Erected during the Great Northern War against Sweden, Peter and Paul fortress form the cornerstone for the city of St. Petersburg, Russia. Though built as a bar against its then-enemy, the battles quickly moved north and it was never used to stall invaders. Instead, it evolved into one of the most notorious political prisons under the harsh rule of the Tsars.
But from that beginning in 1704, after only a year-long construction, a mighty city grew. Visitors can see its birthplace by crossing a footbridge and entering through St. John’s Gate. Then, after buying a ticket, you’ll proceed on through St. Peter’s Gate, completed in 1718.
Through this second entrance is the Artilleriisky Arsenal, which held the fort’s armor and weapons. To the left is the Engineer’s House, completed in 1749. Here you’ll find exhibits detailing the history of St. Petersburg prior to the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Further on is the famed Peter and Paul Cathedral. Constructed between 1712 and 1733, it stood as the tallest structure in the city for more than two hundred years. Even then it was only surpassed by a TV tower.
The building itself is a mix of Russian Orthodox and many attributes that break that mold. The architecture doesn’t follow the usual formula for churches and is interesting on this account. The dome, the portico, and other elements all differ from the norm.
Beginning with the founder of St. Petersburg, Peter the Great, it served as the burial place for the Tsars. The Russian monarch’s tomb is marked by a bust inside.
Exiting the cathedral visitors reach the Grand Ducal Crypt, completed in 1908, only 10 years before the execution of Russia’s final royal family. Here, you can get a complete review of the history of the fortress.
Outside the exit is the Commandant’s House, completed in 1746, that once housed the administrative offices and the courtroom. Here, many Russian met his final judgment, including many noblemen. In 1826, a group of rebels called the Decembrists were tried (and later executed) for their attempted coup d’etat.
Visit the Trubetskoi Bastion and see many of the cells, still holding prisoner’s clothing. Read the plaque describing the incarceration of one of its most famous inmates: Alexei, Peter the Great’s own son. The appellation ‘Great’ isn’t necessarily used to mean ‘good’ when applied to monarchs. Step next door and visit Alexeivsky Bastion, which once housed Dostoyevsky.
Opposite the entrance to the cathedral, on the other side of the yard, is the earliest official Mint of St. Petersburg, built-in 1716, then rebuilt in 1806. Still functioning, it mints coins, medals, and other official items. If you’re around at Noon you can hear the Signal Cannon get fired.
Take in the view at the Neva Gate, near the river of the same name. But make sure you don’t get your feet wet. The famous river can rise more than 10 feet from its average level during times of flooding. Then take a tour of its sandy shores and have a bite to eat while you watch the sunbathers.
The Peter & Paul Fortress is easy to reach via the Metro (St. Petersburg’s subway system). Exit at Gorkovskaya Station.