Having began a war with Sweden for the outlet to the Baltic Sea, Peter I won several important battles. However, he decided not to fortify Swedish fortresses Derpt and Nieshants located at the source and in the estuary of the Neva accordingly, but to build a new fortress on the small Hare`s Island, near Vasilievskiy Island.
The fortress was laid down on May 27th, 1703, and almost simultaneously with construction of bastions, at the Trinity, they also began to build a wooden church of Saint Apostles Peter and Paul. However, the wooden church was often damaged by floods, so already 10 years later, in 1714, Peter I commissioned Domenico Trezzini to rebuild Peter and Paul Cathedral in stone.
Even before it was finished the cathedral became the burial place of Russian monarchs and their family members. Until that time they were buried at the Archangel Cathedral of Moscow Kremlin. The daughter of Peter I, Katherine, became the first who was buried there in 1708. After that his son Paul and another three daughters were also buried there.
In 1725 Peter the Great himself was buried there. At the time of his death the cathedral had yet to be finished, so Trezzini had s small chapel constructed, so-called Katherine`s side chapel, where the body was kept for 6 years, until it was moved to the iconostasis of St. Peter.
The cathedral was consecrated on June 29th, 1733 in the reign of the Anne of Russia, although all main works were completed already by 1731. That year Anne gave it the status of the main church of St. Petersburg and had the body of Peter the Great moved to the right-hand altar of the cathedral, that of St. Peter. After Kazan Cathedral on Nevsky Avenue was made the main church of the city in 1811, Peter and Paul Cathedral became a mere burial vault of the imperial family.
Today there are 32 tombs in the cathedral. All of them have the shape of sarcophagus, but the coffins were buried at the depth of 2.5 meters in the cathedral. All of them were made of white Carrara marble and only two tombs, which were put in 1906 above the graves of Alexander II and his wife, were made of Ural orletz and Altai jasper.
One of the tombs was put above the vacant grave of Princess Alexander whose remains were transferred to the Athens` Pantheon. According to the legend, the grave of Alexander I is also vacant, as he didn’t die in Taganrog (in 1825 he was only 48), and became the staretz (venerable old man) Fedor Kuzmich.
In 1998 the remains of Nicolas II family found near Yekaterinburg were buried in the Paul and Peter. They were buried at the Katherine`s side chapel, the same chapel where the body of Peter the Great was kept while the cathedral was being completed. All these remains were buried in the same grave, including those of Nicolas II, as at the moment of his death he abdicated and wasn’t longer a tsar.
Near the small dome of the cathedral a larger dome of the Grand Ducal Vault can be seen. It was added to the cathedral during 1896-1908 when there remained no place to bury the members of royal family in the cathedral itself. There are 60 burial vaults in the Grand Ducal Vault. It was consecrated to the Saint Alexander Nevsky on November 5th, 1908, and until 1916 there were buried 13 members of the royal family. In Soviet period there were no burials here, but in the 90th of the 20th century they were resumed.