The dominating St Isaac’s Cathedral
17 December, 2014
The cathedrals of Saint Petersburg can all be admired in different ways, but the most famous and most outstanding of the lot is Saint Isaac’s Cathedral. The sheer size and magnitude of the Late Neoclassical building is enough to completely dominate the St Petersburg skyline!
Saint Isaac’s is not the first church to appear on its exact spot on St Isaac’s Square. There have in fact been four cathedrals overall to stand in the same place, but none have been as majestic as its current incumbent. The cathedral took 40 years to build and was commissioned by Tsar Alexander I in 1818. St Isaac’s is by far the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city, is the largest orthodox basilica and has even been named as the fourth largest cathedral in the world. Before construction began, a panel of highly-renowned Russian architects inspected and scrutinised several potential designs. Auguste de Montferrand, a talented French architect, was picked as the orchestrator of the huge project, but only after accusations that his design was boring and would look rather squat. Tsar Alexander I had to step in and agree with Montferrand!
Under the command of Montferrand, St Isaac’s Cathedral was finished in 1959, and had been built using remarkable and innovative ways of engineering. 25,000 piles and 10,000 tree trunks were driven into the marshlands of the city in order to prop up the 102 metre cathedral. The giant pillars of the building still rely on these flimsy yet stunningly stable structures today. The dome of the cathedral itself is a sight to behold, as it was covered in real gold using an early form of spray-painting. However, the toxic fumes that emanated from this new technique actually lead to the deaths of many workers. There are twelve statues of angels around the dome of the cathedral, each of which look over different parts of the city, giving the implication that they are guarding it. A total of 112 red granite columns make up the exterior of the church.
The interior is equally as beautiful and mesmerising as the exterior to St Isaac’s Cathedral. Bronze doors, marble columns, malachite and mosaics make for a fantastic view and a real sense of royalty. The building has a history since it was created. During the Soviet epoch, St Isaac’s was gutted of all religious icons and monuments and was turned into the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism. During the Second World War, the cathedral’s dome was painted grey in an attempt to avoid attracting enemy aircraft towards it. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the cathedral has resumed religious activity, but only on the left hand side of the interior. The rest is still a major tourist hot-spot and is still a museum.
St Isaac’s Cathedral is, in my opinion, the most outstanding of tsarist creations in the city of St Petersburg. From any high point in the city, your eyes will be automatically attracted to the enormous and dominating figure of the cathedral, no matter what time of day or year. Its size is as impressive as its beauty, and remains to be one of the most impressive cathedrals in the world.