Once the capital of imperial Russia, you can still see traces of St Petersburg’s gilded history within the city’s architecture – particularly in its orthodox churches and cathedrals. Subjected to the twin destructive forces of war and revolution, many churches in St Petersburg have been destroyed over the years – the Bolsheviks, in particular, weren’t so keen on these emblems of religious freedom and Tsarist clout. However, the buildings that remain, from the monolithic St Isaac’s Cathedral to the attractive Chesme Church, offer evocative snapshots across almost two hundred years of Russian history. Plan your journey back in time with our guide to the most beautiful churches the city has to offer.
Of all the churches in St Petersburg, it’s the iconic St Isaac’s Cathedral that remains the enduring symbol of the one-time imperial capital – and not just because its distinctive golden cupola is visible from miles away. Austere and monumental on the outside, its neoclassical granite columns and intimidating facade give way to an interior that is startling in its lack of restraint: ornate mosaics, columns of malachite and lapis lazuli, and a stunning depiction of Christ in the stained glass alter window are among the extravagant detailing, not that you have to look too closely to notice them.
So named because it was built on the site of Alexander II’s assassination, the Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood is a conspicuous example of the Russian Revival style of architecture. Completed in 1907, it was ransacked and severely damaged just a decade later during the Russian Revolution. However, it’s now been fully restored and, impressively, its interior is even more striking than its colourful, onion-domed exterior, with biblical stories rendered in dramatic swathes of marble and gilt.
Buffeted within the fortified confines of the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul stands at a vertiginous 123 metres high. An example of the Petrine Baroque style of architecture, its gold spire is one of the city’s most visible – and oldest – landmarks. The profound sense of history continues inside the cathedral, with the tombs of the Romanov rulers rendered in marble and semi-precious stones.