After a visit to Rome, Tsar Paul I (1754–1801) commissioned this magnificent cathedral, wishing to copy—and perhaps present the Orthodox rival to—that city's St. Peter's. You approach the huge cathedral, erected between 1801 and 1811 from a design by Andrei Voronikhin, through a monumental, semicircular colonnade. Inside and out, the church abounds with sculpture and decoration, including statues of such sanctified Russian heroes as Grand Prince Vladimir (who advanced the Christianization of Russia) and Alexander Nevsky. The enormous bronze front doors are exact copies of Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise in Florence's Baptistery.
The cathedral was closed after the revolution and turned into the Museum of Religion and Atheism, with an emphasis on the latter. Religion was presented from the Marxist point of view, essentially as an archaeological artifact. It's once again a place of worship.
At each end of the square in front of the cathedral are statues of military
leaders Mikhail Barclay de Tolly and Mikhail Kutuzov. They reflect the value placed in the 19th century on the cathedral as a place of military tribute, especially following Napoléon's invasion in 1812. Kutuzov is buried in the cathedral's northern chapel, where he's supposed to have prayed before taking command of the Russian forces.