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Archeological sensations. What preceded St. Petersburg



Natalya Bandurina, reporter: “The Petropavlovskaya Fortress equals St. Petersburg. The basics of regional history and that of the city. This is where it began. And this is how it is known across the world – wrapped in stone. A discovery by scientists can flip our perception of the fortress. The sensational find was unearthed from 10 meters below”.

A soil rampart, reinforced with turf, is in great condition. It was here – at Menshikov’s bastion – that the construction of the entire fortress began. Three years before Peter the Great laid the first brick here, this fortress had already existed. Petropavlovskaya before Petropavlovskaya.

Natalya Bandurina, reporter: “A unique chance – to touch the original wall, which was built in 1703. It was meant to scare the Swedes away – and it is the very heart of St. Petersburg”.

It copies the stone hexagon – only sticking out a little bit from Neva’s side. During construction of brick walls, the wooden overlaps were not spared and dumped. So everything which remained is particularly valuable. It became clear from literally the first glance – the reality doesn’t match the stories by people of that era. Both times had similar problems with construction.

Vladimir Kildyushevsky, archeologist: “You know very well how it happens. Less material at one place, less work at another. It is like a monument to our mentality. I think some of the materials allocated for the construction of the fortress ended up at his palace”.

This incredible find is a priceless artefact. The biggest question is what do we do with it now. The scenario of putting a glass dome above it and bringing tourists here is not even considered. Restoration workers are against it. Brick walls might crumble, but those need to be preserved. But it can also become a major mistake, say archeologists.

Petr Sorokin, archeologist: “The option of extracting these soil ramparts from here is now being considered. And if this happens, the object of cultural heritage will be essentially destroyed”.

The soil fortress could’ve become a new center of attraction. And that considering St. Petersburg has only a handful of sites like that – despite its young age. With every decade, there are less and less of those in the city.

Natalya Bandurina, reporter: “It is a difficult mission – to find artefacts from Peter’s days in St. Petersburg. But there are places like Menshikov’s palace. The tessellation is modern, clearly, but Alexander Danilovich entered the palace at this elevation”.

And also the so-called “Senate Wing” by the building of 12 colleges. In the 18th century, it was facing the Canal. Yes, barges roamed through Mendeleev’s line. Although the Canal quickly silted up and was eventually buried.

Elena Mikhailova, head of archeology lab at SPSU: “It is quite possible that wooden embankments with decorations remained underneath those bushes. All this is alive”.

An important clarification – it’s alive underneath the soil. And this relates to all 18th-century buildings. Unlike Mendeleevskaya, you can walk at the bottom of Admiralteiskiy Canal. It became part of underground crossing at Truda Square.

Natalya Bandurina, reporter: “Dark slabs on Dvortsovaya Square. Was it due to shortage of light ones? It sounds as a funny tale, but no. This ornament replicates the G-shaped annex of Zimniy Palace – from the times of Empress Elizaveta. Which was called “the palace of the young couple”.

You have probably been here – and had no idea that it was built as a gift for the wedding of Peter the III and Katherine the II. Parts of its foundation have survived – underneath the soil. Historians, archeologists and museum workers are trying to preserve the memory of the palace at least in such manner – by keeping the stone imprint alive.

The Hermitage stores small things – attributes from those times. The things that were actively used in the city which just turned one year old – cups and cigarette holders. These things tell the story of how the first citizens lived.

Roksana Rebrova, researcher at Archeological sector of the Hermitage: “Peter the Great taught everyone the culture of drinking and smoking. But when we’re talking about 18th century cigarette butts, this is only one millionth part of all those found underground. The young St. Petersburg was drinking and smoking heavily”.

There is a notion that it was Peter the Great himself who spawned the biggest myth about St. Petersburg. Like it originated from the “shores of desolate waves”. And that he intentionally ordered to construct his first palace from mowed trees and did not reconstruct the existing buildings. One way or another, these parts already had residents – even in the times of Litorinovoe Sea.

Natalya Bandurina, reporter: “Yes, we are all walking on the bottom of an ancient sea ever day. And guests of the city too”.

Litorinovoe Sea stretches from North to South. Part of it touches Vyborgskoe Highway, then moving through Toreza Prospekt and reaching Sosnovka Park. In the south, the shoreline stretches from Stachek Prospekt to Peterhof. The famous cascade fountains stand where the ancient escarpment used to be.

Natalya Bandurina, reporter: “You can have a seaside chill at Litorinovoe Sea in Udelny Park. Where the Verhny Park merges with the Nizhny Park. That is the shoreline. It is particularly noticeable in the summer time – even the flora is different down there. More grass below, more trees above. The height difference is about 6 meters”.

The year 3000 BC. A settlement on the sea shore. The people from neolith era inhabited the land known today as Okhtinsky Cape. These lands changed hands between us and the Swedes. The Troy of the North – this is how this multi-layered monument is called, retaining the walls of three fortresses. Lanscrona, Nienschantz-1 and Nienschantz-2, as well as resting places of the ancient people. This archeological treasure has no equal in the world. But right now it is a deserted strip of land – like a monument to the failure of the scandalous “Okhta-Center” project.

Petr Sorokin, archeologist: “All these objects here – those are connected to our history. And they are so valuable, that demolishing them – as some are suggesting – would be criminal”.

Residential buildings and underground parking lots will be built here – if cultural-historic expertise permits that. The last one, for some reason, was conducted by specialists from Kazan – essentially granting the permission to build on this land. St. Petersburg’s society on preserving monuments of history and culture disagree with that conclusion.

A 16-th century fortress near the Dutch city of Groningen was recently restored. Today it is a museum. And it doesn’t have even a third of what we have here in St. Petersburg. Surprisingly, the Troy of the North is not even on the balance of the committee for preservation of monuments. Petr Sorokin fears that Petropavlovskaya Fortress may suffer the same fate. And that if we do that mistake in the 21st century – not preserving the monument – we could erase the three-hundred-long history of the city forever.