День города – The day of the city

May 27th 1703 marked the day that the first stones were laid to build the fortress that would protect St. Petersburg from the Swedes. This fortress is called the St. Peter and Paul Fortress.

Peter the Great was adamant to get back access to the Baltic Sea from the Swedes in order to make St. Petersburg a port for trade and a “window looking on Europe”. The Northern War with the Swedes in the years 1700-1721 brought Russia new lands on the Neva Delta. To protect these conquered lands, Peter I decided to build a fortress in Zayachy Ostrov – Hare’s Island – and called it Saint Peter Burgh, in the Dutch manner, relating to the Apostle Peter, the keeper of heaven’s gates. If you think about it, St. Petersburg is the gate to the Baltic Sea and Europe.

Unfortunately, building the fortress was not an easy task for the workers, and many died in the process. The progress was very quick: by the end of summer in 1703, the walls and bastions were already completed. However in August of that same year, the infamous floods in St. Petersburg washed out many lives, to the point that there is even a Russian expression that says “the city was built on bones” (Санкт-Петербург построен на костях). We are not certain how many lives were actually lost due to this natural disaster, as there is a lot of controversy around it.

Peter the Great continued the construction of the St. Peter and Paul fortress overlooking the losses and expenditures, but the fortress never fulfilled its martial purpose. Around 1720 it became a prison for high-ranking or political prisoners.

Peter I was also responsible for building bridges connecting the Neva banks, as before people were taking the boat to cross to the other side of the “Venice of the North”.

So what happens in St. Petersburg on May 27th? On this day there will be a traditional laying of flowers on Медный Всадник (Peter the Great Monument) by Исаакиевский собор (St. Isaac’s Cathedral), and at 22h50 there will be a firework show seen by each of Neva river’s banks. Don’t miss it!

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