The history of St.-Petersburg began on a
small island off the northern bank of the Neva where on May 16 (May 27,
New Style), 1703, by order of Peter the Great, the foundation stone was
laid for the fortress named Sankt-Petersburgh, the town of Saint Peter.
The new citadel was to protect the lands on the Neva recaptured from
Sweden in the course of the Great Northern War. Sited most advantageously
on what was called Merry Island by the Swedes and Hare Island by the Finns,
where the river branches off into two arms, in close vicinity of the sea,
it controlled every possible avenue of the enemyís advance.
The fortress became the nucleus of the
new city; the resplendent future capital of the Russian Empire named after
it. Officially denoted the Fortress of St.-Petersburg, it was also
casually called the Peter and Paul Fortress. The latter, now by far the
more common name is associated with the Cathedral of St. Peter and St.
Paul built in its territory.
The foundation stone of the first wooden
church ďof three spiresĒ was laid on June 29, 1703. Soon after, the
construction of a monumental stone edifice with a tall belfry crowned with
a slender glittering spire was begun on its site. With the erection of the
cathedral, the St. Peterís Gate and other structures, the fortress
became a major ensemble inspired by traditions of West-European
The fortress was brimful of versatile
activities. In the first decades of the 18th century the island was one
vast building site. The garrison quarters, the townís first Lutheran
church, the chemistís shop, the Senate and the Mint were there. Some of
the casemates were leased to merchants for use as storehouses. The
fortress was the site of various ceremonies and victory salutes. As time
went by, the Russian emperorsí burial vault was established inside the
Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul.
The citadel on the Neva was more than
once alerted but was never involved in hostilities. As early as the 18th
century the fortress became notorious as the ďRussian BastilleĒ, the
principal prison for political offenders.
1917 marked a sharp turn in the fate of
the fortress, which became one of the centers of the revolutionary events
in February and October. In the early 1920s it was made into a museum.
Today the fortress has acquired the
status of a museum-reserve. About two million visitors come to the
fortress every year. Permanent exhibitions and exposition halls,
scientific departments and administrative offices of the Museum of the
History of St.-Petersburg and also unique collection stores are placed
The museum stores are located in the old
ramparts of the fortress. There are more than one million art and
historical objects dedicated to the history of St. Petersburg. The museum
founders since 1907 started to build the museum collection. Among the most
valuable items are paintings and prints depicting different views of the
city and objects of applied art of the XVIII Ė XX centuries. The museum
possesses the outstanding collections of drafts, made by famous Russian
and foreign architects and showing all stages of St. Petersburg
development, architectural fragments: relief, stained-glasses, ceramic
panels. Collection of photographs and documents keep the most
important events of the history of St. Petersburg and Russia. The
numismatics, archeological collection, collections of posters, old
technique, banners and everyday life objects along with the art items
compose the outstanding constantly increasing collection.