All about Kronstadt (Saint Petersburg)

Kronstadt

Kronstadt is an island city that holds its own special place in Russian history. It's not only a border point with western nations, but also naval base surrounding in maritime glory. Every street, building and lane in Kronstadt has its own story – and while many of these stories are inspiring or astounding, some others are also tragic.

Fascinating Facts

  • The Dutch word 'Kronslot' can be translated as 'Crown Fortress'. From the time of the town's founding, it was always a frontier post – protecting Russia's northern capital from attack. Its strategic significance meant that you needed a special permit to live in Kronstadt until as recently as 1998.
  • Kronstadt has been the starting point for 41 round-the-world expeditions, with the teams making 56 discoveries.
  • This city – which only had water transport connections with the rest of Russia until 1983 – has a number of sightseeing attractions. One of these is the world's only surviving cast iron circular raised road. The town retains an old measuring point for measuring the level of foot water, whose level is pegged as exactly sea level. When it was shown to cosomonaut Yuri Gagarin, he said 'Now at last I know where the earth's belly-button is!”.
  • Until the late 1980s, a large network of simple railway tracks was preserved on the island. It supplied the forts on the island with military supplies, and joined up the military supply facilities.

History

Between 1323 and 1617, Kotlin Island – the location of modern Kronstadt, was the border-post between Russia and Sweden. According to the Treaty of Stolbovo of 1617, the island was awarded to Sweden. It remained Swedish territory until 1703, when Russian Tsar Peter the Great accomplished a small trick.

In winter of 1703, the Swedish ships retreated to their all-weather ports. It was exactly then that Tsar Peter decreed the building of a fortress on the island. This first fortress was built on a water-filled island near Kotlin. The future emperor took part in the works himself, checking the water clearance levels, to ensure that even his largest vessels could pass freely. They worked intensively and quickly. When spring of 1704 came, the Swedes were completely unprepared for the sight of a Russian naval fortress on the island they believed to be their own territory.

Yet Kronstadt's history has many pages of tragedy too. On the 28th of February 1921, the Bolsheviks failed to win the elections for the local councils. Moscow interpreted this as a 'Kronstadt mutiny'. The rebels called for free elections, the restoration of promises made by the Bolsheviks, and freedom of speech, and a free press. Naturally, none of their demands were met. In March 1921, troops were sent to Kronstadt under Red Army general Marshall Tukhachevsky to 'restore order' and put down the uprising.

What to see

  • The St Nicholas Naval Cathedral, as well as the Cathedral of the Vladimir Ikon of the Mother of God – considered the 'jewel' of the city.
  • Petrovsky Park, which was laid out in the 19th century by Governor F.F. Bellinshousen.
  • The Petrovsky Dry Docks – a monument to the ingenuity of Tsar Peter the Great, who built the docks for shipbuilding. This is something all history buffs will want to visit.
  • The Kronstadt Fortress, and the History Museums.
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