The Peter and Paul Fortress was built to protect the fledgling St. Petersburg, designated in the midst of Peter the Great’s war with Sweden as his new capital. The original earth and log bastions were constructed between 1703 and 1704 under the supervision of Peter himself and five of his closest associates: Alexander Menshikov (his best friend and Generalissimo of the Russian Army), Gavril Golovkin (close friend and future Foreign Minister), Nikita Zotov (named by Peter as his “Prince-Pope of the Drunken Synod”), Ivan Trubetskoy (future Field Marshal), and Ivan Naryshkin (military commander and future St. Petersburg Governor).
Fortunately, at the time of its construction, King Charles XII of Sweden remained tied up in a war with Augustus II of Poland and Saxony. When Augustus sued for peace in 1706, Peter ordered the bastions rebuilt in stone by architect Domenico Trezzini and engineer Burchard Christophe von Mimnich. However, Charles’ invasion army, assembled the following year, fell at Poltava in 1709, and no external enemy ever put the fortress to the test, either before it was completed in 1740, or after. At Peter’s command, the St. Peter Gate was completed in 1718.
In addition to work on the bastions, Peter commissioned Trezzini to construct the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral inside the citadel. It was finally completed in 1733, after more than two decades of work, and became the new sepulchre of the Romanovs (other than Peter II and Ivan VI, the former of whom is buried in the Moscow Kremlin and the latter of whom died imprisoned, all the Romanov Tsars after Peter the Great were buried there). The bell-tower served as the city’s watchtower and became the city’s signature building. Its gilded, angel-topped cupola stretched high into the sky symbolized Russia’s aspirations to become a European power.
was also the founder of the Petrine Baroque style of Russian architecture.
After the walls were completed, work began on the Commandant’s House, then the Engineer’s House, and then finally the Mint, which eventually was completed by Tsar Alexander I. To the east of the cathedral, the Commandants’ cemetery was established, the designated burial location for those who served this most important position in the Russian army.
Meanwhile, the Trubetskoy Bastion became home to one of the more infamous prisons of Imperial Russia. Used for high-ranking political detainees, the bastion became known as the “Russian Bastille,” and housed such high profile prisoners as the leaders of the Decembrist Rebellion, writers Fedor Dostoyevsky and Maxim Gorky, political anarchist Mikhail Bukinin, and nihilist Peter Kropotkin. By the 1870s, the prison was converted into a museum of history, which it remained for the later part of the Imperial period.
However, the conversion did little to diminish its reputation. The Provisional Government imprisoned the ministers of the Tsarist government in the Trubetskoy Bastion, and were it not for the quick thinking of President Alexander Kerensky, might have served as the final uncomfortable home of the Royal Family (instead of this fate, the Romanovs were sent to exile in Tobolsk, and eventually to their execution in Yekaterinburg). Indeed, when the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace, Kerensky himself barely escaped being imprisoned there, eventually fleeing to the United States. The remnants of his government hanging around the breakfast room of the Winter Palace were not so lucky... they became cellmates with the Tsarist ministers.
Meanwhile, the museum of history was out of a home until 1975, when it was moved into the Commandant’s House. Further exhibits were later moved into the Engineer’s House, both of which serve today as tourist attractions. Additionally, a museum of Russian rocketry can be found on the grounds.
If you lose track of the time, meanwhile, everyday at noon a cannon is fired from the Naryshkin Bastion. You can see the cannon fire in person in one of our tours of St. Petersburg.