This summer was rich not only on Russian cities along the Trans-Siberian railroad. We also visited several places around St Petersburg. One day we went to the North-West of the city, visiting Kronstadt, Koporye Fortress and the Fort – all in one day.
Kronstadt (Krone meaning crown in German) is the main port of St Petersburg which used to be a closed military city during the Soviet times. As so many parts of the city it is located on an island called Kotlin – but in this case you do feel that you’re on an island from where you can see both sides of the Gulf of Finland. It is there to defend St Petersburg from the Baltic sea – the role which it played particularly successfully during the Siege of Leningrad.
With all its fortifications, military ships (it is the base of the Baltic Fleet) and monuments dedicated to various episodes of the Russian naval history, Kronstadt remains a little bit too military for me. There’s this atmosphere in the city as if ordinary people are not the main characters there and notwithstanding all the tourists it seems as if the daily life of the island still retains that something of a closed city.
And since it was a closed military town up until 1996, Kronstadt is now immersed in quite a decadent state. Those Stalinist era buildings which would normally look pretty ok somewhere on the ‘mainland’ St Petersburg, are preserved here worse than what was built much earlier. And here’s some local constructivism in a very poor state:
The Naval cathedral of Saint Nicholas is one of the main sights of the fortified city on the island. It has been recently renovated and looks impressively grand. It was built 100 years ago and since then served not only as a church but also as a cinema, a concert hall and a museum. All of which are not the worst functions that the Soviets could confer to an ex-cathedral.
The fence around the cathedral:
I remember visiting Kronstadt about 15 years ago and how miserably it all looked. I only recall that my attitude towards this city was ‘for boys only’ as I am not interested in all those military ships and constructions. The Cathedral back then looked awful.
But now it shines, attracts so many tourists and yet there’s a certain feeling of being in a church there.
Although the presence of security guards all over the place instead of the usual babushkas makes you keep in mind the cost of the renovation.
The pseudo-Byzantine and at the same time pseudo-Russian style makes you think of all those surviving churches built in the early 20th century in an attempt to conjure up the spirit of the good ol’ Russia. Looking at the mosaics you also recall the Saviour on the Spilled Blood church in the center of St Petersburg.
This cast-iron pavement has its history. It was created in the 1860s to repeat the success of the New York and Boston pavements which impressed the Kronstadt steamboat factory manager so much. The current pavement is not original as it had to be recast as mines during the Second World War.
Leaving the city we went to one of the Forts of Kronstadt that you can reach without having to swim to it. There are many fishermen around and those who come to roast some shashlyk or even sunbathe. What a pacifist destiny for the fort!
The rough landscape of the fort reminds you of the long military history of these places:
Inside the fort looks suspiciously clean which might be due to it serving as a set for some movie or a game, probably:
Outside it looks like… late Soviet architecture, although these thingies were built much earlier!
We had our lunch in the field, observing the clouds moving across the sky with such a speed we thought it would rain any minute – but never did. As many fields around St Petersburg, these places are gradually turning back into their wild state as the collective agricultural production lost its sense with the fall of the Soviet empire.
When we came to the Koporye Fortress, a Medieval marvel of the St Petersburg region. Thanks to very few attempts at renovating it since its foundation in the 13th century (!) we can almost travel back in time. However, the same fact led to its quite ruinous state and although they take money to enter it, there seems to be very little renovation going on yet.
Inside the fortress:
The entrance is – as it should be – via a stone bridge with a lifting mechanism. Reminded me of the fortresses I visited a year ago in Provence.
Being surrounded by all those mostly 19th and 20th century buildings in St Petersburg, to see this Medieval stronghold which witnessed sacks and attacks by Swedes, White Army and Nazis, is to say the least quite surprising. I mean, you always think of St Petersburg as something much younger than that! The Leningrad region keeps it secrets well – but also eagerly reveal them to you if you dare travel a bit further off the center 🙂