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 introduced the Czar with the best sketch in the course of a strong competition with many other talented architects. However, Czar Nicolas I felt a grand structure needed alterations. As a result the cathedral wasn't completed until 1858.
St.Isaac's is at the moment the forth largest domed cathedral in Europe after St.Paul's in London, St.Peter'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 (40000 pounds each), tug on barges from Finnish quarries and manually installed on the site (special scaffolding and man power used for lifting), massive bronze doors and gilded dome (220 pounds of gold was required).
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 could 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 see a diminutive dove at the top of the dome (the symbol of holy spirit) and learn that it is, in fact, six feet long.
During Leningrad siege, cathedral suffered enormous damage. Some of the granite columns in the west portico still have 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 the Colonnade. Viewing St. Petersburg at dusk is one of the great pleasures of travel. Here is a city that was founded to display cultural riches.