This morning we packed our bags and headed off for Peter and Paul Fortress which stands on Hare Island and is one of the most historic parts of the area. This fortress was commissioned by Peter the Great and built in 1703 as a protection against the Swedes. The Fortress became a notorious prison for people such as Dostoevky, Trotsky and Lenin's oldest brother as well as many revolutionaries. In the centre of the complex is a beautiful Cathedral with a golden spire, which is such a contrast to the grim, drepessing jail. Inside the Cathedral were the tombs of most of the Tsars and Tsarinas from the 18th Century, including that of Peter the Great himself.
The remains of Nicholas II and his family and entourage were re-interred there, in the side chapel of St. Catherine, on July 17, 1998, the 80th anniversary of their deaths.
The newer Grand Ducal Mausoleum (built in the Neo-Baroque style under Leon Benois's supervision in 1896-1908) is connected to the cathedral by a corridor. It was constructed in order to remove the remains of some of the non-reigning Romanovs from the cathedral, where there was scarcely any room for new burials. The mausoleum was expected to hold up to sixty tombs, but by the time of the Russian Revolution, there were thirteen.
Other structures inside the fortress include the still functioning mint building (constructed to Antonio Porta's designs under Emperor Paul), the Trubetskoy Bastion with its grim prison cells, and the city museum. According to a centuries-old tradition, a cannon is fired each noon from the Naryshkin Bastion.
The fortress walls overlook sandy beaches that have become among the most popular in St. Petersburg. In summer, the beach is often overcrowded, especially when a major sand festival takes place on the shore.
Another popular feature on the fortress grounds is the statue of Peter the Great. The Tsar is depicted with an abnormally small head and creepily elongated appendages. However, architect Mikhail Shemyakin did use Peter's death mask and the wax figure made of him after his death as models for his sculpture so there might be some truth to it. Unveiled in 1991, the statue caused commotion and controversy with some demanding its removal from the Peter and Paul Fortress. But the statue has stayed and gradually become accepted.
We left the fortress and visited Vasilievsky Spit which is one of the more classical architectural assemblies in St Petersburg: the Stock Exchange and the Rostral Columns. The Stock Exchange was built between 1805-10 and was modeled on the temples of Ancient Greece. The statue standing atop the colonnade facing the Neva is titled "Neptune with Two Rivers", representative of the importance of sea trade in St Petersburg commerce. The Rivers in the sculpture are represented by human figures. Since 1939 the Stock Exchange has been the home of the Central Naval Museum. One of the oldest museums in Russia it was originally founded by Peter the Great in 1709.
Flanking the Stock Exchange are the towering Rostral Columns, erected in 1811. In the early years they served as lighthouses, the oil torches on top of the columns guiding traffic along the Neva. These days the torches are still lit on some public holidays. Continuing with the ancient motif of the architecture on Vasilievsky Spit, the bows of boats poke out of the Rostral Columns. Exhibiting the bows of seized ships by embedding them in columns was an Ancient Roman tradition. At the base of each of the columns there are two colossal statues. Like the sculpture on the Stock Exchange, these four figures are symbolic of rivers. Specifically, they represent the four major rivers Imperial Russian rivers: the Neva, Volga, Volkhov and Dnepr.
At 11am we set off north, travelling through dense pine forests dotted with numerous lakes. We had another border crossing -
1st Checkpoint - Passports
2nd Checkpoint - Walk through. They kept a fellow passenger for about an hour (just because they could, asking him irrelevant questions).
3rd Checkpoint - Finland border.
We continued to Helsinki and checked into the Scandic Park hotel for an overnight stay. Sandy, Peter and I walked into town and visited the waterfront area. Pete and I had a late dinner and drinks at our hotel.