2009 Buildings Museums

Peter and Paul Fortress: Meanings of the Site

The founding of Peter and Paul Fortress on May 27, 1703 also commemorates the founding of St. Petersburg. Despite the unfavorable marsh conditions, it took only four months for 20,000 conscripts to build the fortress. Originally built with wood, it was later redone in stone under the influence of Domenico Trezzini.

Despite the title “fortress,” the structure has never had to serve this function during wartime. However, the fortress has served as a political prison for years, incarcerating Tsarevich Aleksei (Peter the Great’s son), Leon Trotsky, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and many others in what is now the Trubetskoy Bastion (Трубецкой бастион).

Also housed in Peter and Paul Fortress is Peter and Paul Cathedral (Петропавловский собор), which was completed in 1733 by Trezzini. In stark contrast from traditional Russian Orthodox cathedrals, this cathedral was built with Baroque style architecture. Probably the most notable facet of this structure is its bell tower, which reaches 404’3” high. Buried inside of this beautiful church are all of Romanov tsars beginning with Peter the Great, with the exception of Peter II and Ivan VI. The remains of Tsar Nicholas II and his family were reburied here in 1998, marking the 80th anniversary of their deaths. Just outside of the cathedral is the Boat House, which today serves as a ticket office and souvenir shop for the fortress.

The Neva Gate’s (Невские ворота) archway serves as a record for the water levels during particularly terrible floods of the Neva River. The nearby Engineer’s House (Инженерный дом) hosts changing historical exhibits. The Commandant’s House (Комендантский дом) originally served both as the fortress commander’s living quarters and as the courthouse. Today, this building serves as a history museum for St. Petersburg. Additionally, while the Mint is no longer open to tourists, it is the site in which the first lever press for coining money was created in 1811. As pictured, this oft-photographed statue of Peter the Great was sculpted by Mikhail Chemiakin and donated in the early ‘90s.

As a symbol of the very beginning of St. Petersburg’s history, Peter and Paul Fortress remains a prominent example of the city’s past and present.




The tomb of Nicholas II and his family


Peter and Paul Cathedral



Question for discussion in class:

What role did the fortress play in Russian imperial history?


Works Cited and Consulted:

Figes, Orlando. Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia.  New York: Picador, 2003.

Richardson, Dan. A Rough Guide to St. Petersburg. New York: Rough Guides, 2008.

St. Petersburg. Ed. Ella Milroy. New York: DK Eyewitness Travel Guides, 2007.

By Mary McKillop and Chris Hart-Moynihan

One reply on “Peter and Paul Fortress: Meanings of the Site”

Peter and Paul Fortress plays a unique role in Russian history while it serves as a symbol for the many different regimes which have existed here. First and foremost, it represents the martial rule during Tsarist times, and in effect is a time capsule of that era, not only containing the bodies of the former rulers of the Empire, but also the structure itself was a product of Tsarist ambition. To some, the Peter and Paul fortress represents, arguably, the early Soviet era, when the fortress functioned as a prison for those who the Soviet’s deemed “political miscreants” such as Lev Trotsky.

To some, Peter and Paul fortress also represent the duality of Russian culture being both not-European and not-Asian, while in the center of the fortress stands the cathedral, which contrasts with other Russian Orthodox cathedrals, while its is built in Baroque style- thereby distinctively European in appearance, but nevertheless Russian at its core.

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