Two Little Dickie Birds
Did you know that the original version of the rhyme 'Two Little Dickie Birds' had the names Jack and Gill, but these were changed in the 19th century to Peter and Paul, the Apostles? And today we visited the Peter and Paul Fortress, also named after the two Apostles!
After getting off the coach Sunday morning, we chatted to two young ladies who also travelled with us. Maria and Julia, who turned out to be mother and daughter, very kindly shared their taxi with us. Today we invited Maria to join us for coffee. Immediately I knew that we would get on brilliantly; she has a delightful sense of humour. Who says Russians are severe? They are not at all.
Thankfully Maria’s English is excellent; our Russian is not so! Maria is a choir director for a cathedral in St Petersburg, and she also is a florist. Looking at her Instagram @mora_morgana, her bouquets are beautiful.
We chatted over coffee about all manner of subjects: travel, families, art, music, climate crisis, recent Russian history, and politics. We thoroughly enjoyed our time together; once again, are so lucky meeting such interesting and friendly people all over the world.
We had sights to see, planning to visit the Peter and Paul Fortress. Maria giggled infectiously when I reminisced with “Two little dickie birds sitting on a wall, one named Peter, one named Paul”. It transpires that the original rhyme in 1765 included the names, Jack and Gill, in the 19th century these were replaced with the apostles Peter and Paul. Well, that’s what Wikipedia says! Funnily enough the Peter and Paul Fortress was also named after the two Apostles! What a coincidence.
Maria walked with us until we reached the Troitskiy Bridge, hugs all around. We do hope that we meet again. Does anyone know a Choir Director in the UK who would like an exchange to St Petersburg? Preferably from a Russian Orthodox church.
We headed for the Peter and Paul Fortress which was founded by Peter the Great and is the birthplace of St Petersburg. Some more history for you:
On 27 May 1703, Tsar Peter the Great created the Fortress on the swampy land of Zayachy (Hare) Island near the mouth of the Neva River. This period was three years into the 21 years Northern War between Russia and the Swedish Empire of Carl XII. Emperor Peter wanted to protect the lands he had just regained. Despite Peter and Paul Fortress never being involved in any naval battles, it became the centre of the new city which the Tsar unofficially turned into the capital of Russia.
Swiss-Italian architect, Domenico Trezzini designed this Fortress. Peter was the first Tsar to travel around Western Europe, meeting academics and artisans. Embracing the Western culture, he wanted this for his own country.
We only had a few hours on the island, so were choosey what we wanted to see. First was a secret tunnel 97m long that was discovered during the reconstruction of the Bastion. The tunnel led us into a museum of artefacts found during archaeological digs in 1968, including a felt hat in brilliant condition from the 15th century. A round hatchet was lying next to it; I wonder what became of the owner.
We wandered over to the centrepiece of the Fortress – Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, a great demonstration of Peter the Great’s inspiration from Western Europe, both in architecture and religion. Immediately we could see the Dutch influence in the design. The church was completed in 1733, taking 20 years to build, and was the tallest building in the city until the television tower was established nearly 60 years ago.
The main attractions in the Baroque church are the crypts. These include most of the Romanov rulers from Peter the Great’s time. People often leave flowers on his tomb. Even the remains of the murdered Emperor Nikolay II with family and servants were brought here 80 years after their deaths and re-buried in a small chapel on the side of the Cathedral in 1998.
Soon after the Fortress was built, a prison was added. The first convict was Peter the Great’s own son, Tsarevich Alexey. There was no love between father and son, and Alexey was wrongfully convicted of conspiring rebellion against the Tsar, despite giving up his title of heir.
It was interesting walking around the Trubetskoy Bastion Prison. Over the years, 1,500 political prisoners were detained here in 69 solitary confinement and sound-proofed cells. The brick walls were lined with felt, with a metal grid layer on top, the second layer of felt, canvas and then wallpaper. The inmates still managed to communicate by knocking on the window frames or stomping on the floor.
Some of the famous ‘residents’ included Fyodor Dostoyevsky, author of Crime and Punishment, Alexander Ulyanov, brother of Lenin, and Josip Broz Tito, the Communist leader of Yugoslavia. Many of the inmates were radicals from revolution organisations, men and women in their early twenties. After the 1917 Revolution, the typical detainee changed. Older men who were former ministers and court members of the Tsar became the prisoners. Eventually, in 1924 the prison closed and was turned into a museum.
We did find the museum somewhat repetitive. Descriptions of the prisoners, with photos, names, their crime, dates of detainments and details of incarceration, often being sent to Shluesselburg Fortress or in exile to Siberia, were given, but the same ones were repeated on the second floor! Two little dickie birds say “Could do better”.