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The hundred meter-high Isakievsky Cathedral is one of the most grandiose Orthodox temples of Russia and one of the highest historic buildings of the Northern capital. It is hard to imagine Petersburg without its huge golden dome.
Seeing this giant, its hard not to admire hard work and persistence of those, who built it on a shaky Petersburg ground. The Cathedral was a subject of concern of three Emperors. Only its foundation was worked by 135 thousand masons, carpenters and forgers. The inner gold plating of the temple took 208 kilograms of gold, and 99 kilograms more for the dome. In total, the State Treasury spent for its construction about 23 million Rubles in silver. Jokers used to say that if the Cathedral would be cast totally of silver, it did not cost higher than what we see.
The French architect Auguste Montferrand built the cathedral almost forty years. This caused some people of Petersburg to backbite as if a woman fortune – teller predicted the architect that he would die right away after the completion of the works. Whether that was true or not, it is hard to say now, but Montferrand did really pass away in a month after the sanctification of the temple.
The Cathedral was dedicated to the Byzantine saint Isaac Dalmatian; his memorial day, May 30, 1672, was the day of birth of the future Emperor Peter the Great. Above the main western gates’ leafs, on the attic’s bas-relief, there is a picture of meeting of Isaac Dalmatian with the Emperor Theodosius and the Empress Flaxilla. The Sculptor Vitali made the face of the Byzantine Emperor similar to the Russian Emperor Alexander the First, and his spouse – similar to the Empress Elizaveta Alekseyevna. Among the suite at the attic’s corner, you can see Montferrand himself in an ancient toga with a model of the Isakievsky Cathedral in his hands.
Outside, the Cathedral is lined with Italian, French and Olonetsk marbles. Columns of porticos are made of Karelian granite, which was cut in stone quarries close to Vyborg and delivered to the capital on special barges. The mounting of each 17-meter column weighting 114 tons was taking 45 minutes. The first one was mounted in the presence of the Tsar family, the Diplomatic Corps and many Architects, who specially came for this to Petersburg.
Inside, the Cathedral makes an impression not less than outside. Its interior was worked at by the best painters of the Imperial Academy of Arts – Karl Bryullov, Timofej Neff, Fyodor Bruni, Peter Basin an Vassily Shebuev. Three-level iconostasis is lined with white marble and decorated with ten columns of Uralsk malachite and two columns of Afghan lazurite. The altarpiece stain-glass window image of Christ made at a Munich Royal manufacture, is very beautiful.
The whole Petersburg was gathered for a solemn dedication of the Cathedral on May 30, 1858. The crowds filled the Square, neighboring streets and even roofs of neighboring houses. Troops were lined around the temple. All of the city clergy in a ceremonial dress was marching the icon-bearing procession from the Isakievsky Cathedral to Kazansky Cathedral and back. The imperial court headed by Alexander the Second was present at the ceremony. Alexander himself was accepting the work, which started even during his August ancestors.
We must admit that by the moment the Cathedral was finally opened, the architectural tastes changed in Russia. As it often happens, the new temple seemed like a foreign for Petersburgers. The Artist Alexander Benois, for instance, called it a giant inkpot with golden top. The Cathedral gained their love and was recognized as a masterpiece only in the beginning of the 20th century.
Since the moment of its dedication and up to 1922 it remained the main Cathedral in the Russian Orthodox Church. During Bolshevick times, the temple was robed in a very real sense. 43 kilograms of gold, about two tons of silver and 796 precious stones were taken from it. Meanwhile, the church utensils were estimated only by weight. Therefore, the most of the unique items made in the best jewelers’ shops of Petersburg and Europe, were lost forever.
During the Soviet times, a museum was opened in the temple. And, as an atheistic propaganda, the Foucault's pendulum was hanged under its dome at the Easter’s night of 1931, for visual confirmation of the Earth rotation. Today, the Foucault’s pendulum is removed and transferred to the Academy of Sciences, but the Cathedral is still serving as a museum. Only last years, the Cathedral hosts church services on great church holidays and special occasions.
The gallery around the dome of the Isakievsky Cathedral is the main observation point of Petersburg. The main difficulty is 262 steep steps, which you will have to get over to enjoy the view of the city from the height of 43 meters.
During the centuries of Empire St. Petersburg was a grand city with ceremonial buildings, rich and pompous palaces. Even today St. Petersburg can boast a huge number of palaces, including some of the grandest residences not just in Russia, but in the whole of Europe.
Our audio guide will take you to the most famous palaces and Grand residences of St. Petersburg. We can start with the Tauride Palace and Garden, one of the largest and most historic complexes in Russia. This palace was designed for Grigory Potemkin in a rigorous Palladian style. In the 19th century, the palace was transformed into a residence for minor royalty. It had been used to host balls and exhibitions until 1906, when it was given as a seat of the first Russian parliament, the Imperial State Duma.
You will also hear the history of the Winter Palace, the most prominent palace in Russia. The Winter Palace not only physically dominates Palace Square and the south embankment of the Neva River, but also plays a central political, symbolic, and cultural role in the three-century history of the city. It was declared part of the State Hermitage Museum on 17 October 1917. Now the Winter Palace, the Hermitage and all historical landmarks of St. Petersburg are enlisted by the UNESCO.
Another famous building is Anichkov Palace located next to Anichkov Bridge across the Fontanka River. It’s one of the oldest buildings on Nevsky Prospect commissioned by Empress Elizabeth in 1741. When the palace was completed she presented it to Aleksey Razumovsky, her favourite and unofficial spouse.
Mariinsky Palace, the last neoclassical imperial palace to be constructed in Saint Petersburg, was built between 1839 and 1844 by the court architect Andrei Stackensneider. The palace stands on the south side of St Isaac's Square, just across the 99-metre-wide Blue Bridge from Saint Isaac's Cathedral. The palace was conceived by Emperor Nicholas I as a wedding present to his daughter Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna.
During the tour you will also see the houses and mansions of famous court and military people: The House of Saltykov, The Marble Palace, The Vladimir Palace, The Mikhailovsky Castle, The Novo-Mikhailovsky Palace, The House of Gagarin, etc. Each building has its own history sometimes dramatic.
Take a walk in the Summer Garden. It was founded in 1704 by order of Peter the Great, who was personally involved in planning it, and is laid out according to strict geometrical principles. The Summer Garden is home to marble statues acquired from Europe especially for Russia's new capital, and also to rare flowers and plants, as well as fountains.
The Field of Mars, not far from the Summer Garden, has a long and varied history dating back to the very beginning of the city's history. You will listen to it while walking. To your attention will also be the stories and legends of The First Engineer Bridge, The Salt City, The Building of Senate and Synod, The Isakievsky Cathedral, The Petropavlovsk Fortress.
With audio visual materials you will also get a map that won’t let you lose your way.