Kotlin Island

During the first years in the life of St Petersburg, one of the most vital tasks was defending the new town, particularly from the sea. With this aim in mind, Peter the Great stationed two earthen gun batteries on the island of Kotlin. He asked Domenico Trezzini to build a fort on the sandbank to the south of the island, with artillery trained on the approaches to the mouth of the Neva. The foundations were laid by placing cribs – wooden frames filled with stones – on the frozen Gulf of Finland in the winter. When the ice melted, they sank to the bottom of the sea, acting as foundations. The fort was designed in the form of a polyhedron with cannons arranged in two rows.

In May 1704, the tsar’s travel log records: “His Majesty the Sovereign deigned to go, with all his closest people, the Metropolitan of Novgorod and other authorities, from St Petersburg by water, on the sea, to Kotlin Island. He went to the new fortress, which was built directly opposite the island on the water, on the ship passageway, in winter, when there was ice. The wooden [foundations] were loaded with stone and lowered into the water; several cannons were placed on top, past which it was impossible for a single ship to proceed to the river mouth without obstruction. And on the arrival of His Majesty the Sovereign at the fortress of Kronslot, meaning ‘Crown-Lock,’ there were three days of festivities.”

In summer 1705, the guns at Kronslot fought off a Swedish attempt to land forces on the island – justifying the hasty construction of defences on the approaches to St Petersburg. Kronslot’s importance as a military outpost was reflected in the appearance of many images of the fortress. The fort was engraved both by Pieter Pickaerdt and by Alexei Rostovtsev for the series of “minor views” of St Petersburg created in 1716 and 1717. A view of Kronslot also appears on the plan of St Petersburg printed in the studio of Johann Baptist Homann in the 1710s. In 1723, the port was renamed Kronstadt.

During the Great Northern War, Kotlin became the main naval base of the new Baltic Fleet. The island was transformed into an impregnable fortress. In 1706, the fortification of Alexanderschanze was built at the western tip of the island. In 1709, work began on the creation of a fortified harbour. An island fortress called the Citadel was built in 1722. The following year, a central fort was erected, surrounding the settlement from the sea and the land.

Peter the Great wanted Kotlin Island to become a major seaport. To this end, he built a harbour, landing wharves and warehouses. Noblemen, merchants and workers were order to move there permanently. In the early 1710s, the tsar even thought of making the island the administrative centre of his new capital, asking Francesco Fontana to plan the layout of the south-east section of Kotlin.

Two of the first buildings in Kronstadt were the wooden palace of Peter I (burnt down in the late eighteenth century) and Prince Alexander Menshikov’s Italian Palace (1711–16). The three-storey Italian Palace can be clearly seen among the other buildings in Alexei Rostovtsev’s small engraving Kotlin Island (1716–17), depicting a view of Kronstadt Harbour from the sea.

Random articles