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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.