- St. Isaac’s Cathedral
The St. Isaac's Cathedral that you see today is actually the 4th church to stand in this area. Its history goes back to the year 1710 when a small wooden church dedicated to St. Isaac of Dalmatia, whose memorial day, May 30th (Old Style) coincided with Peter the Great's birthday, was erected near the Admiralty. This church unfortunately slid into the river. A second St. Isaac's Church then followed, built in stone on the site where the Bronze Horseman now stands. However, once again the building was damaged, began to crack and crumble, and so was dismantled. Construction began of the third church in 1768 and continued until 1802, but the cathedral was not completed, and in the eyes of Tsar Alexander I, it was too ugly. The present St. Isaac's Cathedral was built between 1818 and 1858 by Auguste de Montferrand, who literally worked until death as he died months after completion.
The dome itself is made of iron and is covered with over 100kg of gold leaf. It has a diameter of 21.8m which makes it the 4th largest single domed cathedral in the world. Interestingly, during World War II the dome was painted grey so not to attract any enemy aircraft. All in all there are 112 red granite pillars. The 48 which are at ground level weigh over 100 tonnes each. However the cathedral isn't just famed for its striking architectural and engineering features, but also its remarkable artistic decoration. In the cathedral all the Russian visual arts of the time are shown at their very best, from painting and sculpture to mosaic and coloured stonework. Some 20 varieties of decorative stone, including porphyry, malachite, lapis lazuli and 14 different types of marble, were used, transforming the cathedral into a museum of coloured stone. The murals and mosaics were created by leading painters and sculptors at the time, as only the best would do. Due to the lavish exterior and interior the cost of the cathedral was over 6x more than the construction of the stately Winter Palace.
Special models and displays are used to illustrate the construction and restoration of this amazing example of architectural and technical achievement, as well as the distinctive features of the cathedral's monumental decor. Although for a time during the rule of communism the cathedral was used as an antireligious museum, it does now hold church services, but only on major feast days.
A magnificent view of the centre of St. Petersburg can be seen from the upper colonnade of St. Isaac's Cathedral at a height of 43 metres. If you can manage to walk up the 262 steps then the views are definitely worth it!