Peter and Paul Fortress is of course one of the main tourist sites of St. Petersburg. It was established by Peter the Great in 1703 on a small island in the Neva River, and over the years it had many roles from military base to political prison. Some of the famous people who were imprisoned there include Fyodor Dostoevsky, Maxim Gorky, Leon Trotsky, and Lenin’s brother. Of course, after the Bolsheviks took power, it was the Tsarists who were then imprisoned there. In later years, when they were doing excavations and other restorative work there, they found the bodies of about 100 people who had been killed during their prison sentences. I think there were able to identify two.

At the centre of the fortress is Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral (built 1712-1733). Outside the cathedral lies a very small cemetery that is gated and inaccessible. It’s known as the Commandants’ Cemetery, and it’s one of the oldest in St. Petersburg. The first funeral held there was for a close aide of Peter the Great, Russian Army General Roman Bruce. The last funeral was held in 1914. The cemetery itself only holds 19 graves, but they are situated over three levels so that all the graves may be seen.

Inside the cathedral is the resting place for all the Russian tsars, with the exception of two who are buried elsewhere: Peter II and Ivan VI. Over the years, some members of the imperial families (such as Maria Feodorovna, mother of Nicholas II) have been reinterred here, as they were forced to be buried elsewhere during the Communist regime. The remains of the last tsar, Nicholas II, and his family are also here, in their own special chapel, having been re-interred on the 80th anniversary of their deaths (May 17, 1998). There are 41 individual tombs within the cathedral, and they are all made from the same type of white marble and have gilded bronze crosses on top. The only two that are different are those of Alexander II and his wife Maria. Their sarcophagi are made of grey-green jasper marble and pink rhodonite marble respectively (both tombs, along with Peter the Great’s, attract a lot of tour groups).

To the side of, and attached to, the cathedral is the Grand Ducal Mausoleum, which was build to house the remains of the Grand Dukes and Duchesses of Russia. It was completed in 1908 however, so there weren’t that many internments that occurred here (only 13, out of a possible 60 planned for) before the Bolshevik Revolution. During the Communist years the cathedral was protected as a historical structure, but the mausoleum was looted and the tombs smashed, before being used as a warehouse for many years. It has since been restored and some people have been re-interred or buried here since 1992.

The tombs themselves were not so interesting, but the cathedral was stunning, even with its “fake” marble columns. I was most moved by St. Catherine’s Chapel, where Nicholas II and his family now have their final resting place. Instead of sarcophagi like the others have, there are marble slabs in the walls for each member of the family. With the light streaming in through the windows, it was a very peaceful place indeed.

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Quality of Monuments: Mostly white marble sarcophagi of the imperial members of the royal family. The monuments themselves are not so stunning, but their location is.

Cemetery Grounds: The Commandants’ Cemetery is small and gated, but there is an information board that tells of all who are buried there. The other burials are within the cathedral and mausoleum.

Visitors: Lots of tourists and tour groups here, but most of them stick to the cathedral and nothing else. Some visitors to the Ducal Mausoleum.

Photographer notes: The side light coming in through the windows in the afternoon makes for some interesting photos.

DETAILS

Cemetery:  Commandants’ Cemetery (1720), Ss Peter and Paul Cathedral (first burial 1715), Grand Ducal Mausoleum (1896)

Location: To get the island, go to Gorkovskaya Metro Station and walk straight south through Alexandrovsky Park to Kronverkskaya Embankment. From there, the Ioannovsky Bridge leads to the fortress. Or, if you visit the Church of the Spilled Blood, you could walk straight north from there, crossing the bridge and getting a good view of the fortress.

Hours: Cathedral is open from 10:00-19:00, Monday to Friday.