St. Isaac's Cathedral


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During 1717-1727 the architect I. Mattarnovi built a stone church in the name of Isaac of Dalmatia on the Neva river on the very spot where the statue of Peter the Great is now located. Due to the unreenforced banks and the frequent rains, its walls became damaged and the church was dismantled. In 1768, under the architect A. Rinaldi, construction began on the first St.Isaac's Cathedral. The building was constructed up to the cornice, the work fell behind schedule and, in 1792, when Rinaldi left St. Petersburg, V. Brenna continued the work, but distorted and mutilated Rinaldi's original design. Because the new design was not in harmony with the surrounding architectural style, a competition was held in 1809 but all submitted designs were rejected by Tsar Alexander I.

After the war of 1812, attention was again directed toward its construction, this time under the direction of the young French architect, August R. de Montferrand, who presented the Tsar with 24 variations on the design. The classic style was chosen. Construction began in 1818 and an entire village of workers sprang up in the immediate vicinity. After a study of the plans, the Russian architect Modui concluded that the proposed cupola could not be supported through the use of Montferrand's design. (He wanted to use two new pylons and two old pylons from Rinaldi's work.) Modui presented his unfavorable findings to the Academy of Arts whose committee, in 1822, declared that Montferrand's design was impossible. The work paused while the committee altered the structural design without materially changing the style, according to the best alternate design submitted by architect Andrei Mihailov. Montferrand also changed his design, but decided to submit it directly to the ailing Alexander I through Graf Arakcheyev. On 3 April 1825, by the edict of Alexander I, Arakcheyev approved the project. A special Commission, composed of the most prominent architects and engineers, was formed to direct all the various tasks.

Rinaldi's structure was dismantled, except for the altar on the east side, and the foundation was enlarged to support the larger new structure. 23,256,000 silver rubles were allotted to the project. A major achievement of architecture of the 19th century, the cathedral has a steel re-enforced cupola, is 333 feet high, 364.17 feet long, and 321.5 feet wide. It weighs 300,000 tons, has columns 55.7 feet high weighing 114-tons each – the blocks of red granite coming from Puterlocks on the gulf of Finland. The 48 columns for the portico presented a monumental problem and attracted wide attention, taking over two years to construct and erect. The walls are 16.4-feet thick, with a granite slab placed every 14-15 rows of brick. The walls are faced with marble quarried in Karelia and tugboats were used for the very first time for their transportation. In two months, 24 granite columns of 141 foot height and of 67 tons each were put in place to support the 72.7 foot diameter cupola which consists of three parts: the internal part is hemispherical and decorated with paintings; the center part is conical; and the outer part is paraboloidal, faced with gilt sheets of copper.

In 1841 the structure of the cathedral was completed, but decorative work took another 17 years. 400 kilograms of pure gold was used for decorating the interior and the surface of the cupolas. In 1858 the cathedral became the main place of worship in the capitol of the Russian Empire. A bust of Montferrand, executed in all the styles of marble used in the building of the cathedral, was placed within the cathedral. It shows that he had been decorated with at least the following Orders: Russian St.Vladimir – 1st. class, Russian St.Anna – 1st. class, French Legion of Honor – 1st class, and (probably) the Prussian Order of the Red Eagle – 1st. class. (The Soviets stated, not surprisingly, that in 1928 the cathedral was closed at the behest of the workers and, since 1931, has been transformed into a museum for the display of works that are "culturally enlightening" and atheistic.) Foucault's pendulum was installed. In 1954 a complete restoration was begun. In 1963 the interior was restored to "like new" condition.


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