Prisoners of the
Peter and Paul fortress


Peter and Paul fortress, originally conceived as a military fortification and built according the contemporary system of French military engineer Vauban, has never been used for its intended purpose. In the first quarter of XVIII century the Peter and Paul fortress became known as the “Russian Bastille” – the main state prison. Interrogations and tortures tool place here implemented by first and second Secret office, and by the Secret expedition afterwards. 

Peter and Paul fortress
Peter and Paul fortess prison cell

The son of Peter I Alexei, nobles Kikin, Lopukhin, Dolgoruky, the Tsar’s sister Maria and others were among the first prisoners of the fortress in relation to the so-called “tsarevich case” which began in February 1718. Tsarevich (prince) Alexei was the eldest son of Peter I and he was an alien to all his father’s reforms. Peter tried to attract the son to his business, to give him an education, but it was all in vain – the prince fled abroad. By the order of his father, he was returned and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul fortress, where he died in 1718 and was buried in yet unfinished Peter and Paul Cathedral. Soon a legend was born. People said that Peter wanted to erect a giant spire over his son’s grave in order to prevent sedition emanating from the ashes of the prince from spreading in Russia. 

“And the death of Alexei was also surrounded by rumors and legends. Some said that he was “quietly strangled” by the order of Peter I.”

And the death of Alexei was also surrounded by rumors and legends. Some said that he was “quietly strangled” by the order of Peter I. Alexander Pushkin wrote: “Prince Alexei was supposed to be poisoned. Peter’s Batman ordered one from the pharmacist. On the appointed day he went to get the poison, but the pharmacist found out what the poison was intended for and smashed the bottle on the floor. Batman had no choice but to murdered prince by stabbing him in the heart with a knife.”

Peter and Paul fortress
Peter and Paul fortress
Peter and Paul fortress
“Princess Tarakanova” by P. Flavitsky

Among the legends dedicated to the prisoners of the Peter and Paul fortress, there is also a legend about Princess Tarakanova. “In the seventies of the 18th century in one of the darkest dungeons of the fortress Princess Tarakanova, the daughter of Empress Elizabeth born from secret marriage with field-Marshal  Razumovsky,  was kept. The pretender to the Russian throne by deceit was brought from Italy to Russia by the Earl Alexei Orlov. 10 Sep 1777, during one of the St. Petersburg floods, she died in her stone imprisonment, flooded by the raging waters of the Neva River”.

This legend contributed to the emergence of one of the art exhibitions in the Academy of fine arts – the painting “Princess Tarakanova” by P. Flavitsky. It depicts a woman standing on a prison bunk with horror and despair on her face, waiting for death from the water lashing against the window with iron bars. In fact, this woman was an impostor, supported by political forces hostile to Russia. Catherine II considered her to be dangerous and ordered Earl Alexei Orlov to bring her to Russia, where she was imprisoned in the Peter and Paul fortress. In the prison she acquired tuberculosis and died two years before the flood of 1777. It proves that sometimes a legend is only a legend and should not be taken as a historical fact. 

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