The Peter and Paul fortress on Hare Island marks the birthplace of St. Petersburg in 1703 and is one of the most interesting places to visit as so much history is packed on that small island.
It was here that Peter I decided to build the military fortification that would protect his new “Window to the West” and prevent the Swedish Navy from carrying out further raids on the interior of Russia. The fortress walls are well maintained and the Sword Gate entrance to the inside of the fortress is well worth examination. Be aware that on the appointed hour of noon everyday the salute cannon is fired, and if you are anywhere near the gun the boom is over whelming.
Attractions inside include the statue of Peter I presented by the Russian émigré and sculptor, Shemiakin. This out of proportion bronze was hated at first but has come to be quite accepted by the population of the city. It is a popular spot on the island to have your photo taken. The mint museum is very interesting, as well as the jail where Lenin’s brother was held prior to his execution before the revolution. You may ride an MI-8 helicopter if you have a clever guide. The air frame takes off from outside the fortress walls and takes you for a magnificent ride over the entire historical portion of the city.
The real treasure is the Peter and Paul Cathedral where you may see a beautiful church interior with a fantastic iconostasis fronted by the coffins of the Romanov Tsars. I will never forget the day my wife and I sadly watched the military procession which escorted the tragic figures of the late Tsar Nicolas II and his family and loyal retainers into the church for internment. The coffins were so small because only bone remnants could be found. At the rear of the church you will often be able to listen to an all male monk choir chanting Gregorian chants and creating the most beautiful religious music I have ever experienced.
The island has quite a few outdoor vendors of many things of interest to tourists. It is sometimes possible to buy mint coin sets inside the mint museum gift shops. There is a little boat house which purports to have an original small boat built by Peter himself which has marvelous jewelry, amber, and other remembrances of St. Petersburg. This is an official government store and the quality is excellent.
You may purchase cokes and ice cream in the summer and vodka from the kiosks on a cold winter day. There are many excellent restaurants nearby that cater to both native and tourist alike where a good meal can be had for as little as ten American dollars.