|At the source
of the Neva river there is a small island, occupied by the fortress
Oreshek (little nut). It is a remarkable monument
of old Russian defensive architecture, steeped in Russian history.
The people of the principality of Novgorod built the first small
wooden fortress here in 1323, as part of a network of fortresses
defending northern approaches to the principality. It became a Russian
outpost on the important medieval trade route that connected an
extensive area of eastern and southern Europe with the Baltic sea.
Medieval chronicles refer to it as the route "from the Varangians
(Vikings) to the Greeks." In 1348 the Swedes burned down the
fortress, and in 1352 the Novgorodians rebuilt it, this time of
stone. A fire caused severe damage to the structure in 1386, and
in the early fifteenth century the fortress was almost completely
reconstructed. By the middle of that century the fortress became
not only a military outpost, but also the center of a large, economically
advanced region, the first river port for foreign merchants heading
south along the trade route. In times of tension is served as base
for the ancient Russian military fleet.
the end of the century, when the Novgorod region was incorporated
into the newly powerful state of Muscovy, there was a renewed need
for fortifications along the northwestern borders, where the Swedes
were exercising their military might. The redesigned fortress was
a model for its day. It occupied the whole island, leaving only a
narrow strip along the shore where it was impossible for an invading
army to congregate in significant numbers. When the Swedish fleet
attacked Russian supply vessels in 1582, an inner harbor behind the
walls provided protection for more than fifty Russian boats.
In February, 1611, Swedish troops under the command of Jacob Delagardie
laid siege to the fortress. The Russian garrison held out for two
months but eventually succumbed to famine and illness, and the fortress
was captured. A peace treaty of 1617 ceded the fortress officially
to Sweden, which remained in control of Oreshek for almost a century.
The Russian army under Peter I stormed the fortress in 1702 and recaptured
it. This was Russias first major victory in the Northern War.
Because it helped Russia gain control of the Neva and its connection
to the Baltic sea, Peter renamed the town Shlisselburg, or key
to Peter I
in the first half XVIII century Shlisselburg, took on a double
role as both a fortress town, protecting eastern approaches to
Russian capital, and as a large port, whose trading abilities
were aided by the construction of the Ladoga canal between 1719
and 1732. With political stability in the region, the importance
of the fortress declined relative to trade and shipbuilding.
The last time
the fortress served a military purpose was in World War II. When
Hitlers army laid siege to St. Petersburg and took control
of much of the land along the Neva, a small Soviet detachment defended
the fortress heroically for 500 days.
to its strategic importance, the fortress at Shlisselburg served
intermittently as a high-security prison from the time of Peter
I through the early years of the Soviet regime. In 1756 the Crown
Prince Ivan, rightful successor to his great aunt Empress Anna was
imprisoned here by supporters of Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter
I who took power after a coup in 1741. Ivan died 8 years later,
in an unsuccessful attempt to liberate him. In the nineteenth century
two close friends of the poet Alexander Pushkin, Ivan Poushchine
and Wilhelm Küchelbecher were held in Oreshek before being
sent into penal servitude for their participation in the Decembrist
uprising against the tsar in 1825. This was also the site, on May
8, 1887, of the execution of five revolutionaries, among them Lenins
brother Alexander Ulianov, for an attempt to kill Tsar Alexander
to Soviet soldiers who defended Fort Oreshek in WWII
The Oreshek fortress is now part of the system of historical museums
of St. Petersburg. Extensive restoration reveals remains of the
fortifications built in 1352, as well as portions from the early
sixteenth century and the eighteenth century. There is a monument
on the site to the soldiers who died defending the fortress in the
Second World War. Also preserved are some of the small, frigid cells
where a host of political prisoners from both ends of the ideological
spectrum spent decades in solitary confinement, both before and
after the Russian Revolution of 1917.
children on a field trip to the Oreshek Museum --