The Peter & Paul Fortress was one of the first buildings in St Petersburg. It was started in 1702 by Peter I (the Great) in order to secure the approach to the river Neva, which Peter took from the Swedes. The first bastions of the fortress were constructed of earth-filled timber under the supervision of Peter and his Generals, who gave their names to the bastions. The fortress took over 20,000 labourers - many working with their bare hands to move the earth. The weather was extremely harsh, resulting in thousands dying. In 1706 work began on the stone fortress to replace the wooden and earth one and in 1712 work began on the construction of the stone St Peter & Paul Cathedral to replace the wooden church built in 1704. The Swedes were defeated in 1721 before the fortress was even completed. From then onwards the fortress housed part of the city's garrison and served as a high security political jail: amongst the first inmates was Peter's own son Alexei.
During the February Revolution of 1917, the fortress was attacked by mutinous soldiers and the prisoners were freed. It was then used to hold hundreds of Tsarist officials. On October 25th, the Fortress came into Bolshevik hands, and after the blank salvo of the Cruiser Aurora, the guns of the Fortress fired 30 or so shells at the Winter Palace, although fortunately causing only minor damage. The Provisional Government ministers were the last prisoners at the Fortress. In 1924 most of the site was converted to a museum, for which it is still used today.
The Cathedral was completed and consecrated in 1733 but was destroyed by fire in 1756 to be rebuilt by Empress Elizabeth. Within the Cathedral, on either side of the nave are the graves of most of the Romanov rulers of Russia from Peter the Great onward. The two that stand out, which make them the easiest to find is Alexander II and his wife, Maria Alexandrovna, as their tombs are coloured; Alexander’s being made of malachite and his wife’s of pink Ural rhodonite. In 1998, on the eightieth anniversary of their execution the bodies of Nicolas II, his wife Alexandra, their children (with the exception of two of them who had not been found at that time) and their servants were buried in the small Chapel of St. Catherine within the Cathedral.
Also in the Cathedral is the beautiful carved ornate wooden pulpit covered in gold leaf. Opposite the pulpit is a small low platform on which the Tsar stood while attending the church service. At the far end of the Nave is the iconostasis. This is a partition or screen separating the sanctuary from the main part of the church on which icons are placed. The iconostasis is made out of gilded soft lime wood. Both it and the altar canopy were made in Moscow and delivered to St Petersburg in pieces to be installed in the Cathedral in 1729.
Other buildings are situated within the fortress and include the prison, the mint and the Commandants house.
A statue of Peter I has been the cause of controversy, as the tiny head, modelled on a mask made by Rastrelli on Peters death, is completely disproportionate to the body. Legend has it that touching the statue brings good luck.
One of the finest architectural structures in the fortress is the Neva Gate built of granite in the Classicism style. It is decorated with two pairs of Doric columns and a triangular pediment. The gate is known as the "Gate of Death" because prisoners were led through it to be executed. It was restored in 1998 - 1999, to resemble the gate of the middle of the 18th century, and leads a three-span granite bridge joining the Commandant's Pier and with views across the Neva to the Winter Palace.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.