Peter and Paul Fortress

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The Peter and Paul Fortress was established in May 1703, the third year of the Great Northern War with Sweden, which would last until 1721. Having reduced Swedish positions along the Neva River from Lake Ladoga, Peter I needed a fortified point in the Neva estuary to protect Russia's position on the Gulf of Finland. Some twenty thousand men were conscripted to surround the island with earthen walls and bastions, and by November the fortress of Sankt Piter Burkh"Saint Peter's Burg"was essentially completed. It was named in honor of the Russian Orthodox feast day of Saints Peter and Paul (June 29).

Peter intended the fortress at the center of his city to serve not only a military function, but also as a symbol of his union of state and religious institutions within a new political order in Russia. To implement this reformation in the architecture of Saint Petersburg and its fortress, Dominico Trezzini, the most productive of the Petrine architects, capably served Peter. After the completion of the earthen fortress, Peter ordered a phased rebuilding with masonry walls. In May 1706, the tsar assisted with laying the foundation stone of the Menshikov Bastion, and for the rest of Trezzini's life (until 1734) the design and building of the Peter-Paul fortress, with its six bastions, would remain one of his primary duties. The major sections of the fortress, including the six bastionswere named either for a leading participant in Peter's reign, such as Alexander Menshikov, or for a member of the imperial house, not excluding Peter himself.

Within the fortress the dominant feature is the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, designed by Trezzini in a radical departure from traditional Russian church architecture. Trezzini created an elongated structure, whose baroque dome on the eastern end is subordinate to the tower and spire over the west entrance. The tower was the focus of Peter's interest and had priority over the rest of the structure, which was not completed until 1732. By 1723, the spire, gilded and surmounted with an angel holding a cross, reached a height of 367 feet (112 meters), which exceeded the bell tower of Ivan the Great by 105 feet (32 meters).

On the interior, the large windows that mark the length of the building provide ample illumination for the banners and other imperial regalia. It is not clear whether this great hall was originally intended to serve as a burial place for the Romanov tsars; but with the death of Peter the Great, this function was assumed from the Archangel Cathedral in the Kremlin. The centerpiece of the interior is the gilded icon screen, designed by Ivan Zarudnyi and resembling the triumphal arches erected to celebrate Peter's victories. The frame was carved between 1722 and 1726 by craftsmen in Moscow and assembled in the cathedral in 1727. Some of the cathedral's ornamentation was lost after a lightning strike and fire in 1756, although prompt response by the garrison preserved the icon screen and much of the interior work.

The eighteenth century witnessed the construction of many other administrative and garrison buildings within the fortress, including an enclosed pavilion for Peter's small boat and the state Mint. At the turn of the nineteenth century the fortress became the main political prison of Russia. Famous cultural and political figures detained there include Alexander Radishchev, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Nikolai Chernyshevsky. In 1917, the garrison sided with the Bolsheviks and played a role in the shelling of the Winter Palace. During the early twenty-first century the fortress serves primarily as a museum.

See also: menshikov, alexander danilovich; peter i


Brumfield, William Craft. (1993). A History of Russian Architecture. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Hamilton, George Heard. (1975). The Art and Architecture of Russia. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books.

William Craft Brumfield