The surprisingly well preserved ruin of
Kopor'ye is located near the Baltic Coast between St. Petersburg and Narva.
The photographs shown here were taken during
historical tours to Russia in summer of 1992 and 1993 and during a
reconnaissance visit in December 1991. Kopor'ye is 23 km off the St. Petersburg
-Narva highway and open for visits. The defensive ensemble of Kopor'ye, located
near the village of the same name, is in the Lomonosov Region, and is one of
the most well-preserved monuments of medieval fortifications in Russia. At one
time, this monument was situated on the shore of the Bay of Finland, but since
then the water has receded 10-12 km from the walls, but it is visible from
passing vessels from a distance of 25 nautical miles. Now the great ruin,
having been in the thick of historical events in the distant past, stands on a
high cliff, encircled by a ravine. Along the bottom of the ravine runs a fast
brook, Koporka, which blocks the path of foreign invaders who stormed the
north-west outpost of Veliki Novgorod repeatedly. A Google search will reveal a
few links to Kopor'ye. For instance a section of Kaufman's fine book on the
fortresses of eastern Europe. And here a mention of the fortress in article on
Nevski There are some photos at - www.VirtualTourist.com
Diagram of the Kopor'ye fortress. A
model of the Kopor'ye fortress. One of a set of
models of medieval Russia fortresses at the Ivangorod museum. Photo of a
painting showing the plan of the Kopor'ye fortress. The entrance gate with
double tower is on right. We have photos of the tower midway along the northern
wall and of the interior of the corner tower at the northwest end of the
fortress. The southern side of the fortress is protected by the slope of the
ridge down to the Koporka river. View as we approach the fortress in summer time. But here is
fortress in winter.
Here is a dramatic photo Anatoly Pronin has
graciously provided from his extensive catalog.
Kopor'ye View of one of the gate towers and curtain.
The fortress is older than Oreshek, another Novgorodian fortification on an
island in the Neva River. It is one of the most original fortresses in Russia.
The walls and towers, the twisted entrances at the gates, the merlons, and the
unique location produce a strong impression despite the great damage done to
the structure. Kopro'ye is located on a rock 30 meters above a canyon and
separated from the higher ground on the other side by a deep moat.
The fortress history is complex. One of the earliest mentions of Kopor'ye comes
from 1240, when, according to the chronicles, German knights were gathering in
the north-west lands of the Chuds and Novgorodians, behind the wooden walls of
the new fortress. Controlling movement along the rivers Luga and Plyussa, they
fell on the Novgorodian caravans, stole from the nearby villages, and in the
event of a large detachment of Slavs, they disappeared behind the fortress
In 1241 in revenge for the knights' seizure of Pskov, the Novgorodian Prince
Alexander Nevsky seized Kopor'ye and evidently destroyed the fortress.
Historians more often remember various important events of the epoch the battle
on the ice of Lake Chud, which took place a year after the Novgorodians
returned to Kopor'ye, because the emancipation of the north-west lands began
exactly with that event. The Novgorodian veche called Prince Alexander
Yaroslavich (Alexander Nevski) from Pereslavl with his retinue, which
"with Novgorodians, Ladogans, Korelo, and Uzherins" in 1241
"arrived in Kopor'ye and tore the city from its foundations--the Germans
were routed. Having successfully carried out the beginnings of the military
actions in the north-west lands against the German knights- crusaders,
Alexander Yaroslavich lead the Russian army in the famous battle of 5 April
1242 on the ice of Lake Chud, which was concluded by the brilliant victory of
the Russian soldiers. However, the knights of the Livonian Order did not
refrain from seizing bordering Novgorodian lands. They began to fortify the
banks of the Narova River, which convinced Alexander Nevsky of the urgency of
independence for the fortified places on the approaches to Novgorod. In 1280,
as the chronicle relates, his son, Dmitri Alexandrovich, brought from Novgorod
permission "for the city of Kopor'ye (the Rock) to rule itself" that
is, to revive the fortress and take the lands around it to feed themselves and
the retinue. The Novgorodians, seeing a token of security in the strong retinue
on their borders, helped prince Dmitri replace the wooden fortifications with
stone. But, the newly installed feudal lord, who built a treasury warehouse in
Kopor'ye and brought his family with him, began to instil fear of excessive
independence. Therefore, in 1282, the Novgorodians threw him out and dismantled
the fortress, weakening their defenses in the north-west in this way. The
Swedes took advantage of this and placed their armies on the banks of the
Narova. In 1297, the Novgorodians restored the stone fortress, which played a
large role during the following century in the defense of the borders of the
Novgorodian lands. One of its walls was discovered by archaeologists in full
height. It is generally accepted that Kopor'ye was the second most important
stone fortress in the north-west, after Ladoga. Work on its fortifications
began with fundamental reconstruction and placement of new defensive complexes.
Kopor'ye at that time became a country center of a vast Novgorod province
"the Window to Europe." In 1338 the Novgorodians fought the German
troops by the walls. The chronicles noted the Germans came to attack Toldoga
and the land of Vod. But the Koporians came out with Feodor Vasilievich and
defeated them. Ten years later, the Swedish King Magnus Ericson unsuccessfully
tried to capture Kopor'ye, but every time the foreign invaders encroached into
Novgorodian territories, their path was cut off by a garrison detached from the
fortress. Following the battle to the west of Kopor'ye a new fortress of Yam
was built and Kopor'ye's influence declined militarily.
However, in the XVI century Kopor'ye's role was re-enhanced in the fight of the
Moscow state for access to the Baltic coast. To control the fortress, princes
were invited, as before, but in the 14th century in Kopor'ye itself, there
began to live nobles, who played an important role both in military campaigns
and in the inner life of the city. However, left far away from the rivers Luga
and Narova, the fortress could not fully defend the Novgorodian lands from
enemy invasions. Therefore, at the end of the 14th century, the fortress Yam
was built, closer to the borders of Livonia. This new fortress took on a larger
share of the defenses against armed invasions from the west. The importance of
the fortress of Kopor'ye thus declined.
Sweden, and the Livonian Knights-Crusaders, joining forces in their attempts to
subdue the Vod tribes, attacked Yam three times in 1443, 1444, and 1447. The
garrison successfully cut off all of the enemy advances, but the defending
forces suffered greatly in the attempts. Therefore, the Novgorodians rebuilt
Yam fortress while, at the same time, further reinforcing Kopor'ye fortress.
Archeological excavations of Kopor'ye, in 1970 and 1971, allowed the discovery
of fragments from the 14th century and fragments of the defensive ensemble of
the 15th century. The Preobrazhensky cathedral is closely related to the dated
objects of this period of construction. Entering into the domain of the Moscow
government in 1478, the Novgorod defensive works were reconstructed in
connection with the successful adoption of artillery in Russia. Many
researchers propose that in the first quarter of the 16th century Kopor'ye was
significantly reconstructed. The necessity for reconstruction of border
defensive complexes was occasioned by the new outbreak of battles along the
routes to the Baltic Sea via the Bay of Finland.
The Livonian War (1558-1583) in its latter stage, proved tragic for Kopor'ye
and the north-west Russian lands. The Polish army under the leadership of
Stephan Bathory set off in 1581 for the approach on Pskov and in this time, the
Swedes captured Ivangorod, Yam, and Kopor'ye. Weakened by the lengthy war,
Russia was forced to conclude a truce, leaving the aforementioned fortresses.
But already in 1590, Russian forces regained these defensive fortifications.
Once again, behind their walls the garrisons sheltered and next to Kopor'ye a
strelt'zi settlement was founded.
In 1612 the Swedes began their next invasion into Moscovy. The invaders, as in
ancient times, came through Oreshek, and past Yam and Kopor'ye. Kopor'ye
fortress was attacked by up to two and a half thousand Swedes, ten times more
than the defenders. The Swedish mortars, with their fire, knocked the Kopor'ye
artillery out of commission. They reachrd the end of their ammunition and
provisions. There was no help on the way, and the powerless garrison of
Kopor'ye was forced to surrender. The Swedes used the fortress as a base for
supplying with ammunition those detachments that were attacking Ivangorod and
Pskov. According to the Treaty of Stolbov of 27 February, 1617, Novgorod and
Staraya Russa were returned to Russia, but a few fortresses and cities, among
whose number was Kopor'ye, went to the Swedes. In 1656-7, the Russian army
tried to recover Kopor'ye, but its attempts did not achieve success. The
Swedish governor of the region, S. Kelmfeldt, recognizing that such attempts
could be repeated, strengthened the garrison in occupation of the fortress, and
reinforced the dilapidated fortifications. All the same, the fortifications
architect Erik Dalberg, surveying Kopor'ye in 1681, assessed the situation as
bad, and proposed tearing down the fortress. The governor of Ingermandlandia,
Otto Fersen, a farsighted man, asked the Swedish king to preserve Kopor'ye
because, "the warriors could, in times of need, feel like they were in
In 1703, under Peter I, the campaign that was conducted to return to Russia the
native lands and cities achieved victory. General-Fieldmarshall Boris P.
Sheremetev lead the taking of Kopor'ye fortress, in keeping with the aims of
Peter I. The Russian army which attacked the fortress was composed of
dvoriane cavalry, five infantry regiments, and five cannons. Then, Peter
I sent Sheremetev reinforcements from the outskirts of Yamburg three regiments
of soldiers, three mortars and two howitzers. Beginning on the 27th of May,
1703, the intensive artillery bombardment of Kopor'ye forced the enemy garrison
to surrender. Sheremetev, in a communique to Peter wrote regarding the Russian
artillery: "Thank God, your Majesty, the mortars play well with bombs
already the Swedes are dancing and giving away their forts." The gigantic
gap in the wall on thesouth-west side of the fortress that still exists today
shown on the plan from the 18th century obviously is the result of the
disastrous fire of the Russian artillery.
On the first of June, 1703, Peter I, along with Alexander D. Menshikov,
surveyed Kopor'ye. He sent the army to Yamburg, with Sheremetev, leaving a
company of soldiers under command of Fedor Ushakov to defend the fortress.
Recognizing that it would be necessary to return again in order to reinforce
the fortress, Peter ordered a plan to be drawn, and he visited Kopor'ye more
than once in the following times. From 1704, Russian soldiers carried out
various repairs in Kopor'ye. The expansion of Russian lands to the north and
the founding of Petersburg deprived Kopor'ye and the other fortresses of their
former significance. Already without military garrisons, the once awesome
bastions passed from one private landowner to another like complements to their
In 1748-1750, by order of the Senate, Kopor'ye passed into the jurisdiction of
the Saint-Petersburg gubernatorial chancellory, and in 1763, in accordance with
the schedule ratified by Catherine II, it was taken off the official list of
fortresses. The fortress and city became a small settlement, whose lord,
Zinovyev, wanted to open trade in hewn stone (from the fortress--tr'ansl.), but
the director of the ministry of interior affairs, having read about the
historical value of the place, forbade him to do so "...it is strictly
forbidden to destroy such ancient buildings..."
The famous Petersburg artists, brothers G. G. and N. G. Chernetsov painted a
vista in watercolors in the 19th century, "The Kopor'ye fortress and a
religious procession." Portrayed in this painting are a bridge on stone
supports, which border the thin span, a narrow passageway in the wall, the deep
canyon of a small river by the foot of the rocks, all of which creates a
romantic mood. Later, many artists used the ensemble as a subject, but few of
these works have survived, especially those which combine artistic merit with
In the 19th century, as a result of repairs, the bridge and cathedral of the
fortress changed greatly, as indeed did the entire defensive complex. The
repair works had been necessitated by a fire which took place in the cathedral.
In 1919, the fortress once again served as a defensive strong point. Behind its
walls, the Red Guards successfully fended off the siege by the Whites, who were
attacking in their rear. In 1941-44 Kopor'ye was repeatedly subjected to heavy
naval and ground artillery bombardment.
In 1970, the systematic study and restoration of this significant monument of
Russian fortification architecture began. In 1979-1983 projects were undertaken
to restore and preserve one of the towers and parts of the defensive walls with
tower, which occupies the center part of the long
Entry into the fortress is through the single arched entryway, along the high
bridge on stone supports. This bridge once had a draw-section, but the
thick-walled arch is sufficiently defended by the retractable iron gate.
Gate View of the entrance across the wooden temporary
bridge. And here is a view of the entrance from inside the fortress.
In 1858-1860, architect, E.V. Lomov, adapted part of the gatehouse vestibule
into a chapel, having decorated its facade with granite trim. The chapel served
as the family burial vault for the Zinovevs. From the main front wall, with the
entrance, which is the the shortest and best preserved (it was flanked by two
towers) lead two long walls: the northeast and southeast, which ring the
interior space of the cliff, which was used as the foundation for the fortress.
The defensive walls on the steep inclines of the cliff were nearly
inaccessible, but all the same, the Novgorodians reinforced them with two
towers one, in the joint of the two long walls, the other, in the center of the
southeast rampart. Chapel View of the small chapel
built into the gate house tower.
Along the perimeter of the walls, on their inner side, ran a battle walkway
with rectangular firing holes. A few of the firing holes remain on the
northeast and southeast sides. It is known that in the thicker
northeast wall, between the North and
Center towers, ran an interior pathway. Center wall tower in distance. On the Swedish plan of
1645, it is noted as one of the engineering structures of the fortress.
Fortress towers: Tower View of the front corner tower
from outside the walls. The towers of the fortress, round in shape (except for
the central one), were built with large extensions
into the field beyond the line of the defensive walls and another view of
extension of corner tower.
This method of construction allowed the defenders to set up a cross fire in the
space along the walls below them, if the enemy burst through from the side of
the gatehouse, or from the southeast. The thickness of the towers, which stand
as high as 20 meters, is basically between 4-4.5 meters. Each tower was divided
into five levels.Inside View of the destruction inside
the corner tower furthest from the gate. Another view. And from a distance
across the interior space. The fan-shaped layout of the firing holes in the
towers allowed cross fire on all advances toward them. The firing holes
themselves are situated in cells which narrow toward the outside. The towers
were topped by planked tented roofs, which have not survived.Tower View of northeast corner tower from inside the
southern gate tower.
The construction of the gates, in spite of the numerous reconstructions during
the restorations of the 19th century, retained their bent passageway, which
allowed the defenders to protect it from both the outer and inner sides of the
wall. Behind the gate rampart, in a three story building were situated the
guard quarters and auxiliary accommodations. View of gate
tower from inside the fortreess. On top of these was a large flat area from
which the defenders could protect the walls, if it were necessary to go from
one tower to the other. Here were situated winches for lifting gear.Bridge View of the entrance gate and flanking towers from
the bottom of the moat beside the bridge. View of the tower next to the gate.
The Preobrazhensky cathedral, on the territory of the fortress, is a rare
example of architecture. In "Historical- statistical Information about the
Saint-Petersburg Diocese," the date given for its construction is 1296.
However, confirmation from the chronicles for this date did not survive to our
time. An archeological dig conducted in 1970 allows us to date the structure to
the second half of the 14th century, or beginning of the 15th. In the course of
the research, the cube shape of the foundation was discovered, with one apse
and four pillars, which once supported the single cupola. In the 17th century,
the character of the cathedral changed. The pillars were removed, the uppermost
section was reworked, and a belfry was built on the west side. In 1756 Semyon
Volkov completed the project of removing the wooden belfry, and rebuilding the
cathedral. The strict and orderly decor of the facade, the new shapely bell
tower, and the cupola hid the modest construction of the Novgorodian times.
Throughout its existence, the fortress church underwent a series of changes,
and in 1962 it burned down by spontaneous combustion. Of the other structures,
mentioned in various documents and considered part of the complex of the
fortress, it serves to note the barracks, the provision storehouse, stables,
command post, and apartments, none of which survive.
The restoration and preservation of this unique monument of architecture is
carried out by the means of the St. Petersburg region department of the
All-Russian Society for the Preservation of Monuments of History and Culture.
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