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St. Isaac's Cathedral (Isaakievsky Sobor)
St. Isaac's Cathedral (Isaakievsky Sobor) Review
The grandly proportioned St. Isaac's is the world's third-largest domed cathedral and the first monument you see of the city if you arrive by ship. Its architectural distinction is up for debate; some consider the massive design and highly ornate interior to be excessive, but others revel in its opulence. Tsar Alexander I commissioned the construction of the cathedral in 1818 to celebrate his victory over Napoléon, but it took more than 40 years to actually build it. The French architect Auguste Ricard de Montferrand devoted his life to the project, and died the year the cathedral was finally consecrated, in 1858.
Tickets, which can be bought at the kassa outside, are sold both to the church ("the museum") and to the outer colonnade; the latter affords an excellent view of the city and is open at night during the summer. Visit for wonderful views of St. Petersburg at twilight and during the the famous White Nights. Follow the signs in English. The interior of the cathedral is lavishly decorated with malachite, lazulite, marble, and other stones and minerals. Gilding the dome required 220 pounds of gold. At one time a Foucault pendulum hung here to demonstrate the axial rotation of the earth, but it was removed in the late 20th century. After the Revolution of 1917 the cathedral was closed to worshippers, and in 1931 was opened as a museum; services have since resumed. St. Isaac's was not altogether returned to the Orthodox Church, but Christmas and Easter are celebrated here (note that Orthodox holidays follow the Julian calendar and fall about 13 days after their Western equivalents).
When the city was blockaded during World War II, the gilded dome was painted black to avoid its being targeted by enemy fire. Despite efforts to protect it, the cathedral nevertheless suffered heavy damage, as bullet holes on the columns on the south side attest.
Opening up in front of the cathedral is Isaakievskaya Ploshchad (St. Isaac's Square), which was completed only after the cathedral was built. In its center stands the Nicholas Statue. Unveiled in 1859, this statue of Tsar Nicholas I was commissioned by the tsar's wife and three children, whose faces are engraved (in the allegorical forms of Wisdom, Faith, Power, and Justice) on its base. It was designed, like St. Isaac's Cathedral and the Alexander Column, by Montferrand. The statue depicts Nicholas mounted on a rearing horse. Other engravings on the base describe such events of the tsar's reign as the suppression of the Decembrists' uprising and the opening ceremonies of the St. Petersburg-Moscow railway line.
To one side of the cathedral, where the prospekt meets Konnogvardeisky bulvar, is the early-19th-century Konnogvardeisky Manège, gracefully designed by Giacomo Quarenghi and decorated with marble statues of the mythological twins Castor and Pollux. This former barracks of the Imperial horse guards is used as an art exhibition hall. Every January it hosts an exhibition of new works by St. Petersburg artists.
- Address: 1 Isaakievskaya Pl., Admiralteisky, St. Petersburg, 190000 | Map It
- Phone: 812/315-9732
- Cost: Cathedral 250R,audio guide 100R; colonnade 150R (with audio guide in English, German, French, Italian and Spanish)
- Hours: Cathedral May--Sept., Thurs.--Tues. 10 am --10:30 pm; Oct.--Apr., Thurs.--Tues. 11-- 7 pm; collonade May - Sept., Thurs. - Tues. 10 am - 6 pm, 6.15 pm - 11 pm, June 1 - Aug. 20 also 6 pm-4:30 am (except the second Wednesday of each month)
- Metro: Sennaya Ploshchad.
- Location: The Admiralteisky and Vasilievsky Island
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