Being built in the 19th century, St. Isaac's Cathedral is one of the symbols of Saint-Petersburg nowadays.
The history of its foundation goes back to 1710, when a small wooden building of a drawing workshop near the local shipbuilding yard was rearranged into a church. It was named in honour of St. Isaac of Dalmatia, who was respected by Peter the Great as he was born on St. Isaac's day. Two years later Peter the Great married his second wife Catherine in that church.
In 1717 Peter decided to rebuild the church in stone. The new building was located right on the bank of the Neva river, so pretty soon the basement was damaged by water, and the church was to be rebuilt again.
The third building of St. Isaac church was started in 1768, they finished in 1802. The new building was of quite disputable design. In addition, it needed renovation pretty soon. The ruling emperor Alexander I insisted on the reconstruction of the existing building, he wished to preserve the altar part of the church. The new construction contract was commissioned to a French architect Auguste de Montferrand. On February 20th,1818 Alexander I approved of the new design done by Montferrand, also the State Treasury was to pay 506,300 Rubles to cover the expenses of the first step of the construction works.
The construction lasted 40 years. Granite was widely used in construction works. It was mined in Finland, then it was transported by water to Saint-Petersburg. The Cathedral is surrounded by 48 granite monoliths; they were installed in 1830. At the base of each column there is a platinum medal depicting Alexander I. Special scaffolding and winches (capstans) were built to erect the columns. They were designed by a Swiss engineer A.A. Betancourt. It took only 45 minutes and 120 men to erect one column using these scaffolds and winches. Each column weighs 114 tons.
24 granite columns were installed on the dome in 1837. Traditionally, memorial silver Rubles were laid at the base of each of them.
Bas-reliefs of the porticoes of St. Isaac's Cathedral were cast at St. Petersburg’s factory of a Scottish engineer and businessman Charles Baird.
The thickness of the walls of the cathedral is 2.7 meters, but in some places it reaches 5 meters. The height of the cathedral is 101.5 meters. The dome has a diameter of 25.8 meters, almost 7 pounds (100 kg) of gold were used to gild it. Instead of traditional gold leaf they used fire gilding method to gild the domes. This method gives outstanding results; gilding lasts for a long time even in Saint-Petersburg climate. But it is quite a dangerous method: copper sheets were covered with gold amalgam and mercury, and then mercury was evaporated under the influence of high temperature. The cathedral is considered to be the fourth largest dome cathedral in Europe.
The Cathedral is richly decorated with marble of different kinds and semiprecious stones from Russia and other countries. For example, there is marble which comes from certain parts of Italy: yellow marble is from Siena and green marble comes from Genoa. Red marble comes from the Cévennes mountains in southern France.
Mural paintings and icons were executed by the best Russian artists. Mosaic decorations were implemented by masters from Russia and Italy.
The cathedral was consecrated on May 30, 1858. It can accommodate up to 12000 people.
After the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, gold and silver items were removed from the cathedral, but services continued. In 1928 the cathedral was closed, and in 1931 the “Anti-Religious Museum” was opened in it.
"Parades of athletes" were extremely popular in 1930s in the USSR. Some of those parades were arranged on the square in front of St. Isaac Cathedral, and some athletes performed gymnastic figures on the colonnade.
During WWII the dome of the cathedral was painted gray. The cathedral kept the values of the museums of Leningrad, and museum staff and their families lived in the cellar.
In 1948 the Cathedral was turned into a museum "St. Isaac Cathedral." Since 1990, church services have been resumed. There is a discussion of a possibility to give the cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church.
Visitors can join museum excursions in order to get acquainted with the artistic decoration, sculpture and biblical subjects in the painting of St. Isaac Cathedral. Using the spiral staircase, it is possible to climb upstairs to the observation deck on the colonnade of the cathedral and to enjoy views of the city from a height of 43 meters.
Museum "St. Isaac Cathedral" is open from 10:30 to 18:00, day off - Wednesday The museum’s evening programs are held from May 1 to September 30 from 18:00 to 22:30.
The colonnade of St. Isaac Cathedral is open from 10:00 to 18:00.
From May 1 to September 30 - seven days a week, and from October 1 to April 30 there is one day off per month - this is the third Wednesday of the month.
The “Evening colonnade” excursion is held from May 1 to September 30 from 18:00 to 22:30.
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