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St. Isaac's Cathedral

St. Isaac's Cathedral is the most grandiose and majestic of all the buildings in Saint-Petersburg. The cathedral still amazes those who live in St. Petersburg as well as the tourists with its monumentality. One can imagine how gimmicky it looked for people who lived in the XIX century. The interesting description of an interior and exterior of this cathedral, written by a witness of a building process helps us take a look at how the masterpiece looked like back in the XIX century.

The description of St. Isaacs cathedral.

Despite the grandiosity of the cathedral, most greatest of all in the world, the exterior of it is remarkably simple. It looks like a giant rectangular stone box at the base of similarly big dome, which seems to look smaller than really it is and also seems to be drowning in it due to the height of the base structure. Each side of the box has classical galleries, and at the top stands a colonnade around the dome. As your glance travels away from the dome you see the straight bases blending into four bell towers withbanderoles at the corners of the top part of the main structure. All four galleries are made of the granite columns standing on terraces the same kind. The terraces are topped by the charming gables with bass-reliefs, which lay on the monolith granite columns, weighing 8000 poods each.

The number of columns in the galleries differs. The southern and northern one have 16 columns each, and the other two have 8 columns each. The marble ceilings of the galleries are divided in 3 parts. The middle part has a spherical form, while the ones by it's sides are flat.

The ceilings are decorated with copper rosettes, cherub heads, festoons and other elements. The floor is made of white marble, red and grey granite tiles layed out in the checkerboard pattern.

Three of the galleries make the threshold of the cathedral with the enormous bronze doors, and the eastern gallery covers 3 semicircle windows. The south and north galleries have 2 niches each with bas-relieves over them and 3 little doors in each niche. Every big door is crowned by a semicircle bas-relief. In the same manner the gables are decorated with the greatest bas-reliefs, and the roofs ot the galleries are decorated with the statues of evangelists and apostles. The main part of the sculptures are by the sculptor Vitali. The “Magi worship” is considered as the finest bas-relief, and the second one is “St. Isaac and Emperor Theodosius”. This bas-relief is remarkable for his historical motives. Theodosius has a face of Alexander I, and his wife is pictured as Alexanders wife. The courtiers figures include counts Wolkonsky and Olenin and Montferrand with the cathedral in his hand. Every gables border has an inscription on it. The northern one says “God, with your might let the tzar be happy”, the southern one says “Let My temple be named a temple of pray”, the eastern one says “Depending on you, Lord, let us never be ashamed” and the western one says “For the King of kings”.

While walking around it's easy to note the windows with the little columns, groovy pilasters on the walls. One can see the foundation of red granite along the wall and two little benches under those windows. There is a bigger bench on the level of the caps, which lies on the pillars with the wide frieze of dark crimson color and a relief cornice. Over the cornice one sees the attic with two statues over the pilasters and a simpler cornice.

The main dome lies on the circular colonnade installed on a high plinth and consisting of 24 hollow bodied pillars, weighing 4000 poods each, with the relief bench and an attic as a ballustrade which has statues standing on the top edge of it. Behind them one can see the windows of the domes tambour. On the top of the dome there is a lantern with the Corinthian pilasters, the grille around its base and a delicate crucifix over a crescent.

The dome consists of 3 different vaults. The first one can be seen outside of the cathedral had a spherical form. The second one has a form of a cone. It finishes under the lantern and is decorated with copper beams. The third one is gilt and can be seen from the outside. The two inner domes are made of cast iron ribs installed over the cast iron ring, which lies on the top of the domes tambour. The gilt roof lies on the steel framework, which is fixed to the ribs of the conical vault. The burner clay cylinders are put between the ribs of two vaults. The overall weight of the dome, despite the hollowness of the pillars is 136000 poods.

The dome has 24 windows between the cast iron posts, which hold the rafters. The spiral stairway leads from the attic windows to the lantern. Through the opening one can get behind the grille which encircles the lantern.

Four small quadrangular bell towers consist of gables topping the pillars, crowned with spherical domes, with the massive bells hanging underneath them. The biggest bell hangs in the north-western bell tower, weighing 1800 poods. The north-eastern weighs 1000 poods. The smallest one weighs 900 poods and is installed in the south-eastern bell tower.

The whole building is faced with the finest marble from Italy, France and Olonets. The interior lining only took more than half of the million poods of marble. Underneath every column lies a 1837 made silver rouble, and underneath the main column lies a platinum medal with the face of Nikolay I on it. Three big doors and four smaller side doors lead inside the cathedral. The size of the big doors is the biggest in the world. Artistically, their design is far better than the other works of such kind. The interior of the cathedral is a parallelogram with the main altar in the eastern side and two smaller altars by its sides. In between the malachite pillars of the main altar through the arch in the main iconostasis the other white transparenticonostasis can be seen, with the bright gilding of decoration and gilded “Transfiguration” group.

The marble-linen walls also include an inlay. The main iconostasis is three-tier and has mosaic icons. The vaults are covered with decorative groups and pictorial art. The plafond pictures were drawn by Bruni. The main domes plafond, showing Our Lady encircled by the saints, as well as apostles and evangelists were drawn by Brullov and Basin. Two small groups over the small iconostasis' are Pimenov's works.

The iconostasis itself, made of white statue marble is lifted up almost to the ceiling. It includes 8 pillars and 2 malachite pilasters 43 ft. high, with gilded caps and bases. Two lapis lazuli pillars stand by the sides of the royal gates. The pillars consist of cast iron cylinders linen with malachite and lapis lazuli. Over the royal gates hangs the “Jesus Christ on the throne” group. To his right Our Lady is pictured, and to the left – John the evangelist. Most of the icons in the iconostasis are mosaic.

The altar piece was drawn on the glass in Munich and shows a full length Blessing Saviour. Covering the whole window it seems to look transparent.

The Cathedral counts 51 bass-reliefs, 73 statues and 84 busts. Over the doors there are great bass-reliefs of Vitali and Loganovsky's work. The floor of the cathedral is made of varicolored marble with porfiry frames. The middle part of it is decorated with florentine mosaic rosette. The main dome contains 12 big and 40 smaller statues of angels, patriarchs and prophets with all these figures gilded. The cathedral utensils are made of gold and silver

Mighty is a man in his deeds. Magestic deeds are left to his descendants...