Crown City on an Island

MT
Kronstadt has a bloody past, well known for its brutally suppressed uprising. The city was the last stop for those opposed to the Bolsheviks, and in 1921 the tree-lined streets were filled with the bodies of those slaughtered.

Today the atmosphere in Kronstadt is very different; the navy town is quaint and quiet but rich in both history and scenery. With barely a tourist in site, it is the ideal place to get out of the hustle and bustle of St. Petersburg and is just under an hour away from the city's center by public transport.

History in Kronstadt cannot be ignored; it penetrates the views, architecture and the attitude of the locals.

Founded by Peter the Great in 1703 when he sailed the Gulf of Finland, Kronstadt is on Kotlin Island, 30 kilometers west of St. Petersburg. The tsar saw the tactical benefits of the island and decided to build a fort, which is still standing today on the southwestern side of the island. The fort was named Krohnschlot, or crown castle in Swedish.

In 1723 Kronstadt, meaning "crown city" in Swedish, got its official name, and its unique position in the Gulf of Finland made it integral to Russia's defense during the Russian-Swedish War of 1788 to 1790 and the Crimean War from 1854 to 1856.


Alexander Belenky / MT
Kronstadt's position in the Gulf of Finland made it integral to Russia's defense in the Russian-Swedish War and Crimean War.
After the St. Petersburg fire of 1783, Catherine the Great ordered the admiralty to be transferred to the city, and the construction of the stone warehouses, the Obvodny Canal, and numerous warehouses were completed by the architects Mikhail Vetoshnikov, Andreyan Zakharav and well-known architect Vasiley Bazhenov.

Unfortunately, not all of these outlasted the floods of 1824, and parts of the city were rebuilt.

While many events occurred in Kronstadt in the 19th century, it wasn't until 1921 that the city became infamous. By then, the country was under Bolshevik rule, but the sailors in Kronstadt found the conditions significantly worse than they were under the tsar. On March 17, they organized a rebellion. The Red Army seized the mutineers by the following morning, and a cruel fate awaited them. This was the last uprising against the Bolsheviks.


Alexander Belenky / MT
The town has preserved the naval character that it has had since the 18th century.
The town acquired its mystery by being closed to the public until 1996, as it was used solely for the navy and their families until then. Their presence is felt today as sailors walk the streets, donning hats with ribbons and striped shirts, and a combination of anchors and ropes adorn everything from doors to the gates of parks.

When arriving in Kronstadt the most prominent building is the Naval Cathedral. Designed by architect Vasily Kosyakov, it was constructed in 1913. Its extravagant turquoise dome is decorated with ropes and anchors, and its iron doors also feature a giant anchor.

If it looks familiar, it's because it is a replica of the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. The inside of the cathedral is currently closed for renovation, but the Kronstadt Fortress Museum, which adjoins the building, is open, and there is a statue of Admiral Stepan Markov emerging from the sea.

There are souvenir sailor shirts and other bits and pieces for sale on the little stalls on the square.


Alexander Belenky / MT
Sailors and cadets, in hats with ribbons, are a common sight on Kronstadt's streets.
Across the street from the square is the Italian Palace, undergoing a multimillion-dollar expansion project; the pale yellow building has a few stores and a cafe.

There is no particular site that is a must see. The charm of Kronstadt is its streets, which take you back to an era long past -- low-rise autumn-colored buildings with flaking paint and 1950s typography.

But the city may not remain untouched for long; the highway from St. Petersburg that has made Kronstadt so accessible has also bought many people from the city, and an ugly high-rise has taken over the outskirts.

A walk from the cathedral at Yakornaya Square on Sovietskaya Ulitsa will take you past the Obvodny Canal, which is surrounded by grandiose, empty warehouses built in the time of Peter the Great.

In the summer, you can gaze at many of the navy ships that pass from Kronstadt's beach on Leningradskaya Ultisa. A submarine is rumored to be lurking under the surface.

For more ship watching, walk around the coast on Makarovskaya Ulitsa to Peter Park, a neatly manicured corner with a monument of Peter the Great right in front of Kupechiskaya Harbor where all the military ships are docked.

Getting There

Bus No. 101 leaves every half-hour from St. Petersburg's Staraya Derevnya metro station. The trip takes 40 minutes.