After viewing the sights of Hare Island, one may take a short walk along the right shore of the Kronwerk Strait in the direction of the Defence Arsenal which stands opposite the Golovkin Bastion. The arsenal is a massive red-brick building (472 metres in length at its axis) reminiscent of a medieval -Western European castle.

The path to the arsenal leads across a small granite bridge suspended over the narrow moat to the right of the Kronwerk Strait. A low rampart runs along the left bank of the moat – all that remains of the walls of the kronwerk. The rampart and moat surround the arsenal on the east, north and west. A wrought-iron fence with street-lights begins immediately beyond the bridge and runs up to the eastern gate of the arsenal.

Not far from the bridge, beyond the fence, at the end of the kronwerk rampart, stands an obelisk of light granite erected in 1976. It bears a round metal bas-relief with the portrait profiles of the five leaders of the Decembrist Uprising of 1825 and below it the inscription: “On this spot on July 13-25, 1826, the Decembrists Pavel Pestel, Konstantin Ryleyev, Piotr Kakhovsky, Sergei Muravyov-Apostol and Mikhail Bestuzhev-Riumin were executed.” The opposite side of the obelisk bears a few lines of verse, extraordinarily popular among Russian revolutionaries, written by the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin in 1818 and sent to his friend Piotr Chaadayev:

Dear friend, have faith: the wakeful skies Presage a dawn of wonder – Russia Shall from her age-old sleep arise, And despotism, impatient, crushing, Upon its ruins our names incise! (Translated by Irina Zheleznova)

In front of the obelisk on a low granite slab are the images of an officer’s sword and broken chain symbolizing the revolt of progressively-minded Russian officers against despotism.

This monument was installed by the citizens of Leningrad to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Decembrist Uprising. Proceeding along the iron fence with street lamps one will soon be at the eastern gates of the three-storey Defence Arsenal. Above the gate is the image of the Russian Imperial coat-of-arms, the monogram of Nicholas I – N I – with a crown and inscription “begun 1850”, and the monogram of Alexander II – A II – with a crown and inscription “completed 1860” and the image of a bomb. The ceremonial “laying of the cornerstone” on the already finished foundation and granite socle took place in 1851. The designers of the arsenal were Nicholas I and the eminent Russian military engineer Alexander Feldman; the building facades were designed by the architect P. Tamansky. The huge size of the building can be explained by the fact that it was intended “for the entire reserves of cold weapons and firearms to be held in St Petersburg, as well as field and siege artillery.” Inasmuch as the building at the same time had significance in terms of defence, it was in essence a huge bastion, whose salient angle and shoulder corners were rounded. The exposed wall of the building has only embrasures, loopholes and united by a low stone gorge wall with gates, which separates the wide inner courtyard of the arsenal from the highway which runs along the bank of the strait.

The arsenal building now houses the Military-Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineering and Communication Forces. The museum exhibition is based on a collection organized in 1756 in the Liteiny House, the St Petersburg centre for artillery production, featuring “various experimental weapons and other curious and noteworthy items”. On either side of the eastern gate of the arsenal stand two siege mortars used by the Russian army during the Northern War in 1700-21; in the yard immediately before the gate eight captured European guns have been installed, and at the gate in the gorge wall there are eight Russian guns dating to the pre-revolutionary and early post-revolutionary periods. Besides the exhibits within the arsenal various examples of military hardware are on display in the arsenal courtyard as well.
In addition to the interesting authentic examples and models of Russian weaponry of the last six centuries, historical documents, banners, medals and photographs, the museum collection includes more than a few excellent works by the best Russian pre-revolutionary battle painters Bogdan (Gottfried) Willewalde, Nikolai Dmitriyev-Orenburgsky, Alexander Sauerweid, Alexei Kivshenko, Alexander von Kotzebue, Franz Roubaud, and others and by the eminent Soviet painters Mitrofan Grekov, Pavel Sokolov-Skalia and Vasily Yakovlev.

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4 Dec 2008