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St. Isaac's Cathedral

TOUR ST. ISAAC'S CATHEDRAL WITH US: St. Petersburg Sightseeing Tour visiting 3 cathedrals for cruise passengers, St. Petersburg Sightseeing Tour visiting 3 cathedrals for independent travelers

St. Isaac's Cathedral in St.Petersburg is the most impressive construction of 19th century Russia. Once the main church of St. Petersburg, St. Isaac's Cathedral went through four incarnations (the first in 1710) before Alexander I commissioned the current structure in 1816. It was the young French architect Auguste Ricard de Montferrand who provided the Czar with the best sketch in the face of strong competition with many other talented architects at the time. However, Czar Nicolas I felt the grand structure needed alterations. As a result the cathedral was not completed until 1858. St. Isaac's is today the fourth largest domed cathedral in Europe after St. Paul's in London, St.P eter's in Rome, and Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. Everything about the cathedral is done on a grand scale. Heavy granite columns of the porticos (40,000 pounds each), carried on barges from Finnish quarries and manually installed on the site (special scaffolding and man power  was required for their lifting), massive bronze doors and gilded dome (220 pounds of gold was used).

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The interior of the cathedral is as impressive as the exterior: walls and columns lavishly decorated with malachite, lapis lazuli, marble, precious stones and minerals; an enormous stained-glass figure of Christ by the Iconostasis; mosaic images of saints. In fact, an idea of the megalomania of the czars can be gleaned by taking a close look at the saints chosen to be included in the iconostasis. Apart from Jesus and Mary (who were obligatory) all the figures were chosen because their names coincided with a member of the Romanov family. Even the cathedral's namesake, St. Isaac, was chosen because Peter the Great was born on the church calendar day of this saint. All major religious services in the country were held in the cathedral. It can hold up to 14,000 people.

After Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 the church was closed to worshippers and in 1931 was opened as a museum. The physicist Foucault's pendulum hung here to demonstrate the axial rotation of the Earth until the late 20th century. Instead of it now you can view a seemingly diminutive dove at the top of the dome (the symbol of holy spirit). The dove is not tiny at all, it is actually six feet long.

During Leningrad siege, cathedral suffered enormous damage. Some of the granite columns in the west portico still bear traces of Nazis artillery shelling.

Be sure to save some strength to mount over 300 steps to reach the 270-foot/90m high observation platform of its Colonnade. Viewing St. Petersburg at dusk is one of the great pleasures a traveler can enjoy. This is a city that was founded to display cultural riches.

Open: Summer: (1st May - 15th, September): Cathedral - 10:00am - 7:00pm (ticket office closes at 6:00pm), Night excursions - 6:30-10:00pm, Colonnade - 10:00am-5:00pm, Night excursions (1st, June - 31st, August) - 6:00pm-4:00am.

Rest of the year: - Cathedral 11:00am - 7:00pm (ticket office closes at 6:00pm), Colonnade 11:00am - 5:00pm.

Closed: Wednesdays.

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Tourists' remarks

 " ... St. Isaac's Cathedral is one of the most beautiful Christian structures east of the Vatican. Among the contents of the cathedral, which cost more than five times what it cost to build the Winter Palace, is a cupola covered with pure gold. For a bird's-eye view of the city, climb atop the colonnade, but be sure to go inside the cathedral for a look at the soaring ceiling, stunning mosaics and pure malachite and lapis columns ..."

"... No question the best church we went to in Russia. Worth the admission price and more. I would say you can spend from 2 to 5 hours here without getting bored. Great mosaic art all around. ..."

" ... An absolutely lovely Cathedral with the best views of St. Petersburg anywhere. Well worth seeing if it Petersburg along with the Hermitage (absolutely amazing -- could spend over a week and not see everything) and the Peter and Paul fortress ..."

" ... Last night, we went to a beautiful choir concert in St Isaac's church - it was all choral music by Rachmaninoff, and all of it was amazing! It was great to see the inside of St Isaac's as well - it's pretty intense. Our conversation teacher was talking about it the other day, and she said that heaps of people died while they were building it! It's really beautiful, but while the concert was on all the lights were dimmed, so it was really gloomy..... possibly the perfect place to listen to sacred music! ..."

" ... We stopped at St. Isaac's Cathedral. This is a church in the western style, no onion domes here. The architect was French. Like St. Petersburg, the church may look western European on the outside, but inside it is pure Russian, though still different in appearance. The interior is a blending of sculpture, mosaic, paintings and murals. The facing of the iconostasis is carved white marble, fronted with pillars of malachite and lapis lazuli. Some of the icons are traditional paintings, others are mosaic ..."

" ... It is the largest church in St. Petersburg, and it takes your breath away. You can't possibly know where to look when you're inside (luckily, you don't have to worry about tripping over pews as you're looking up at the ornate ceilings...Russian Orthodox churches do not have places to sit, as standing or kneeling only is allowed). This church is so beautiful that the French architect who designed it, a Catholic, requested to be buried here. He was denied that request, because of his religion ..."

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