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John Sloan


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 Alexander 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 walls.
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 safety there."
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 estates.
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 documental accuracy.
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 rampart.
Gatehouse complex:
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.
Defensive walls:
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.
Fortress Gates:
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 Cathedral:
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. Go to top.


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