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Published: April 8th 2013
I desired to visit Ivangorod Fortress as soon as I saw it for the first time on June 14, 2012. Almost a year passed, I have fulfilled this ‘dream’. I found Davranov Travel agency offering day excursions to various places in the North-West, and the most interesting for me was the Fortresses of the North-West, including Koporye (of which I knew absolutely nothing), Jamburg (Kingisepp), and Ivangorod. I’m sure there are some possibilities of getting there by public transport, but they are by no means convenient (at least there is no good electric train, and the places are not located within walking distance from each other).
Several weeks ago, I purchased a web-voucher for the excursion via their website for 1150 rubles, but that time they phoned me the day before and said the excursion was cancelled – they returned the money four days after. I bought it for the second time a week ago, and everything was perfect. They send you a voucher, which on the day of the excursion is exchanged for the ticket at the booth near Gostiny Dvor from where their buses depart. The excursion lasted ten hours.
At eight in the morning, I was
at the departure point and exchanged the web voucher for ticket; only nine persons were going. The guide was a man, not very young, of definite Orthodox beliefs as judged by his speech, and he also used some obsolete words to denote the bus, for instance, or the process of sleeping, and used to prey blessing of the two or three saints he mentioned in connection with the historical outline of the sights (‘let him bless our journey’). His voice at first seemed too loud for me and a bit annoying, but then I got accustomed to it. He told us a great lot about several tribes which populated the North-Western area in the remote ages, and gradually came to relate about Koporye Fortress, which was our first stop. It was founded in 1237, destroyed and rebuilt several times, was conquered by Novgorod and Swedes, alternately passing from the hands of foreign troops to Russia.
The fortress is located on a limestone rock, used as the natural building material, at the foot of which flows the minute river Koporka, forming a tiny canyon. One of the walls is arranged so that at the bottom its thickness is increased by
the rock itself, making it less sensitive to attacks. Another wall was unwinnable and was never even subjected to siege. The location was strategically advantageous because the towers allowed a view far into the sea, and any approaching ship could be seen in advance.
The guide said only ten percent of it remained to our times so I expected to see one or two stone rows half a meter high, however, the fortress was impressive and interesting, three of its towers in rather good condition. The fortress was never restored thus remaining in its genuine state, though some attempts at preserving the walls were made and, certainly, the dangerous places in the fortress (like the so-called traps) are covered with wooden boards, and other ones are enclosed. It is very easy to fall down, if one is careless and tries to climb the crumbling walls. The guide told us several gloomy stories, caused by negligence, one of which was fatal. In spring, descending into the walls is much more hazardous because the steps are covered with ice. It is not dangerous to enter the towers.
In times of Peter the Great, when St. Petersburg was founded and the
Russian borders gradually moved forward, the fortress lost its military value.
The next stop was the town of Jamburg (former name; now called Kingisepp to the memory of an Estonian revolutionary). The fortress there was disassembled by the queen Ekaterina’s order, so now only the earth mounds and the contours of walls remain. The place looks pleasant and now is a park. It is said the queen even allowed the folk to disassemble a part of the fortress for free, which the folk did gladly and quickly. A more interesting piece of architecture was the Ekaterininsky Cathedral built by A. Rinaldi in 1764-1783, showcasing his style, transitory between Baroque and classicism.
From Kingisepp, there is a short distance to Ivangorod. Its fortress is the biggest detached (self-sustained) fortress in Russia if one excludes the Kremlins. It was built in 1492 on the right bank of Narva River, just opposite the Narva Castle, for protection of the Novgorod land against the westerners and named after the king Ivan the Third. I still plan to visit Narva this year, but that depends on the visa. Of course, it would be just perfect to add Narva Castle to this excursion (in
Soviet times, Narva and Rakvere used to be included). Narva and Ivangorod are so close to one another both geographically (a stone’s throw or an arrow’s flight) and historically.
The Swedes also possessed this fortress for many years, but in the course of the Northern War, in 1704, it was again annexed to Russia. During the Great Patriotic War (or World War II, as such) the Fascists blasted the 6 corner towers, large areas of walls and internal buildings. Now the fortress is well restored, but much still needs to be done.
Within the fortress, there are the following: the fortress as such in ruins, of the XVI century, very small, built initially by the tsar; the Uspensky Cathedral and the Nikolskaya Church (to me they reminded of Novgorod), the Front Town, powder store etc. We ascended the following towers: the Victuals Tower, the Well Tower, and the Powder Tower. Inside the walls, there are interesting arrangements called traps into which the armoured knights were supposed to fall. The Well Tower allows an excellent view of the Narva Castle and, moreover, of Estonian city of Narva with several sights (churches and ramparts; and the border crossing, right!)
I still want to visit several other fortresses, which played a significant role in Russian history, and fortunately they are located rather close to St. Petersburg.
p.s. There is such a big mess with the selection of Russian Regions on this website. Whoever found the Urals in Izhevsk? Since when is Moscow is in the North-West, and its closest neigbours such as Sergiev Posad in the Centre? Yakutsk is in Yakutia, not in the Far East.
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