St. Petersburg is a Russian port city on the Baltic Sea. Founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, it was the imperial capital for 2 centuries, and it remains the country’s cultural center, with venues like the hypermodern glass and steel Mariinsky Theatre hosting opera and ballet – across the street from the original Mariinsky Theatre, the Hermitage (Russian Museum in the Czars’ former Winter Palace on the Neva River) showcasing Russian art — from Orthodox icon paintings to abstract works by Kandinsky — and many important cathedrals and churches. On our highlights tour on our first day in St. Petersburg, our first stop was at the sumptuous St. Isaac’s Cathedral.
“Saint Isaac’s Cathedral or Isaakievskiy Sobor (Russian: Исаа́киевский Собо́р) in St. Petersburg, Russia is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral (sobo) in the city. It is the largest orthodox basilica and the fourth largest (by the volume under the cupola) cathedral in the world. It is dedicated to Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, a patron saint of Peter the Great, who had been born on the feast day of that saint.” – Wikipedia
The church itself is an architectural marvel. Built by the French-born architect Auguste de Montferrand to be the main church of the Russian Empire, the cathedral was under construction for 40 years (1818 – 1858), and was decorated in the most elaborate way possible. “Ostentatious, extravagant and excessive are words that could and probably should be used in describing features of this massive construction, originally designed as the world’s largest Orthodox Cathedral.” – nevsky-prospekt.com
Entering the cathedral, one passes through one of the porticos. The columns are made of single pieces of red granite and weigh 80 tons (about 177,770 pounds or 80,635 kilograms) each. Inside the church many of the icons were created using mosaic techniques and the iconostasis (the icon wall that separates the altar from the rest of the church) is decorated with eight malachite and tow lapis lazuli columns. The cathedral which can accommodate 14,000 worshippers, now serves as a museum, although services are held on significant ecclesiastical holidays.
“The church on St. Isaac’s Square was ordered by Tsar Alexander I, to replace an earlier Rinaldiesque structure, and was the fourth consecutive church standing at this place. A specially appointed commission examined several designs, including that of the French-born architect Auguste de Montferrand (1786–1858), who had studied in the atelier of Napoleon’s designer, Charles Percier. Montferrand’s design was criticised by some members of the commission for the dry and allegedly boring rhythm of its four identical pedimented octastyle porticos. It was also suggested that despite gigantic dimensions, the edifice would look squat and not very impressive. The members of the commission, which consisted of well-known Russian architects, were also particularly concerned by necessity to build a new huge building on the old unsecure foundation. The emperor, who favoured the ponderous Empire style of architecture, had to step in and solve the dispute in Montferrand’s favour.” – Wikipedia