St. Isaac’s Cathedral
St. Isaac’s Cathedral is one of the symbols of St. Petersburg. The golden dome of the cathedral can be seen far beyond the city, with a magnificant panorama of the city taking your breath, when seen from its colonnade. The cathedral complements the Senate and St. Isaac’s Square to make it a single architectural ensemble created by the best architects of St. Petersburg for over 300 years. Nowadays it hosts services on all holidays and Sundays.
The way the cathedral looks today is the fourth version of St. Isaac’s Cathedral built in St. Petersburg, with all four of them being most important Russian Orthodox churches associated with the names of Russian emperors. The first two temples were built closer to the Neva River. The very first one was a simple wooden church of St. Isaac the Dalmatian built by Peter I in 1707. The Emperor often came here to pray, while working at the nearby Admiralty Shipyards. It was also the place, where he got married to his second wife Catherine Alekseyevna, the future Empress Catherine I.
The first church deteriorated fast and was replaced by the one built of stone, where the Bronze Horseman monument is. After the fire of 1735 the building couldn’t be used for worship any longer. Catherine II started building the third cathedral designed by Antonio Rinaldi in 1762. However, the construction was finalized during the reign of Paul I, who was more interested in building his residence – St. Michael’s Castlel. As a result, the original design was significantly changed in order to reduce the cost and finish works faster – with the outcome aknowledged to be unsuccessful, as it didn’t fit the purpose and the achitectural style of St. Petersburg.
Alexander I ordered to reconstruct the cathedral in 1812, and all of a sudden approved a project of a young French architect, Auguste Montferrand. The construction took 40 years (1818-1858) with about 500 000 people involved into it. The basement only took 5 years of hard work. Building the cathedral the engineers used the latest technologies with some of those used for the first time. A new method of cutting was used to make 45-meter columns of solid granite; a barge was built to deliver them from Finland, with the first railway to connect the docks with the construction site. After grinding and polishing the columns (100 tons each) were put vertical with devices designed by Betancourt, an engineer, using the reels rotated by 128 people. There were 128 columns of different size made as total. 24 granite columns (60 tons each) were raised using an inclined planking 43 meters above the ground. The dome made out of 3 parts was lined with gilded copper plates, each of those gilded thrice, which took 7 years.
Consecration of the Cathedral took place on 30th May, 1858 and was a magnificent event with the chimes of bells, the procession and singing, the high ranks of the clergy, the tsar, foreign visitors and a huge crowd of people. St. Isaac’s Cathedral was the major Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church and stayed open until 1928. It also became the center of the city’s social life and festivities – hosting solemn services, posh processions with thousands of citizens, celebrating Saints’ days, the glorious victory and the abolition of serfdom, with fireworks and parades in front of it.
After the revolution it operated as a church up till 1928 and became a museum in 1931. With all its pomp and decoration St. Issacs Cathedral has always been very popular among the citizens and tourists.
It was brought back to its spiritual mission in 1990, when after a long time the first service was held here by His Holiness Alexey II.
The building (101.5 m) is the second tallest in St. Petersburg after Peter and Paul Cathedral. The 100×100 m rectangular is supported by eight and sixteen columned porticos making the shape of the cathedral remind of a cross. It is crowned by a 25 m dome mounted on a cylinder with windows and a colonnade.
Each corner of the cathedral features a bell tower with 11 bells made of copper, tin and silver alloy. The walls are decorated with gray marble, the basement – with glossy granite. All porticos are decorated with red granite, bronze sculptures of the Apostles and other religious high reliefs. The balustrade on top of the colonnade enjoys the angels cast of bronze, while all three heavy bronze entrance doors are decorated with bas-reliefs.
The eastern side of the cathedral features 3 altars – St. Isaac of Dalmatia, St. Catherine and St. Alexander Nevsky. The main altar iconostasis is decorated with white marble, malachite columns and mosaic icons. The doors of the main altar are set with columns of lapis lazuli on both sides and the “Christ in Glory” sculpture over the arch. The stained-glass “Resurrection of Christ” soars behind, the gilded sculptures of the iconostasis frame the top of the temple, a silver plated dove reigns under the dome symbolizing the Holy Spirit, and the walls are decorated with different sorts of marble and mosaics. Exuberance of the decoration required 300 kg of pure gold for gilding and 43 species of ornamental stone: malachite, porphyry, marble, lapis lazuli, and others.
The best artists of that time including Carl Bryullov, Fyodor Bruni, Ivan Vitali, Peter Klodt, Stepan Pimenov created this masterpiece with about 300 sculptures and 150 paintings.
Working hours and admission fees
1st May – 15th September: 10:00-19:00, closed on Wednesday
16th September 16 – 30th April: 11:00 – 19:00, closed on Wednesday
Ticket office closes at 18:00
1st May – 1 October: 18:30 – 22:30 evening tours are available
Citizens of the Russian Federation: adults – 130 rubles, consession – 50 rubles
Foreign citizens: adults – 320 rubles, consession – 170 rubles
1st May – 15th September: 10:00 – 18:00
16th September – 30th April: 11:00 – 17:00
1st May – 31st October: 18:15 – 23:00 on the colonnade held audio tour “of St. Petersburg during the White Nights of St. Isaac’s Cathedral colonnade.”
Closed on 2nd Wednesday
1st June – 20th August also at night: 18.00 – 04.30, closed on Wednesday
Аdults – 250 rubles, consession – 50 rubles
Evening/ night-time admission: Cathedral – 350 rubles, the Colonnade – 300/400 rubles.
Address: St.Petersburg, St.Isaac’s Square 4
Phone: +7 812 314-21-68, +7 812 315-97-32
Official website: www.cathedral.ru
GPS 59.934376, 30.305924
Transport: walking distance from subway stations “Sennaya” or “Nevsky Prospekt”
Translation by Svetlana Serebryakova