The Mysterious “Plague Fort” of St. Petersburg

Not far from the famous port city of Kronstadt you can see the walls of an artificial island, called Fort Emperor Alexander or the “Plague” fort. Situated to the south of the island of Kotlin, the “Plague” fort was one of the defensive structures of Kronstadt.

The abandoned fort is famous for the fact that about a hundred years ago it housed a mysterious laboratory.

In 1838, Nicholas I decided to build a separate fortification. The main purpose of the creation of this fort was to retain defensive control in the southern entry to St. Petersburg with the help of a crossfire system.

Tsar Alexander I

Fortunately, the “Plague” fort never took part in hostilities. However, during the Crimean War, it defended the naval base from the British and French navies. Thanks to its strategic location and timely modernization, the fort prevented the Anglo-French fleet from advancing in the Baltic Sea and capturing the fortress of Kronstadt.

By the end of the 19th century, the equipment of the “Plague” fort had become obsolete. For this reason, it and some other forts were withdrawn from the defense structure. From that moment events began in which the Fort Emperor Alexander received its second name “The Plague Fort.”

Outside Wall of Fort Alexander.

In Canton and Hong Kong in 1894, a plague epidemic began. The disease very quickly mowed down populations around the world. The total number of deaths was close to one hundred thousand people. Subsequently, it was from Hong Kong that the third plague pandemic spread.

One of the Forts of Kronstadt.

In 1896, the epidemic reached the Caspian region. It was necessary to look for an antidote. Isolated from the outside world, the fort was excellent for creating a laboratory. In 1897, it was decided to transfer the fort to the Institute of Experimental Medicine. Inside the fort, scientists created an anti-plague laboratory called “Komochum.” Headed and financed by this laboratory was Prince Oldenburgskiy.

Prince Oldenburgskiy – Alexander Petrovich of Oldenburg

During tests and experiments, several doctors died. Residents of Kronstadt were afraid to catch winds blowing from the fort. It was at that time that the name “Plague Fort” appeared. Access to the fort for residents of the outside world was strictly limited. Communication with the outside world was maintained through a small steamship named “Microbe”. To communicate with St. Petersburg, a telegraph was used, and a telephone line was used to send messages to Kronstadt.

Kronstadt in the Gulf of Finland – Panther CC BY-SA 3.0

Outside, the fort had two floors, and on the inside – three. The building was divided into two sides within each of which was a staircase. One of the stairs consisted of stone, and the second one was made of cast iron.

The right part of the building was considered – contagious and dangerous for people. The second part of the building did not carry any threat. In spite of strict control and constant vigilance, a plague epidemic occurred twice inside the fort.

View of Fort Alexander from Kronstadt – Alex ‘Florstein’ Fedorov CC BY-SA 4.0

Inside the fort there were operating rooms, laboratories and premises for the maintenance of experimental animals. The experiments were carried out on many animals such as goats, cows, horses, rabbits, monkeys, camels, and deer.

There were also numerous other rooms: a bath, a kitchen, medical rooms, a laundry, a library, a canteen, a power station and rooms for the cremation of waste and corpses.

Work at the “Plague Fort” stopped with the beginning of the First World War. Most scientists were drafted into the army, and they went off to support the army. In 1917, after the February revolution, the chief caretaker of the project, Oldebursky, was removed from his post. All the developments of the scientists of the Plague Fort were transported to the first Russian anti-plague institute named “Microbe”.

Interior of Fort Alexander – Витольд Муратов CC BY-SA 3.0

Now the fort has turned into a zone for excursions. Visitors have something to see: unique structures, mechanisms and mysterious cellars. In addition, the fort was used for filming documentaries and television series.

Fort Alexander Aerial View – Andrew Shiva CC BY-SA 4.0

There was a project to turn the fort into an entertainment complex, but it failed to materialize. In the winter when the surrounding water freezes over, the fort becomes an unguarded place. During this time, many enthusiasts visit the “Plague Fort” in search of adventure.

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