Back

Fortresses of Russia

Fortresses of Russia were built in the Middle Ages. The Russian state, as well as Sweden and the Livonian Order fought for these lands for several centuries. In the North-Western region of Russia, 10 fortresses have been preserved. 2 fortresses are located on the territory of Finland, which until 1917 was also part of the Russian Empire.

In this review on the Geomerid portal you can read about fortresses in the north of Russia. The list shows the dates of construction of stone walls and buildings that have survived to this day. The foundation dates of the fortresses are several centuries earlier, but for a long time they had wooden walls.

1. Vyborg Fortress - 1293
2. Izborskaya fortress - 1330
3. Ivangorod Fortress - 1492
4. Shlisselburg fortress - 1410
5. Staroladozhskaya fortress - 1490
6. Tikhvin Monastery - 1560
7. Korela Fortress - 1585
8. Solovetsky Monastery - 1590
9. Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery - 1654
10. Peter and Paul Fortress - 1703

Follow the hyperlinks to read in detail about each fortress and see a large number of photos

Vyborg Fortress – 1293

Vyborg castle, located on the Castle Island in the historic center of the city, is the most interesting tourist attraction of Vyborg. It has the characteristic features of a Scandinavian medieval castle, and from the observation point of the Olaf Tower one can have a magnificent view of the old town Vyborg.

The small island, previously known as the Oxen Island, is near the deep-water area of the Gulf of Finland of the Baltic Sea where it was possible to build a trade port. From the point of view of medieval fortification the island was a perfect place for building a strong castle. So, in 1293 the construction of the Vyborg castle had begun, and the Oxen Island was renamed the Castle Island.

Izborsk fortress – 1330

By the 11 century the medieval proto-town of the Kryvychi, Izborsk, was rather big, but the Truvor Gorodishche remained the main citadel in its center. But it was too small and could not withstand long sieges. The Livonian Knights captured Izborsk two times, in 1233 and in 1240. By that time Pskov was a town with strong defensive system. As a result, Izborsk lost its political influence, but remained very important as regards to the defense of Pskov lands.

In 1302 the Izborsk fortress was moved in a more advantageous place on the Zheravya Gora, one and a half kilometers from Truvor`s Gorodishche. At first the fortress was wooden, but soon the stone Lukovka tower (main tower of the fortress) was built, and in 1330 the Pskov posadnik Sheloga had the entire fortress enclosed by stone walls. 

Ivangorod Fortress - 1492

Ivangorod Fortress is located 150 kilometers west of St. Petersburg, on the border with Estonia. In the middle of the century, these lands were the place of confrontation between Russia and the Livonian Order, and then with Sweden. The border ran along the Narva River, and two powerful fortresses were built on its banks 150 meters from each other. This is a single case in world history when the fortresses of two opponents were located so close.   

The Ivangorod Fortress was founded in 1492 on the banks of the Narva River, by order of the Russian Tsar Ivan III. The tsar called it by his name. By that time, the Narva Fortress had existed for 150 years. It was built in 1329 by the Danes, and in 1347 Denmark sold these lands to the Livonian Order, which was trying to expand its influence to the east. Russia claimed the same lands. Several centuries of the late Middle Ages passed under the sign of this confrontation. 

Shlisselburg fortress – 1478

Schlusselburg fortress (Oreshek) is located at the head of the Neva River on Lake Ladoga, 50 kilometers of St. Petersburg. The place had a great strategic value so as far back as 1323, in the time of the Novgorod Republic, a fortress appeared there.

Prince of Novgorod Yuriy Danilovich, grandson of Alexander Nevsky, built a fortress called Oreshek on Orekhovets Island. By that time the Novgorodians were at war with Sweden for about 30 years and the construction of the fortress allowed to define Russian borders. In 1478 the Novgorod Republic was absorbed by Muscovy. After that the old fortress was dismantled and replaced by a new strong citadel.

Old Ladoga fortress – 1490

Old Ladoga was founded no later than 753. This city is the oldest on the territory of Russia. It was founded 100 years earlier than Veliky Novgorod, which was the first capital of the princes of the Rurik dynasty.

The Old Ladoga fortress is located on the site of the city of the 8th century. The oldest ruins of the fortress date back to the 12th century, and the fortress walls and towers that have survived to the present day date back to the end of the 15th century. For several centuries, Old Ladoga fortress was one of the most important cities in Russia. The fortress lost its significance only after the Northern War of the 18th century, when the borders were pushed far to the west.

Tikhvin Monastery – 1560

The Tikhvin Monastery of the Dormition of the Mother of God was founded in 1560 by order of Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible in Tikhvin, 220 kilometers from St. Petersburg. The Icon of the Mother of God of Tikhvin, one of the most revered icons of the Mother of God in Russian Orthodoxy, is kept there.

In 1383 the first wooden church was built in the place of the finding of the icon. And 1510 the first stone Assumption Cathedral was built there by the order of Tsar Vasili III. Since that time all Russian tsars came on a pilgrimage to Tikhvin to worship the wonder-working icon. In 1560, after the start of the Livonian War with Sweden, Tsar Ivan the Terrible ordered to laid down the Tikhvin Monastery and to encircle it with strong fortifications.

Korela Fortress – 1585

Korela Fortress is located on the northwestern shore of Lake Ladoga at the confluence of the Vuoksa River. Since ancient times, these lands were inhabited by the Korel tribe, who were allies of the Novgorod Republic. For several centuries, the Swedes and Russians fought for these lands.

During the time of the Novgorod Republic, the Korela fortress was made of wood. It was part of a defense belt that included several fortresses: Korela, Old Ladoga, Sсhlisselburg, and Ivangorod. During the Livonian War in the mid-16th century, these lands were ceded to Sweden. During the years of Swedish rule, the fortress was called Kexholm. The Round Gate Tower, which was built in 1585, has been preserved to this day. Then it was called the Lars Torstensson Tower.

Solovetsky Monastery – 1590

The first wooden churches of the Solovetsky Monastery were built on the island in the 30th of the 15 century by the monks Herman and Savvatiy. In the 16 the Solovetsky Monastery was surrounded with strong walls with watchtowers made of giant boulders. So was shaped the appearance of the monastery, which since then had been called the Solovetsky Kremlin. 

By its territory the Solovetsky Kremlin is put among the largest monasteries in Russia, and is inferior only to the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery. The average weight of the stone blocks used for the walls and towers of the Solovetsky Kremlin ranged from 5 to 8 tons. The weight of some base blocks reached 20 tons.

Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery – 1654

Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery is located 130 kilometers to the north of Vologda on the shore of Lakes Siverskoye. This monastery features the Russia`s strongest fortifications, as well as the largest territory surrounded by the fortified walls. The monastery was founded in 1397 by two monks, Cyril and Saint Ferapont. Already in the time of Ivan the Terrible the monastery became one of the most important fortresses in Russia, and it had even been rumored that the State treasury was kept there. 

The strong walls, which made Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery one of the main fortresses in Russia, were erected in the reign of Alexei Mikhailovich during 1654-1680. It has been thought that after the Salt Riot the tsar decided to build an impregnable fortress where he could hide in case of popular unrest. And after that the monastery became the largest fortress in Russia.

Peter and Paul Fortress - 1703

May 27, 1703 is considered the date when St. Petersburg was founded. It was just on that day that Peter I laid down the first stone in the foundation of Peter and Paul Fortress on Hare`s Island. The fortress became the main Russian citadel on the Neva River, in the period of the Great Northern War with Sweden for the outlet to the Baltic Sea. 

The fortress was designed by Peter I himself. The fortress was built a glance at the fortification requirements of that period of time. Instead of common walls, a system of strong bastions was constructed. All six bastions of the fortress were given the name of Peter`s closest favorites. The bastions had 50 guns each making the fortress a strong citadel. To defend the citadel from the land the crescent-shaped earth mound was constructed that was called the Crownwork.