Being located about 150 km (93 mi) from Saint Petersburg, Ivangorod Fortress is unique as it was built opposite to Narva Fortress, situated on another bank of the Narva River.
Ivangorod Fortress is immense, but it is surpassed by some bigger fortresses, for instance, the Moscow Kremlin. However, it is still larger than many defensive fortifications, including Narva Fortress.
The foundation of Ivangorod Fortress
Russians were gradually losing control over the Baltic Sea. Later these territories became occupied by the Livonian Order, who was spreading its influence to the Novgorod Republic and even Moscow.
After the Livonian Order and Sweden concluded a military alliance Russians acknowledged a growing threat to their northern and north-western lands. There was practically no time for hesitation.
In 1492, “the Grand Prince Ivan Vasilievich ordered to found a stone fortress on the bank of the Narva River. Being built on Maiden Mountain, this fortification lay opposite to the German outpost Rugodiv and was called Ivangorod in his honor”.
We should clarify that “Rugodiv” is the Russian name of the foreign town Narva, while “in his honor” means that Ivangorod Fortress is given the name of the Russian Grand Prince.
The view of Ivangorod Fortress from the north. A. Goeteris (1615)
Such a fortified outpost could be built only after the consolidation of Russian lands. Ivangorod Fortress was supposed to become the most secured stronghold in a chain of many fortresses protecting the north-east of the growing Russian Empire.
Germans called Ivangorod Fortress “the menace of Narva”.
According to an urban legend, the first Ivangorod Fortress was built of stone and was quite small. People even called it “the fortress on horse skin”. Local citizens believed that the borders of the future fortress were drawn on the ground with the help of ropes, whereas these ropes were made of horse skin.
The interior court of Ivangorod Fortress
The first battle
Four years after its foundation (1496), Ivangorod Fortress was attacked by the Swedish army. Three hundred Russian defenders were seriously outnumbered by six thousand Swedes (i.e. the offensive troops were 20 times bigger) but Russians were holding the invaders off at gunpoint. Unfortunately, the war chief betrayed his soldiers. Only for this reason Swedes managed to capture Ivangorod and slaughter all its citizens, including women and children.
Ivangorod Fortress was a strategic point and Russians were ready to go any length to regain their control over the stronghold. Realizing it, Swedes had fled the fortress with spoils of war before the Russian army could even march off.
The citizens of Novgorod and Pskov renovated Ivangorod Fortress in mere twelve weeks. As a result, the fortress became larger and more secure.
Moreover, builders eliminated one of the biggest gaps in the fortress defense system – narrow land along the Narva River which protected Ivangorod Fortress on three other sides. Thanks to its expansion, the fortress could maintain a much bigger garrison.
Later the territory of Ivangorod Fortress was gradually growing and getting new walls and towers.
In one tower there was a hidden semicircular room with a well which explains its name – the Well Tower.
Ivangorod Fortress was located on a significant trading route and served as a perfect harbor.
The right to live in Ivangorod was granted not only to Russians, but also some foreign merchants, with Danes being the most privileged among them. Then trading rights were given to members of the Hanseatic League.
Beyond Ivangorod Fortress there was a trading quarter, i.e. a settlement. This quarter was surrounded by a wooden fence which functioned as a preliminary defensive measure. If Ivangorod Fortress was suddenly attacked, its citizens and foreign merchants had a chance to hide behind solid defensive walls. The wooden fence fulfilled its crucial purpose when it stopped the Polish attack in the 17th century.
The trading center was steadily developing, its population was growing and the territory of Ivangorod Fortress was expanding.
There is an interesting fact, the donjon of Narva Fortress was built higher and higher so that its soldiers could take a sneak peek behind the walls of Ivangorod Fortress. Russians, in their turn, built over the defensive wall which was opposed to Narva Fortress. This wall was not named “Panel Screen” for nothing.
“Panel Screen”, the defensive wall of Ivangorod Fortress which hides its interior court from watchers in Narva Fortress
The Swedish reign
The reign of the powerful Livonian Order came to an end, but its position was taken by Swedes. It is worth mentioning that Swedes had the most efficient army in Europe. In the beginning of the 17th century they captured Ivangorod Fortress and gained control over it from 1617 to 1704. The town started to lose its territory and finally fell into desolation. The population had been reducing until Peter the Great ascended the throne.
However, invincible Swedes were later defeated by the Russian army. Then Sweden lost many of its territories and ceased to be a major player on the European political stage. The shadow of this loss can be seen in some museums of Stockholm.
The Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God with Pokrovsky side-chapel
The Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God (on the right) and the Church of St. Nicholas the Wondermaker (on the left). The barracks can be seen in the background
The stone cathedral was built at the same time with Ivangorod Fortress between 1507 and 1509. Supposedly, the foreign architect Marcus Greek was summoned to do this work by the order of the Russian Grand Prince Ivan III.
When Ivangorod Fortress was seized by Swedes they built there a Lutheran church. However later it was closed and nowadays it is a functional Orthodox church.
The Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God
The Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God (on the left)
The Church of St. Nicholas the Wondermaker
This stone church was built between 1557 and 1558. Ivan IV (the Terrible) ordered to found it to commemorate the capture of Narva Fortress.
However, some historians believe that it was only rebuilt since the Church of St. Nicholas on the territory of Ivangorod Fortress had been mentioned in chronicles back in 1492 and 1498.
The fortress had withstood several attacks but it was severely damaged by the retreating Nazis, who were ordered to demolish it to the ground.
They prepared three tons of dynamite for each tower and managed to explode six of them, as well as one cache, the bigger part of defensive walls and interior buildings.
However, Ivangorod Fortress was not completely destroyed thanks to its solid foundation and the lack of explosives.
Ivangorod Fortress. The picture is taken from Johann Christoph Brotze’s book
Almost all the territory of Ivangorod Fortress is open for visitors. If you intend to explore even its distant corners, do not forget to bring a flashlight. Moreover, buy some food and drinks in advance since the fortress is located near the border and does not have well-developed infrastructure.
Advice: You should definitely take several photos of majestic Narva Fortress which can be seen on the opposite bank of the Narva River.
The interior court of Ivangorod Fortress
The fortress is located in the border security zone. If you are going to visit it as a member of a tourist group, then you will not have any troubles. In case you go there on your own (there is a fixed-route taxi or a regular bus from Saint Petersburg), you will need a special permit to enter the territory of Ivangorod (here is the e-mail of the Ivangorod museum: firstname.lastname@example.org, feel free to contact them for further information).
If you have a Schengen Visa you can go through a border check point and also visit Narva Fortress which is situated not far from Ivangorod Fortress. Besides, Ivangorod Fortress looks especially picturesque when you behold it from the opposite bank of the Narva River.
A garrison gun
Nowadays Ivangorod and Narva Fortresses are divided by the political border. However, this border does not stop local citizens who work in cities located on both banks of the Narva River.
Photos by Anton Cherniak
Some parts of this article are based on the work of V. Kostochkin.