In the century which followed the Napoleonic Wars, Europe led the world in the arts and science. Russia at the beginning of this century was ruled by its Tsar, Alexander the First.
He commissioned the construction of St Isaac’s Cathedral for Russia in its capital, Saint Petersburg. The French architect August de Monferrand came and submitted an album of sketches for the cathedral with possible designs in Chinese, Byzantine, Indian and other styles. The one in the classical style was approved by the Emperor.
It was being built over forty years (1818-1858) and resulted in the creation one of the greatest monuments of Russian architecture.
It’s the third tallest single-cupola construction in the world, after St Peter’s in Rome(143m) and St Paul’s in London(109m). St Isaac’s is 101.5 meters high.
St Isaac’s is a very European-looking basilica. It is square in shape and domed in European tradition. The exterior of the cathedral is decorated with 112 monolithic granite columns at four porticoes around the building. The walls are five meters thick, made of brick and faced with marble both inside and out. The exterior of the dome is made of metal and gilded with bronze sheets and 100 kilograms of gold.
Inside, the cathedral is divided into three naves. The central iconostasis is decorated with malachite and lapis-lazuli columns. Behind the Holy Gate there is the largest stained glass window in Europe (28,5 square meters) depicting the ascension of Christ. The interior is decorated with nearly 500 kilograms of gold and 43 different kinds of minerals, including fourteen tons of marble. The finest artists in Europe took part in decorating the interior. There are more than 150 wall paintings and 62 mosaics in the cathedral.
On May 30, 1858, St Isaac’s became the principal cathedral of Russia.
After the October revolution of 1917, it was turned into an anti-religious museum by the Soviet Government.
After World War 2, when the interior was badly damaged, it was completely restored.
Nowadays, the museum is visited by about one and a half million people per year. At the height 43 meters around the dome of the cathedral there is an observation platform from where one can view the city.