History of the Shlisselburg Fortress
History of the Shlisselburg Fortress

The history of the Shlisselburg fortress is a short synopsis of the history of Russia.

In 1323, on Orekhovy Island at the source of the Neva, the Orekhovetsky "eternal peace" was signed with Sweden - the first international treaty in the history of Northern Russia. At the same time, the free Novgorodians founded the Oreshek fortress here.

Since 1612, under the name Noteburg, the fortress belonged to Sweden. In 1702, as a result of many hours of assault by the troops of Peter I, she finally passed to Russia and received the name Shlisselburg (Key-city). And the heroic defense of the island in 1941-1943, according to Viktor Suvorov, is a unique example in military history. However, the fortress Oreshek owes its fame not to wars and victories, but to prison casemates.

For centuries, the insular position of fortresses was considered ideal for both defense and placement of dangerous criminals. And although little is known about the prisoners of ancient times, they undoubtedly were in the fortress. The well-documented history of the prison in Shlisselburg began in the time of Peter the Great.

With the founding of St. Petersburg, the fortress at the source of the Neva lost its military significance. It began to be used as a place of confinement for Swedish prisoners of war, and most importantly - for unlucky contenders for power, participants in failed conspiracies and coups. Among the latter were the sister and ex-wife of Peter I, members of the Supreme Privy Council, Ernst Johann Biron with his entire family, Tsar Ivan VI (John Antonovich) and other characters in Russian history.

Under Elizaveta Petrovna, the schismatic Krugly was killed in the fortress, walled up in a cell. Under Catherine II, freethinkers like Nikolai Novikov, with whom the Leiden University graduate doctor Mikhail Bagryansky voluntarily went to prison, and the "Russian Nostradamus" monk Abel, who predicted the death of the empress, were sent here. Under Paul, it housed mostly guilty military men. And then - everyone in a row, even the insane: for example, they sent Count Kirill Razumovsky, who had lost his mind, to Shlisselburg …


At the same time, the fortress became a place of detention for participants in the national liberation movements of the Russian Empire. The leader of the Bashkir uprising Batyrsha (Gabdulla Galiev), the first imam of the North Caucasus, a Chechen Sheikh Mansur, finished their days here, and already in the 19th century - after 38 years of imprisonment - Pole Valerian Lukasinsky.

After the completion of the investigation into the case of the Decembrists, brothers Alexander and Nikolai Bestuzhev, Wilhelm Kuchelbecker, Joseph Poggio, Ivan Pushchin ended up in the Shlisselburg fortress. And it was with the story of Nikolai Bestuzhev "Shlisselburg Fortress" that the wide glory of the island prison began.

Generations of prisoners dedicated stories and poems to her, memoirs, historical research. For half a century, it turned into the most famous prison in Russia, it began to be called the "Russian Bastille", and Alexander Dumas himself was going to write a novel about her prisoners. And in the 20th century, a waltz called “In conclusion. Memories of a Schlisselburger "was dedicated to the prison by Oskar Strok, the author of the famous" Murka ".

In the 18th century, the prisoners were kept in the casemates of the citadel ("secret castle") and the Svetlichnaya Tower adjoining it. In 1798, a one-story Secret House was erected there, which finally secured the status of a political prison, which later, in addition to the Decembrists, contained a member of the Cyril and Methodius brotherhood Nikolai Gulak, anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, utopian Nikolai Ishutin and other politically unreliable citizens.


By the end of the 1860s, political prisoners were taken out of Shlisselburg, and the prison itself was being prepared to be closed. But the growth of the revolutionary movement and a series of terrorist attacks forced the authorities to change their plans. And already in 1881, Emperor Alexander III ordered to adapt the fortress to accommodate political ones from the Peter and Paul Fortress.

The old Secret House was converted into 10 cells, the windows, extra doors and passages of the fortress towers and walls were walled up. Prison services are located in three separate buildings: the office, the kitchen, the gendarmes' barracks, and so on. A two-story building for 40 solitary cells appeared - the New Prison, or "Narodovolcheskaya", according to the majority of its prisoners. The spacious cells had water closets and water taps, and throughout the building there was water heating. The walls and floors were painted gray and black. The bed was attached to the wall for the day.

A strict isolation regime was established in the prison, the prisoners were named only by the cell number, conversations and songs were strictly prohibited. The guards from the gendarmes were not allowed to talk not only with the prisoners, but also with each other, only once a week they could leave the island for a short time. For misdemeanors, the prisoners were entitled to solitary confinement and physical punishment; for good behavior they were allowed, for example, to use the prison library.


The latter included fiction and scientific literature, journalism, books in different languages. It was replenished at the expense of publications subscribed by the prisoners, books sent by the Shlisselburg Assistance Group for Political Prisoners, which included many representatives of the creative and scientific intelligentsia, in particular, the artists of the World of Art.

By 1917, the prison library had 10,000 volumes. Thanks to the library, Petr Polivanov learned English and Spanish; Nikolai Morozov, during his 21 years in the fortress, wrote more than 20 volumes of scientific papers on chemistry, mathematics, history; Iosif Lukashevich, over 18 years spent in the cell, prepared the work "Inorganic Life of the Earth", which was awarded the prize of the Academy of Sciences and the silver medal of the Geographical Society …

By the end of the 19th century, in the European part of Russia, only the Shlisselburg Fortress accepted those sentenced to hard labor. Unlike other prisons, executions were also carried out here. In May 1887, Alexander Ulyanov and four of his comrades in the assassination attempt on Alexander III were hanged in the courtyard of the citadel. In 1905 - the assassin of the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich Ivan Kalyaev. During the period from 1884 to 1906, out of 68 prisoners in the prison, 15 were executed, 15 died of illness, three committed suicide and eight went insane.


In the prison, the innovations of the international penitentiary system were consistently carried out: first, strict imprisonment with a regime of complete silence; subsequently - cameras open during the day, joint walks and work in well-equipped workshops. The products of prison carpenters were famous. Out of sympathy for the prisoners, the metropolitan intelligentsia considered it their duty to buy tables and chairs of Shlisselburg production. The prisoners enthusiastically took care of their gardens. The softening of the regime led to a noticeable improvement in the health and behavior of the prisoners.

In the wake of revolutionary sentiments in 1905, some of the prisoners of Shlisselburg were released, some were transferred to the Peter and Paul Fortress, and excursion groups began to take to the island. But already in 1906 the fortress was transferred from the military department to the Ministry of Justice; New and Old prisons were built on with additional floors, in the place of the house of the commandant of the fortress, another building was erected, nicknamed the "menagerie". In it, the cells went into a common corridor with completely barred walls. New premises in different buildings increased the capacity of the prison to 1000 people, which for the first time received the official status of a convict center.

After the February Revolution of 1917, the workers of the Shlisselburg Gunpowder Factory freed all the prisoners and burned down the prison buildings.

Yulia Demidenko

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