The Oreshek Fortress, also called Shlisselburg, was first built in 1323 as a fortified outpost of Veliky Novgorod, one of the earliest cities in Russia. In 1478, it was incorporated into to the state of Moscow. Now abandoned, this island fortress situated at the head of the Neva River has played witness to some of the most important events in Russian history.
Over time, the initial 14th-century wooden structure was replaced by heavy stone walls. The bastion towers were also widened and rebuilt. The fortress, guarding the Baltic Sea, changed owners many times with the wars over the years, belonging first to the Russians, then to the Swedes. In 1702, Tsar Peter the Great captured the area once again and Russians regained access to Baltic. A year later he founded the city of St. Petersburg as the new capital of Russia, and the front line of defense was moved to the Finnish gulf.
The island fortress was deemed a perfect place for a political prison, and insubordinate solders, or on occasion, more famous personalities, were sent to the penitentiary cells in Oreshek. Most famously, the brother of Vladimir Lenin was imprisoned here and later hanged for treason. The complex was expanded year after year and by 1911 it could hold about a thousand prisoners.
The fortress was abandoned after the Russian Revolution in 1917, and barely survived the Second World War. The island was defended by Red Army soldiers during the siege of Leningrad and the structure was badly damaged. Today only 6 of the original 10 towers remain in tact. The historic site and castle remains are now open to visitors as a museum.
Know Before You Go
To get to the fortress take a train from St. Petersburg, Finlandsky railway station to Petrokrepost. The lake and ferry dock are short walk away from the railway station (the way is not marked with any signs). You can take a ferry to the island from there. Plan your time; it's better to arrive early than late. Within the complex is a memorial to its defenders and a prison museum.