught by a small island located in a good defensive position. The foundation stone was laid by Peter I himself, on May 16th (27th) 1703. The day of its foundation is considered the birth date of the city. The fortress was named Sankt-Petersburg, after Saint Peter the Apostle. Very soon the name was given to the city that started to grow around, and fortress was renamed the Peter and Paul Fortress after the name of the cathedral built on its territory.
The most feared prison
The fortress was constructed with a military purpose but soon was converted into a political prison. It had gained a reputation as one of the most feared prisons in the Russian Empire. Among the most famous prisoners were the son of Peter the Great suspected of disloyalty; Decembrists – conspirators involved in the Uprising of December 14, 1825; writer Fyodor Dostoevsky for publishing revolutionary articles; Lenin’s elder brother, Alexander Ulianov, Josip Broz Tito, the Communist leader of Yugoslavia; Maxim Gorky, well-known soviet writer. In 1918 the prison was closed by the Bolsheviks who converted it to the Museum of the Revolution and City`s history.
The State Museum of the History
Today, the Peter and Paul Fortress is the main branch of the State Museum of the History of St. Petersburg. Most of the old structures in the Fortress have been preserved and now create a unique historical scenery. Among them the Peter`s Gate, the ceremonial entrance to the fortress which was built in 1718 according to the project of Domenico Trezzini and designed as a triumphal arch; the Guardhouse, a place where the officers of the garrison served their penalties for violating the rules of the fortress; the Commandant`s house where the Commandant of the fortress stayed during his service. One of the city`s oldest industrial enterprises is the Mint. After the financial reform done by Peter I it was transferred from Moscow and located inside the fortress`s walls. Since the early 18th century the Russian money, coins, medals, and state decorations have been produced there.
The Peter and Paul cathedral is the oldest church in the city and the tallest building of downtown. It was founded in 1712 when St. Petersburg became the capital of Russia. The chief architect, Domenico Trezzini, was Swiss that`s why the cathedral does not look like an Orthodox Church. Instead of a big dome, it has a belfry with a spire. The decorations are limited to several sculptured details. This style is now called the Northern Baroque or Peter`s baroque style. The spire is crowned by a flying angel holding a cross. The Angel is one of St. Petersburg main symbols and it works like a weather vane.
The interior of the cathedral is quite impressive although it differs much from that of the Russian orthodox churches which are usually dark with many icons covering the walls. In this church the 43 icons are placed on the iconostasis. The iconostasis of the Peter and Paul Cathedral was very well preserved and represents the finest example of the 18th century woodcarving. It looks like a triumphal arch. The cathedral was a symbol of the victory over Sweden so the unusual design is the result of the desire to commemorate it.
The Imperial family’s burial site
The Peter and Paul cathedral was conceived the burial site of the Russian Imperial family and the white tombs indicate the burial places of the family members. On the top of each tomb is a cross; some of them also carry double-headed eagles on each corner. The double-headed eagles indicate Tsars tombs; the members of the family have only a cross. All Russian monarchs since Peter I till Nicolas II were buried inside the cathedral, except of Peter II who was buried in Moscow. Peter I bequeathed his body to be buried in the cathedral. They say that the tsar personally chose the burial place. Peter I was buried in the eastern part, by the wall, close to the iconostasis and the icon of Apostle Peter. The tomb of Peter I is indicated with his portrait sculpture. Next to Peter the Great were buried his second wife Catherine the First and their daughter Elisabeth who ruled the country for 20 years. Catherine II is buried in same section, in the second row. German Princess, she came to Russia when she was 16 yo, and when her husband became the tsar, she dethroned him and ruled the country for the next 34 years. She led Russia into the political and cultural life of Europe, carrying on the reforms begun by Peter the Great. She is also well- known as Catherine the Great . The last Russian tsar Nicolas II and his family were buried in the Chapel of St. Catherine away from the central hall.
Last Russian Emperor
Nicolas II abdicated in February 1917. The family was arrested and exiled to Siberia and then moved to the Urals. After the October revolution 1917, the Bolsheviks came to power. On the night of July 16-17th the family of the last Russian Emperor was shot in the basement of the house they lived in and buried in the old mine. In 1990s, the detectives found their remains. The scientists did DNA tests and identified them. The burial ceremony took place in July 1998. In 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church canonized the family as martyrs. They still bury Romanovs in the Grand Ducal chapel behind the cathedral attached to it by a covered walkway. The last ceremony took place in 2010. Every Sunday the cathedral gathers people for the Morning Service and the entry to the museum becomes free.
The city`s birth site and main landmark, the Peter and Fortress with its golden spire of the cathedral is definitely the place you should visit during your tour of St. Petersburg.
Open daily 10:00 – 17:00.
Days-off (Cathedral): Wednesday.
We highly recommend this site for all guests of the city!