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2 April 2018 / leggypeggy

A magnificent church to mark Easter

St Isaac's Cathedral, St Petersburg

St Isaac’s Cathedral on the first day we saw it (sunny day)

The view from St Isaac's Cathedral, St Petersburg

Looking out from the roof of St Isaac’s Cathedral (cloudy day)

St Isaac's Cathedral tower staircase

Maybe not a bazillion stairs, but still a lot

I thought about saving the fabulous Fabergé eggs until Easter, but I couldn’t resist doing a post about them a couple of weeks ago. So instead and to mark this important Christian holiday, I thought I’d bring you the remarkable Saint Isaac’s Cathedral in St Petersburg, Russia.

Poor John and I first encountered this church on our free walking tour of the city. We think walking tours are a great way to get your bearings in a new city and to discover some of the best places to visit on subsequent days .

When we returned the next day, Poor John, as usual, was keen to climb the church tower. So after a bazillion stairs (yes, I’m exaggerating) we had fantastic views of St Petersburg. Then it was back to earth to visit the actual church.

View from St Isaac's Cathedra, St Petersburg

View from the top

St Issac’s breaks several records. It is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in St Petersburg. It’s also the largest orthodox basilica and the fourth largest (by the volume under the cupola) cathedral in the world. It’s dedicated to Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, a patron saint of Peter the Great, who was born on that saint’s feast day.

It is the fourth consecutive church to be built on its location and its construction was ordered by Tsar Alexander I. Designed by the French-born architect, Auguste de Montferrand, the cathedral took 40 years to build, starting in 1818. Overall cost was a million gold rubles.

The building sits on 10,000 tree trunks that were sunk by countless workers into the marshy banks upon which the cathedral sits.

The dome, St Isaac's Cathedra, St Petersburg

The Dome

Ceiling, St Isaac's Cathedra, St Petersburg


The main dome, which we saw from above and from inside the church, rises 101.5 metres (333 feet) and is plated with pure gold. Outside it’s decorated with twelve statues of angels by Josef Hermann. During World War II, the dome was painted grey to shield it from attack by enemy aircraft.

I was intrigued to learn that the design of the cathedral in general and the dome in particular later influenced the designs of the United States Capitol dome, the State Capitol in Wisconsin, and the Lutheran Cathedral in Helsinki (which we saw last year).

Under the Soviet government, the building was stripped of all religious furnishings. Then in 1931, it was turned into the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism. Following the fall of communism, the museum was removed and regular worship resumed.

A bit more about the cathedral
The exterior is faced with grey and pink stone, and features a total of 112 red granite columns with Corinthian capitals. Some of the external doors are breathtaking.

These bronze doors (inside and out), covered in reliefs by Ivan Vitali, are patterned after the celebrated doors of the Battistero di San Giovanni in Florence, Italy, designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti. I saw a placard that said some of the doors weigh 20 tons.

Iconostatis, St Petersburg

The iconostasis (wall of icons and religious paintings) has eight columns—six of malachite and two of lazurite.

Upper view of iconostatis, St Petersburg

Looking up from the iconostatis

Centrepoint of the iconostatis, St Petersburg

Centrepoint of the iconostatis

The iconostasis (a wall of icons and religious paintings) is framed by eight columns of semi-precious stone—six are made of malachite and two smaller ones are of lazurite.

The interior was originally decorated with many paintings by Karl Bryullov and other Russian masters of the day. When these paintings began to deteriorate due to the cold, damp conditions inside the cathedral, Montferrand (the architect) ordered them to be painstakingly reproduced as mosaics, a technique introduced in Russia by Mikhail Lomonosov. This work was never completed.

Our visit
We spent ages in the cathedral. I was gobsmacked when we entered. The exterior, while stylish, and the climb up to the roof, plenty of steps, don’t prepare you for the sheer size and magnificence of the interior.

I consider this to be a don’t-miss destination in St Petersburg.

Bronze door, St Petersburg Cathedral

One of the bronze doors

Overhead mosaic, St Petersburg Cathedral

Overhead mosaic

St Isaac's Cathedral, St Petersburg

Inside the cathedral


Leave a Comment
  1. Kelly MacKay / Apr 2 2018 11:30 pm


    Liked by 2 people

  2. philosophermouseofthehedge / Apr 3 2018 12:01 am

    I’ve only marveled at these places from pictures – experiencing them – being small inside them must be overwhelming. Those architects did understand the human mind.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Apr 3 2018 7:20 am

      They sure did. The last pic shows how tiny we are compared to the cathedral.


  3. dfolstad58 / Apr 3 2018 12:06 am

    Overwhelming grandeur, thank you for your tour. It is an experience!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Emma Cownie / Apr 3 2018 12:42 am

    Oh. My. God. What a fabulous building! Absolutely love those green columns.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Apr 3 2018 7:21 am

      I’m a sucker for green. I could have added lots more pics of those columns.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Emma Cownie / Apr 3 2018 5:10 pm

        I think you had a sore neck from looking up at the amazing decorations too!

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Apr 3 2018 7:06 pm

        I think you might be right. 🙂


  5. Yvonne / Apr 3 2018 12:49 am

    Now, THAT’S some church! And, what a history it has.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Almost Iowa / Apr 3 2018 1:01 am


    Liked by 2 people

  7. pvcann / Apr 3 2018 1:15 am

    So oppulent, and rich in colour and texture, such an amazing view too from the top.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. lexklein / Apr 3 2018 1:36 am

    Beautiful, Peggy. I can’t remember why on earth we did not enter this church or climb up in it, but despite staying in a room with a gorgeous view of its dome, we never did more than pass by this magnificent building many times. Maybe it wasn’t open in deep-winter January (although it was just after orthodox Christmas …), or more likely, we had so much else to do and see that we skipped a church (I am known for burning out on churches). Now that you have shown me the whole thing, I am sorry I missed out. But thanks – it is quite a place!

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Apr 3 2018 8:23 am

      I understand completely how you could miss going inside. The exterior really doesn’t give a clue as to the beauty inside.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. koolkosherkitchen / Apr 3 2018 1:53 am

    I’ve only seen it during the communist era, stripped of the icons, as you have remarked, but even then it was breathtaking. I am glad you have experienced it in all its glory, Peggy!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Phyllis Gaetz / Apr 3 2018 2:05 am

    I love cathedrals and this was is outstanding. The murals are so bright. They must have cleaned them.?

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Apr 3 2018 8:21 am

      Good point Phyllis. Everything was so bright and colourful. They must have been cleaned.


  11. beetleypete / Apr 3 2018 3:11 am

    I went there when it was still called Leningrad. Impressive indeed, but we didn’t get to climb to the roof. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Andrew Petcher / Apr 3 2018 6:00 am

    I visited in 2012, thanks for the memory nudge!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Brian Lageose / Apr 3 2018 6:58 am

    Absolutely stunning.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Lynz Real Cooking / Apr 3 2018 7:56 am

    Wow amazing Peggy!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Chris Riley / Apr 3 2018 8:27 am

    Yes, those free walking tours give great insight into the best places to visit. What a great Easter feature piece Peggy, and so well photographed. A grand display of the power of the church. Stunning.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Apr 3 2018 12:57 pm

      Thanks so much. It seemed the perfect place to show for Easter, and less commercial than the eggs.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. gerard oosterman / Apr 3 2018 8:39 am

    What a magnificent church and post. One wonders where the money came from to build it? The extraordinarily details and craftsmanship. St Petersburg had street names often ending in Katu which is ‘street’ in Finnish.
    I spent just a couple of days in that magnificent city but missed out on this cathedral. Most of the time there was driving around in a bus with the guide saying; ‘on your left is this, and after a minute, on your right is that’. It became a bit blurred.

    Liked by 3 people

    • leggypeggy / Apr 3 2018 1:00 pm

      I know what you mean about the experiences becoming a bit blurred. In addition to the photographs, I lug home oodles of brochures, fact sheets and maps to help me remember what I saw.


  17. lesleyconnor / Apr 3 2018 9:17 am

    What a magnificent cathedral.Loved your pics

    Liked by 2 people

  18. jeanleesworld / Apr 3 2018 11:40 am

    Stunning, beautiful, marvelous! Thank you for this, and a most blessed Easter in return! Well, day after Easter, but you follow… 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Apr 3 2018 1:01 pm

      You are most welcome. Australia also observes Easter Monday, so I got in under the wire.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Kinjal Jain / Apr 3 2018 4:54 pm


    Liked by 1 person

  20. Green Global Trek / Apr 3 2018 6:15 pm

    The dome, the details, the work. Incredible all of it. Happy Easter.


    Liked by 2 people

  21. The Whitechapel Whelk / Apr 3 2018 6:22 pm

    I can’t believe it was ordered to be built by Zsar Alexander I. Couldn’t he have just asked politely for it to be built? Why I outta…!

    Liked by 2 people

  22. derrickjknight / Apr 3 2018 8:55 pm

    Excellent shots. I do like the stairs and the dome

    Liked by 2 people

  23. manningtreearchive / Apr 4 2018 3:57 am

    Magnificent, indeed.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Phil Huston / Apr 4 2018 6:09 am

    It’s amazing to me how a culture in recent history denied these works of art. Okay, maybe the government wasn’t keen on religion and it is to their credit that these architectural wonders are still intact. But these Russian Orthodox venues rival the best Rome has to offer. And those funky stairs? Why do they all look like that? St. Mark’s in Venice…but the views are worth it. I think. The art and gold plated extravagance of these is mesmerizing. I blew the pictures up and stared at the screen. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Apr 4 2018 7:49 am

      Glad you liked the post. We were constantly amazed to find churches with all their finery on display after having been stripped of everything during Communist days. Where did they hide the stuff?

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Curt Mekemson / Apr 4 2018 8:16 am

    Quite appropriate for Easter, Peggy.The cathedral is magnificent. I did find myself wondering what a million rubles from the time would be worth in todays dollars or Euros.I also wondered how in the heck you open 20 ton doors? Slowly? –Curt

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Coral Waight / Apr 4 2018 4:38 pm


    Liked by 2 people

  27. vinneve / Apr 4 2018 7:12 pm

    I only imagined these places when I read historical novels and it is nice to see them in real photos!

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Apr 4 2018 7:53 pm

      Oh my, this would be a fantastic setting for a historical novel.

      Liked by 1 person

      • vinneve / Apr 4 2018 8:29 pm

        Yes, I love reading historical novels that I get to see or imagined places like this in St.Petersburg etc in the early 1800s.

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Apr 4 2018 8:43 pm

        So pleased to contribute to your visions! 🙂


  28. paolsoren / Apr 4 2018 7:38 pm

    I can see the people in your photos but even so, it is beyond comprehension – the size and the grandeur.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Apr 4 2018 7:54 pm

      I’m still reeling, just looking at the pics.


  29. stephanie / Apr 5 2018 7:27 am

    Wow! I love traveling vicariously through you!😁

    Liked by 2 people

  30. Antonia / Apr 6 2018 12:33 am

    Wow, stunning! I bet it was hard to leave.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. In My Cluttered Attic / Apr 6 2018 5:15 am

    What a spectacular structure. 10,000 tree trunks! What a task and that was just for laying a proper foundation. Amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Apr 6 2018 2:18 pm

      I read differing information about the foundation—one said 25,000 piles were driven in and the other said 10,000 tree trunks. Given the time in history I figured that tree stumps were more likely. Either way, a huge number.


  32. Sy S. / Apr 6 2018 9:52 am

    There are so many beautiful churches, especially in Europe… and this one is extra special as well.
    Great to have a photo record of your travels and can view them at your leisure, time and time again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Apr 6 2018 2:19 pm

      This was certainly one of the most breathtaking churches I’ve seen. It seems to have it all—mosaics, gold-clad dome, soaring ceilings, huge pillars, precious stones and more. Oh, and you are most welcome to come view the photos any time. 🙂


  33. Touch Of Cinnamon / Apr 6 2018 11:22 pm

    Beautiful place and photos.

    When you travel, Peggy, what kind of accommodation do you stay in? I’m thinking of going backpacking down the line and might try hostels but I’m no spring chicken and worry that I’ll hate it now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Apr 7 2018 9:24 am

      Our overland trips involve a lot of camping. Otherwise we’ve used hostels (some have rooms for 2), B&Bs, AirBnBs, and 2 and 3-star hotels. As long as a place is clean, we aren’t too fussed. Hostels can be a great place to learn more about things to do and see.
      We did have one very cushy trip—last year’s self-drive in Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuanian. Top-notch accommodation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Touch Of Cinnamon / Apr 7 2018 11:39 am

        That’s all you really need, somewhere clean to put your head down at night.

        Do you have any favourite countries/places that you’d recommend?

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Apr 7 2018 2:19 pm

        Oh gosh, what are your likes and dislikes? Would you be travelling solo? Are you interested in tours or overland journeys? To be honest a couple of my favourite countries are no longer safe for travellers—they being Mali and Syria.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Touch Of Cinnamon / Apr 7 2018 11:26 pm

        I’ll be travelling with my husband. I’d prefer to stay in Europe as I have a blood disorder that means I clot easily so long-haul travel isn’t recommended.

        The types of places I prefer usually have mountain lakes, historical, pretty towns, beautiful scenery. We love Switzerland, Northern Italy etc but they’re extremely expensive. We’d like to find a good alternative to explore that won’t break the bank.


      • leggypeggy / Apr 8 2018 8:54 am

        The challenge is to stay in Europe and not ‘break the bank’. I know you’ve seen a lot of France. Northern Spain could be an option. Parts of eastern Europe are very picturesque, but not very mountainous. Scandinavia is expensive. If you go beyond Europe, Morocco is varied, fairly easy to get around and not too expensive.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Touch Of Cinnamon / Apr 9 2018 3:11 am

        Sorry, Peggy, I didn’t think you’d answered. Thank you. x

        Where in eastern Europe would you recommend? I haven’t explored this region at all.


      • leggypeggy / Apr 9 2018 8:37 am

        Last year we did a fantastic self-drive tour of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia (the Baltic States). Have also visited Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Why not start with the Baltic States and see what you think?
        P.S. I’ll always try to answer, unless I’m travelling without an internet connection.


  34. chattykerry / Apr 7 2018 4:02 am

    It is magnificent. I love all the color and icons. Great photos, Peggy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Apr 11 2018 4:38 pm

      Thanks so much for thinking of me. I know you’ll understand when I say I’ve had to keep my blog award free because I travel so much. But thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

  35. Alexander Lautsyus / Apr 10 2018 10:39 pm

    Nice tour! Thank you for refreshing impressions!

    Liked by 1 person

  36. wanderingtheworldandwondering / Apr 11 2018 6:33 am

    Those Malachite columns are magnificent! Loved this post! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Apr 11 2018 4:39 pm

      So glad you liked it. I love green, so I love those columns too.


      • wanderingtheworldandwondering / Apr 11 2018 9:08 pm

        I love seeing columns that you wouldn’t expect! a little fascination of mine

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Apr 11 2018 9:32 pm

        I see if I can find some more for you.


  37. adventuredawgs / Apr 12 2018 6:20 am

    Wow. Just wow.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. barkinginthedark / Apr 12 2018 8:21 am

    LP, it’s prolly just me but everytime i see one of these incredibly ornate churches (of any denomination) i can’t help but think that all the money it cost could have really helped a lot of people…for a long time. continue…

    Liked by 1 person

  39. barkinginthedark / Apr 12 2018 8:22 am

    P.S. and yes… these are great shots. continue…

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Valerie Cullers / Jun 18 2018 7:24 am

    Absolutely beautiful post and pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

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