7 Russian fortresses that have not survived to this day


Google Maps would qualify these places as “permanently closed”. Sadly, many fortifications in Russia, even the most powerful, have not survived to this day. But they can still be seen in old prints, paintings and even photographs.

1. Kitai-gorod

The Kremlin was not the only fortress in Moscow. In the middle of the 16th century, the Russian regent and mother of Ivan the Terrible decided to build another line of defense around the heart of the capital. The 2.5 km (1.5 miles) long Kitay-gorod Wall was erected in record time. It was lower but thicker than the Kremlin wall and more suitable for the installation of rampart cannons.

Inside Kitay-gorod, 1920s

The wall has proven itself by resisting several attacks. However, at the end of the 18th century, it lost its importance as a defensive structure. For a long time it remained only a symbol of old Moscow, but in Stalin’s time it was decided to fundamentally rebuild the city. Streets had to be widened and new traffic lanes built, but the Kitay-gorod wall severely hampered traffic – it only had eight entrance gates.

The restored part of the Kitay-gorod wall

In the 1930s it was demolished, although several sections of the wall survived and were even restored in the 1990s and 2000s.

2. Bely Gorod (White City)

Apollinaire Vasnetsov.  Wood market in Moscow's Truba square in the 17th century, 1926

Another fortified ring around Moscow was formed by the Bely Gorod (White City) wall, which was built around Kitay-gorod at the end of the 16th century. During the period of unrest, the Bely Gorod Wall was badly damaged and soon after ceased to serve as reliable protection for the city. The townspeople began to dismantle it and use the stones to build houses.

Yama public space on Khokhlovskaya Square in Moscow

At the end of the 18th century, Catherine II ordered the demolition of the wall and a road appeared in its place – the present Boulevard Ring. Remains of the foundations of the wall have survived in some places, for example in Khokhlovskaya Square. Such a section of the wall is now part of a trendy public space known as Yama [the Pit].

3. The Serpoukhov Kremlin

Apollinaire Vasnetsov.  Old Serpoukhov.  The 17th century, 1920

Many Russian cities had kremlins (citadels) – present-day Moscow alone still has a dozen – but many kremlins have not survived to the present day. Thus, only a few fragments remain of the fortress wall and the foundations of the Serpoukhov Kremlin built in the 14th century.

Sobornaya Gora in Serpoukhov

It was erected as an important defensive structure on the way of the Tatars-Mongols to Moscow. By the mid-18th century, however, Serpoukhov completely lost its military significance and the wall began to be dismantled, and by the 1930s what was left was used as a building material for the Moscow Metro. Today, the high hill on which the Serpoukhov Kremin once stood is called Sobornaya Gora (Cathedral Hill).

4. The Irkutsk Kremlin

Nicolas Witsen.  The Irkutsk Kremlin, 1692

It would have been Russia’s easternmost kremlin had it survived to this day. But only one kremlin still exists in Siberia – in Tobolsk. A wooden fort was built on the site of Irkutsk during the conquest of Eastern Siberia and Irkutsk by Russia in the 17th century and later a Kremlin was erected in its place.

The Savior's Church in Irkutsk

Throughout its history, it has never defended itself against anyone, and when Russia’s borders widened, the fortress completely lost its purpose; in addition, a major fire severely damaged its walls. A garden was laid out on the site of the old Kremlin in the 19th century and the only memory that remains is the Church of the Savior, one of the oldest stone buildings in the city.

5. Vladimir’s Detinets

Old model of Vladimir in the local historical museum

In the 12th-14th centuries, the city of Vladimir, 200 km from Moscow, was the capital of the most powerful Russian principality and aspired to become the capital of all Russia. A formidable fortification system with earthen ramparts and several levels of fortified walls was built here in the 12th century. The wall was badly damaged during the Tatar-Mongolian assault on the city in the 13th century. Later it was rebuilt but, as Moscow got stronger, Vladimir lost its importance and gradually declined, while the wall collapsed and was eventually lost.

Some stone buildings dating from the 12th century have survived to this day: the Dormition Cathedral and the Golden Gate of Vladimir.

The Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir

According to legend, a car carrying Catherine II got stuck in a puddle on entering Vladimir through the Golden Gate in 1767; the angry Empress ordered the ancient earthen ramparts to be razed to allow the gate to be bypassed. A fragment of one of the ramparts is visible on the left in this photo.

The Golden Gates in Vladimir

6. The Yam Fortress

O. Kosvintsev.  The fortress of Yam, 15th century, 2004

Today it is the city of Kingisepp in the Leningrad region, but in the 14th century the Republic of Novgorod built a fort on the bank of the Luga River to protect the republic from the Order of Livonia. Built in record time – 33 days – Yam Fortress withstood all of its many sieges.

The remains of a tower

Then it was rebuilt. It was captured by the Swedes who rebuilt it again and, finally, in 1703, it was taken over by Peter the Great. The danger posed by the Swedes passed and the fortress was dismantled.

The remains of the wall

Nowadays there is a park where the fortress once stood, including a large archaeological site with remains of the walls built in different centuries.

7. The fortress of Ostrov

Fort Ostrov, late 19th century

On the western border of ancient Russia, in the Pskov region, there were a large number of defensive forts built to defend against the attacks of the Order of Livonia. One of them – the Izborsk Fortress – withstood several sieges of the knights, but has survived to this day.

The fort in the town of Ostrov was less fortunate, however. It was badly damaged by the army of Polish King Stefan Batory at the end of the 16th century. After that, the city fell into decay and there was no need to rebuild its fortifications. In the 17th century, the fortress fell almost completely into ruin. During World War II, Ostrov was occupied by the Nazis who destroyed what was left of the old buildings.

Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker

Nowadays, a single stone church – the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker (built in 1542) – is all that remains of the Ostrov Fortress.

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