Oct 01

Esztergom Basilica (Basilica Esztergom)

Esztergom Basilica is the tallest construction in Hungary and one of the tallest in the world for that matter. In fact, the edifice positions itself on the 18th place among the tallest constructions in the world. The actual name of the basilica is the Primatial Basilica of the Blassed Virgin Mary Assumed into Heaven and St. Adalbert. With such a lengthy name it is really no surprise that the building is known as the Esztergom Basilica, after the city in which it is found.

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The dimensions of the basilica are definitely impressive: it expands over a surface of 5.600 square meters, with a length of 118 m and a width of 49 m. The dome dominates the central part of the edifice. It comprises 12 windows in its structure and measures 33.5 m in diameter.

One of the main attractions of the basilica is the altarpiece which represents the largest painting in the entire world to have been painted on a single piece of canvas. The master behind this specific work of art was Michelangelo Grigoletti.

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But the entire basilica can be regarded as a work of art due to the beautiful paintings that adorn it. The edifice had been constructed out of red marble by Italian craftsmen and has been decorated by means of canvases which depict Tuscan Renaissance motifs. The value of these representations is enhanced by the fact that so few other examples of Renaissance art of equal importance can be found on Hungarian soil.

Tourists who visit the basilica might be drawn aback by the crypt located within the edifice. This is a colossal tomb built in the 1831 in the Old Egyptian style. The crypt holds the earthly remains of the late archbishops of the basilica.

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The location where the basilica was erected was previously chosen for the construction of several other houses of worship. The initial church was erected in 2nd century by the order of king Stephan I of Hungary and it was actually the first cathedral to have been constructed in Hungary. However, the fate of this edifice was troublesome in the sense that it was prone to several damaging effects in a tumultuous historical timeframe. Initially, the cathedral was burnt down at the turn of the 12th century, only to be rebuilt in the years to come. But the following historical events that occur, such as the Mongol invasion or the bombing of the church due to political reasons, had further devastating impacts on the construction. These “attacks” led to a new series of repairs. With the refurbishing of the edifice came a more elaborated decorative work. But the cathedral was left in ruin once more when the Turks came to power in mid-16th century.

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Only in the 19th century, was the cathedral brought back to life. The chapel which existed previously was disassembled in more than a thousand pieces which were carefully relocated a couple of meters away were they were incorporated into the new basilica that was slowly beginning to take form as the architect Pál Kühnel intended it (the architect hired to design the basilica).

One of the focal points in the basilica is the largest organ which can be found in Hungary. It is true that the organ is not completed, mainly because the administration of the basilica lacks the funds to carry on the work. Within the structure of the organ, one will discover the largest organ pipe in the entire country – it measures 10 meters. The project is quite the undertaking but the results are bound to leave everyone overwhelmed by its grandeur. It is said that when finished, the musical instrument will be the third largest organ to be found on the European continent.

Sep 18

St. Mary’s Church (Biserica Sf. Maria)

St. Mary’s Church is the Roman Catholic Church situated in the Gdansk region of Poland. The noteworthy information writers might be interested in learning is that the church is the largest religious institution in the entire world which is made out of brick. The construction work began in the later decades of the 14th century and as the project advanced, the impressive Gothic edifice began to take form.   

The colossal construction measures 105.5 m in length, being able to fit within its walls as much as 25.000 people. But in order to reach this stature, the edifice underwent a progressive development.

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Initially, the site housed a different construction which had been erected by Swietopelk II, the Duke of Pomerelia Gdansk. This earlier church was constructed in 1243 and consisted of a wooden structure. Only after a century had gone by, did the foundation stone for the new church was set. This construction work was completed in 1360 and its result was a basilica that featured a small steeple. Parts of this basilica are still preserved to our days, but these refer solely to the lower levels of the construction upon which additional layers were built.

The church that presents itself today before us has been erected between 1379 and 1496. Heinrich Ungeradin, an expert in masonry, was the person appointed to supervise the project, thus the result was bound to be impressive. The construction lingered on and by 1447 only the eastern segment of the edifice was erected.  Ungeradin did not manage to see the church completed, his successor Hans Brandt taking things from where Ungeradin had left off.

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The history of Poland is quite troubled so it is no wonder that the church had witnessed several experiences which greatly impacted the institution. For instance the three partitions of Poland had affected the church in as much as the Prussian authorities deprived the cathedral of much of its treasures. Valuable objects such as sacred vessels, pieces of clothing, fabrics and garments made out of materials from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt were lost. The objects made out of precious metals were melted down in order to forge other items of value. Even the golden embroidery that adorned the vestments was carefully removed so as to decorate the uniforms of Prussian officers.

Even with these alterations, the church, as a building, was left unspoiled. The interior and the exterior had managed to preserve their appearance throughout the centuries, up until the Second World War. This time of warfare left a deep scare on the walls of the church, especially after the Danzing city had been the target of an air raid (in 1945). The ceiling came tumbling down almost in its entirety after having burnt. The devastation was impressive: the windows were smashed into millions of fragments and in several places the bricks melted because of the high temperature which was registered within the walls of the edifice.

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But even under these dire conditions, the artwork encountered at the interior of the church had managed to maintain its original look – not because the pieces of art had survived the attack while contained within the walls of the church but because these had been removed from the premises long before the air raid was initiated and had been taken into safekeeping. After the restoration process was completed, many of these items had found their way “back home,” thus tourists have the opportunity to gaze on the original oeuvre encountered at St. Mary’s Church – or at least part of it because a number of items was transferred to several museums across the country.

The refurbishing process was begun immediately after the war, in 1946. By the end of summer, the following year, the ceiling had been reconstructed and was secured by a layer of concrete in order to prevent subsequent incidents from causing too much damage to the roof.

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The interior decoration consists of various works of art which are representative for the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque painting. The exterior of the church bears the mark of the Gothic architectural design, the narrow windows being an accurate illustration of this style. There are no decorative items found on the exterior, the façades consisting solely of plain bricks. The elements that contribute to the majestic appearance, besides the actual stature of the edifice, are the towers which are located on each corner of the building and are topped by means of metallic headpieces, to which are added the gables and the pinnacles which pierce the roof every now and then.

The belfry shelters two bells: Gratia Dei, the larger one, which reaches an F sharp note, and Ave Maria, the smaller one which sounds in C sharp.

Sep 07

St. Sava’s Cathedral (Catedrala Sf. Sava)

When taking into consideration the idea of visiting Serbia, the first thing that springs to mind is going to Belgrade. As this is the capital city of the country, tourists are more inclined to choose this as their first stop. Probably because they have this idea ingrained that Belgrade is the most important city located in Serbia and, as a consequence, they are bound to find several touristic attractions worth seeing.

St. Sava’s Cathedral is one such points of interest located in Belgrade. The Orthodox church is the largest house of worship of this kind located in the Balkan region and it is among the 10 biggest churches in the entire world. The cathedral is dedicated to St. Sava, thus the name of the edifice is explained. The location of the construction site, on the Vračar plateau was not randomly chosen. It is generally believed that in that exact place where the cathedral now stands erect the relics of the saint were burnt by the Ottomans.

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The grandiose edifice dominates the skyline of the city and it is undoubtedly the most imposing building of the city. Even though this specific religious house is referred to as being a cathedral, the term is not accurately used from a clerical perspective as it is not the seat of a bishop. But it should be mentioned that in Serbian, the name bore is that of temple; the English translation is in a sense altered as a means of emphasizing the impressive size of the construction as well as the importance it carries in Serbia.

In terms of structure, we are talking about a Greek cross-like form. The cathedral consists of a main dome which is sustained by means of 4 spherical triangles (pendentives) which were used as transition elements between the circular dome and the rectangular base.

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The main dome is elevated at 70 m, but the height of the cathedral is calculated while taking into account the gilded cross placed atop the dome, which adds another 12 m, thus piercing the sky with its 82 m in stature. Lengthwise, the church measures 91 m by 81 m. In total, the cathedral numbers 19 gilded crosses, which differ is size, placed atop its domes, and comprises 49 bells within its belfries.

In order to get an accurate idea of the colossal size of the edifice, it should be noted that St. Sava’s Cathedral can house as much as ten thousand believers, not to mention that the gallery especially arranged for the church choir contains 800 de seats.

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The cathedral’s appearance is conveyed by means of white marble and granite, whereas the interior is meant to be entirely covered with mosaics. The inner decorative design is still in the making process but the parts that are completed reveal that the final result will be stunning. The main dome is programmed to be adorned by means of a mosaic of Christ Pantocrator – a specific portrayal of Christ. Just to grasp the magnitude of this undertaking, you should know that the eyes of Christ will measure about 4 meters in width (each).

Aug 02

St. Peter and Paul Cathedral (Catedrala Sf. Petru si Pavel)

St. Peter and Paul Cathedral is located in Sankt Petersburg and it is the oldest and tallest cathedral in the city. In fact it is the second highest edifice in St. Petersburg, if you are to take into account the television tower.

But what makes the cathedral an important tourist attraction are the historical events it had been a witness to, some of which are tightly connected to the House of Romanov, the second and last dynasty to rule over Imperial Russia. Furthermore, the cathedral is the resting place of almost all the Russian rulers since Peter the Great.

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The construction work

The cathedral goes back since the period in which Sankt Petersburg was founded. Initially, the house of worship was a wooden construction, erected one month after the city was established. In 1712, the Italian-born architect Domenico Trezzi designed a plan for the cathedral in which stone was used as the primarily material. The construction work was initiated soon afterwards, but the final result was not to be seen for 20 years. The cathedral was sanctified on the 29th of June, 1733.

The architectural design definitely contrasts the traditional style used in constructing Orthodox churches as it is a reflection of the Early Baroque. The architect drew inspiration from the protestant churches located in the western part of the continent and thus came up with the quadrilateral structure, the specific shape of the belfry and the needle-like tower which seems to pierce the sky.

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Architectural design

The walls of the cathedral consist of ornamental columns, while the windows are artistically adorned with angel heads. In constructing the bell tower, the architect used the multi-layers technique and added the gilded needle atop the construction. This one-of-a-kind development, the needle, was created by Dutchman German von Bolis, who added a further detail on top: a flying angel that holds a cross in its hand. There is no difficulty in understanding the meaning of the representation. The needle is reflexive of the transcending experience one undergoes while embracing religion. The needle pointing upward is a symbol of this uplifting experience.

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A new detail was added to the bell tower in 1720, but this had no religious meaning attached to it. The clock we can see today was purchased from Holland for the price of 45.000 rubles, which was quite a large amount of money for that particular time.

The interior of the cathedral is a true work of art. The iconostasis is really impressive, and how else could it be taking into account that more than 40 architects from Moscow used their artistic creativity to create this unique piece. The first part of the 18th century brought about further improvements. The interior walls were covered with paintings which illustrated different biblical scenes.

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But the past of the cathedral is sprinkled with tragic events. The bell-tower is considered impressive, especially due to the needle which finishes it, but because of this tall structural design, the tower was subjected to the devastating effects of bad weather conditions, more precisely, of lighting. The tower burned to the ground in 1756. But while everything else was turned to ashes, the iconostasis managed to survive the terrible fire, having been removed from the cathedral in due time. The reconstruction work was not initiated until 1766, when Catherine the Great gave order for the edifice to be recreated in the exact same manner. But it took another ten years until the finished tower was revealed to the public.

The bell tower is definitely the main attraction of the cathedral and it is no wonder since it is an architectural emblem. The tower is part of the imperial catacombs – these are located on the ground floor, and it also consists of a platform upon which visitors can ascend and admire the view. These are organized on an hourly basis, beginning at 12:00 and ending at 18:00.

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There is a story concerning the edifice that might catch your attention. In 1997, when the angel atop the needle was being cleaned, the renovators encountered a message in a bottle which had been written back in 1953. The persons in charge of the renovation work from the ‘50s were apologetic for having performed a hasty and a bit of a sloppy work. The explanation is that the Soviet prime minister at that time, Nikita Khrushchev gave order for the angel to the restored quickly so that it would be ready for the city’s 250th anniversary. Allegedly, the renovators from ’97 had continued the tradition, leaving a note for the generations to come. However, the text was not made public.

Jul 26

St. Charles’ Church (Biserica Sf. Karl)

St Charles’ Church, also known as Karlskirche, is one of the most beautiful and most interesting buildings found in Austria. The building was constructed by the order to the Emperor of Austria and followed the Baroque architectural style.

According to history, Emperor Karl the VI made a vow to erect a church if Vienna were to rid itself of the plague. In 1715 it seems that everyone’s prayers had been answered as the festering disease had left the city. Thus the construction work for the church was initiated. The building process took 22 years to be completed, but when it was finally inaugurated, in 1737, the church appeared as an architectural jewel before everyone.

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The elements which have been incorporated in the design are reminiscent of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and the Baroque style. The structure consists of two arches, located on each part of the church, two columns, a dome and several towers.

It is definitely curious the way in which the architects decided to integrate these details together. No one had ever ventured on this path, so the church is unique in its stylistic design. The view is almost mesmerizing, especially at night, when the building is lit.

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St. Charles’ Church is located in the southern part of Karlplatz, in Vienna, and has become renowned precisely because of the plan it follows: the impressive dome being flanked by two columns. When the Roman Emperor announced his plan to build a church, several famous architects competed in order to undertake the project. From the three architects, Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt, Ferdinando Galli-Bibiena and Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, which engaged in the competition, the latter won.

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The façade consists of two columns, specific for the architectural designed used in Ancient Rome, which are adjacent to two pavilions designed in the contemporary Austrian Baroque. While the exterior is remarkable in its entirety, the interior does not stand out as much.

The interior decoration is in fact artistically performed, in the Baroque style, but there is a contrasting differentiation between the exterior and the interior of the edifice. It is as if once gazing at the building, you would expect to find something equally outstanding, in terms of architectural innovation, when entering the church. Be that as it may, St. Charles’ Church should definitely occupy a primarily position on your list of must-see places in Vienna.

Apr 19

The Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Biserica Invierii din Sankt Petersburg)

Construction

This church, also known to locals as the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, was erected in Sankt Petersburg in the memory of Tsar Alexander II who was assassinated on the 1st of March, 1881. This decision was taken by his son, soon after the news of his father’s death reached him.

Visitors can immediately notice the imposing edifice which stands out from the surrounding buildings (which bear the marks of Baroque, Classical and Modernist periods) due to its architectural design. Alexander III wanted to construct the church while respecting the traditional Russian structural design, and not giving in to the western styles which seemed to have “polluted” the Russian town.

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Alexander III analyzed various designs but none was to his liking. Eventually, Archimandrite Ignaty appointed Parland as the architect for the construction under discussion, but he decided to make the plan of the building himself. The project was inspired from St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow and the Vladimir Cathedral in Kiev.

But the church did not serve the conventional purpose one would expect. Instead, Alexander III decided to organize special sermons and requiems every week in order to eulogize his father. Oddly enough, these religious services attracted big crowds.

Decay

The Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was officially turned into a cathedral in 1923, but the edifice did not preserve itself as it was devastated after the Revolution. The damages were immense in as much as it was closed 9 years later and step by step it became a junkyard. The entire Sankt Petersburg buzzed over the idea that the church would be demolished. Even today, the edifice bears the marks of the second worldwide conflagration and the Siege of Leningrad.

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This church of immense architectural value was destroyed almost in its entirety after the 2nd World War, when the Small Opera Theater started using it as a storage space. What remained from the original construction were 4 columns on which the mosaic representations were still noticeable and a segment of the balustrade.

Restoration

Massive repair works were conducted after 1970, when the church became a subdivision of the St. Isaac’s Cathedral museum, and this institution funded the restoration. The “tormented” history of the church which saw periods of decay and rejuvenation came to an end in 1997 when the cathedral was reopened. The event was of massive proportions as thousands of visitors flooded the area in an attempt to cast their eyes on the new edifice for the first time.

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The total costs of the restoration works was assessed at 3.6 million rubles, but in reality, the project exceeded this sum by 1 million rubles. The reason for this was the exquisite assortment of mosaics. There is a mosaic work that expands over 7500 sq. meters in which the assassination of Tsar Alexander II is connected to the crucifixion of Christ, as if both had suffered the same faith and under the same conditions.

The fact that the church was dedicated to the Tsar is obvious from the monument erected on the exact place where Alexander II fell to his death. This was created according to the structural plan developed by Parland and was finished in 1907.

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The icons found within the church are varied in terms of the style used to create them. Some are representative for the academic style, some for the Modernist Age, while others bear the mark of the Byzantine painting style.

The Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the emblem of nationalism. It refused to subdue itself to the Baroque and Neoclassical architectural styles which dominated the area and decided to reflect the medieval Russian style instead.