Shlisselburg and its fortress: going back in time up the Neva River

(Photo credit: Denise Kopyciok)

One thing needs to be made clear straight away: the reason to travel to the small town of Shlisselburg—where the Neva River starts from Europe’s largest lake, Ladoga—is to visit the Oreshek Fortress. The fortress, located on a small island, and the town centre are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which, along with the impressive stories surrounding the fortress, definitely make it worth a visit

Travelling to Shlisselburg from St Petersburg

  • Bus Ticket: Take the direct bus number 575 from the Ulitsa Dybenko metro station (orange line) to Shlisselburg, departing every 20 minutes for 70 roubles*
  • Distance: 130km (1,5 hours)
  • Type of Trip: day-trip, outdoor
  • Things to Do: visit the fortress of Shlisselburg
  • Travel Budget: day trip for less than 1,000 roubles (14.50 euros*) for entrance fees and a coffee break
  • Tip: Pack your lunch due to the limited options for cafes and restaurants in the small town. Get a ferry ticket (150 roubles, 80 roubles for students*) to visit the fortress (200 roubles, 100 roubles for students*). The fortress is open for visitors from 1 May to 31 October. Bear in mind that in bad weather the ferry might not operate.

Going back in time: the history of life and death in Shlisselburg

As other Escapism destinations around St Petersburg, the town and fortress of Shlisselburg will remind visitors of the Swedish-Finnish-Russian history of the area. The origins of the town’s fortress Oreshek go back to a wooden fortress built back in the 14th century by the Grand Prince Yury of Moscow. The fortress is situated on a small island right outside the town.

The town gained its name Shlisselburg (in German, Schlüsselburg means “key fortress”) after the Great Northern War in 1702, when the Russians captured the fortress back from the Swedes – losing more than 6,000 men on the Russian side and around 250 on the Swedish side. Shlisselburg refers to Peter the Great’s success over Sweden and the conquest of Ingria, in which the Oreshek Fortress played a key role.

Another level of historical importance was added to the fortress after the fall of the Russian Empire. Emma Goldman (in her book, My Disillusionment in Russia) describes the fortress as impressive and deeply rooted with historical connections as a political prison:

“Other cells were stone cages to drive the mind to madness and lacerate the heart of the unfortunates. Yet men and women endured twenty years in this terrible place. What fortitude, what power of endurance, what sublime faith one must have had to hold out, to emerge from it alive!”

Stories of life and death did not end after the Russian Empire though. Another famous episode occurred in World War II, during which a ‘Road of Life’ was created on Lake Ladoga. This was a transport route across the frozen lake that was crucial for relieving the besieged city of Leningrad, by allowing for the evacuation of civilians, the provision of supplies, and provided a way for Russian troops to get to the city.

Wandering around the fortress with a visit to the museum of political prisoners located inside is like travelling back in time: back to the deep and dark history of life and death in Shlisselburg.

*Prices are from autumn 2016, might have increased.

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