Thanks to Wikipedia I’ve just learnt that Oreshek Fortress, aka Shlisselburg, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s one of those places in the region that is very closely knit together with the history of St Petersburg and the deeds of Peter the Great.
We went there last week and it was the first time I saw the fortress from the other side of the Neva river which actually takes its source right there, flowing from the Ladoga Lake, the largest in Europe mind you.
Normally we would travel to the fortress on bikes from my dacha, visiting the town Shlisselburg (aka Petrokrepost’ or Peter’s Fortress, one of those “absolutely necessary” Soviet (re)names) and having our lunch on the riverside. The fortress is situated on an island which looks (and feels) just like a ship, breaking the waves and the strong wind from Ladoga.
By the way, the fortress has several more names depending on what language you speak 🙂 Schlüsselburg (hence the corrupted Russian Shlisselburg), Nöteborg, Pähkinälinna… The first name refers to it being a “key” fortress hence the key on this tower:
…while the other two are Swedish and Finnish for “nut” fortress, as it was built in 1323 on Orekhovets island (Nut Island) by the Novgorod people (hence the popular name Oreshek, a small – but hard – nut). And it has proved both its names right: it was a key to the Baltic sea for Russia and it was as hard to conquer as a nut, both for Peter who had to claim it back from the Swedes and for the Germans in the Second World War:
It was heavily damaged during the latter as it blocked the way to Leningrad and also courageously defended the only way which connected the besieged city with the mainland, the Road of Life.
Over the centuries its strong walls served as a prison, especially during the tsarist times when the various politically unwanted citizens lived and died there in harsh conditions. An American-style prison where all those anti-monarchists spent their lonely days in cold and damp cells without even a possibility to lie down during the day:
For those who did not get enough of cold cells in the Peter and Paul Fortress, there is a chance to see several of them fully reconstructed. And just outside there’s this blooming apple tree growing from the grave of Lenin’s brother who was hanged there. Of course this is not the authentic tree but it’s now a tradition to grow an apple tree on that spot. And I should say it really helps cheer the visitors up a bit.
There’s also a dungeon where it is so cold and eerie that you want to escape as soon as possible. And get back to that apple tree – or even better leave the fortification walls and stand a bit there where the Neva river begins. You almost feel like you’re standing on a ship looking ahead of you.
I tried to capture the sound of waves and the wind but all I got was a shshshhsh 🙂 So here’s a Thai picture instead. Wait, this is not Thailand, this is Neva!
How to get there: We accessed the fortress from the right bank of Neva (more precisely, a township called after one of the fortress’ prisoners, Morozov) with the help of a fearless rock (music, I mean) fan motor boat owner, who took us there in just no time and 100 RUB one way. There are more ‘civilized’ (organized, legal) ways to get to Shlisselburg from St Petersburg, try getting on a bus 440 from Rybatskoye metro station or 575 from Ulitsa Dybenko; then take a ferry boat from Shlisselburg town to the island for 250 RUB 2 ways. Also, there’s a way to get there on water directly from the center of St Petersburg: take a hovercraft from the Admiralteyskaya Embankment pier or the Dvortsovaya Embankment pier (the tour lasts 5 hours).
The whole island is a museum, belonging to the same ‘chain’ as several other St Petersburg-history-related museums (see my stories here and here). The entrance to the fortress is 200 RUB and includes a guided tour in Russian (English on demand, I guess). The somewhat un-updated information about the museum in English is here.
Adding this post to my St Petersburg series.