Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

St Petersburg: Saints Peter and Paul Fortress

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 29, 2012

The fortress of Saints Peter and Paul is the original citadel of the city which was founded by Peter the Great in 1703.  At the time, Russia was fighting off Sweden, which was then a great power, and this spot was chosen as a strategic defence post, though it was never actually used for that purpose.  The still-operational Russian Mint is within its walls, but (as you’d expect)  it’s not open to tourists, and there were no free samples.  (Actually, it’s quite interesting to compare Russian banknotes with Australian ones: ours are full of all kinds of encrypted whatnots to prevent forgery, but Russian ones don’t seem to have the same inbuilt protections).

Many famous people have been imprisoned here, including assorted revolutionaries such as Trotsky and Tito, but also Fyodor Dostoevsky, who was released after a very short time because of the international uproar.  Apparently he suffered from lung disease and it was feared that the appalling conditions would be fatal to one of Russia’s great writers.  The fate of other prisoners was very different though the situation was reversed in 1917 when the revolutionaries were freed and the tsar’s supporters were imprisoned there instead.

The Cathedral is different because Peter the Great hired an Italian architect called Domenico Trezzini to design it: it’s not a traditional Russian church architecture with icons all over the place, it’s got frescos all over the ceiling and a golden spire instead of the typical onion shaped turrets.  It was converted to a museum under the Soviets, and suffered considerable damage from bombardment during WW2, but has been beautifully restored.

It’s also the last resting place of the Tsars.  All the sarcophagi are white marble except for two, Alexander II and his wife Maria’s which are carved from jasper and rhodonite.   Most poignant is the burial chapel of the last of the Romanovs, who were executed during the revolution.  Nicholas, his wife and children, and their loyal servants were all finally laid to rest here in 1998.

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