A brief tour of St Petersburg’s Orthodox Cathedrals part 7

Some of Russia’s most magnificent churches are found in St Petersburg. And among its most outstanding examples are the city’s Orthodox Cathedrals.

Built at the height of the Russian Empire's wealth and power, these impressive buildings were designed by the city's greatest architects, and no expense was spared in their construction or decoration.

Over the next few months, we’ll take a closer look at some of these amazing buildings, starting with…


The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul


Not only is the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul the oldest church in St Petersburg – it’s also the second-tallest building in the city (after the television tower). And it’s a ‘must-see’ site for history buffs, as it’s intimately linked to both the history of the city and to the Romanov dynasty – inside you’ll find the graves of nearly all the rulers of Russia since Peter the Great.

Work began on the first (wooden) church to be built on the site just one month after St Petersburg was officially founded. The church was consecrated on 1 April 1704.

In 1712, work began on the current (stone) Peter and Paul Cathedral, built to a design by Domenico Trezzini. This one took slightly longer to build – 20 years, in fact – and was consecrated on 29 June 1733.

The Peter and Paul Cathedral marked a radical departure from traditional Orthodox churches, being built in the early Baroque style. Its rectangular shape, bell-tower and landmark needle are all features borrowed from the protestant churches of Western Europe.

The cathedral bell tower is crowned with a needle covered with copper gilded sheets and topped off by the figure of a flying angel bearing a cross. The clock itself came from Holland, where it was purchased for 45 000 roubles – a huge sum for the time.

The cathedral holds a fantastic iconostasis which required more than forty Moscow architects to complete. The walls of the cathedral feature paintings of various bible themes, including many gospel stories.

As the tallest structure for miles around, the bell tower was often struck by lightning, and in fact burned down on the night of 29-30 April 1756 (Catherine the Great subsequently ordered it to be rebuilt exactly as it had been).

The Cathedral stands within the Peter and Paul Fortress, nearest metro stations Gorkovskaya and Sportivnaya. It’s open weekdays 10.00 am to 6.00 pm, Saturday 11.00 am to 6.00 pm and Sunday 10.00 am to 5.45 pm. Admission 350 roubles. Fully wheelchair-accessible.


St Isaac's Cathedral

St Isaac's was originally the city's main church and the largest cathedral in Russia. It was built between 1818 and 1858, by the French-born architect Auguste Montferrand, to be one of the most impressive landmarks of the Russian Imperial capital. Today, 180 years later, the gilded dome of St Isaac's still dominates the St Petersburg skyline.

Although the cathedral is considerably smaller than the newly rebuilt Church of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, it boasts much more impressive fades and interiors. The facades are decorated with sculptures and massive granite columns, while the interior is adorned with detailed mosaic icons, paintings and columns made of malachite and lapis lazuli. A large, brightly-coloured stained-glass window of the ‘Resurrected Christ’ takes pride of place inside the main altar.

The church, designed to accommodate 14 000 standing worshipers, was closed in the early 1930s and reopened as a museum. Today, church services are held here only on major ecclesiastical occasions. Climb the 300 steps up to the cathedral's colonnade to enjoy the magnificent views over the city.

Located on Isaakievskaya Square, the nearest metro station is Admiralteyskaya. Open daily 10.30 am to 6.00 pm (later in summer) except Wednesday. Adult admission 250 roubles, with audio-guide available in a range of languages. Wheelchair-accessible.