The Churches and The Palaces – Part 1

Netflix has finally got the 6th season of Vikings on air, and it begins with Ivar the Boneless’ journey to land of the Rus that led him to the hands of Prince Oleg. History-wise, this series is obviously inaccurate, but it made me start digging up some literature of the nation’s history and reminiscing about my short trip to St. Petersburg a couple of years back.

The Gold Obsession

The shining precious one. The one to weigh against. The one to keep for security. It reminds you of the sun, luminous like the divine one. People in the past saw it that way, and so today we see so many houses of worship embellished with this shiny metal or merely a paint resembling one, sometimes it’s mentally drowning you that you might wonder why it was not put to better use, like feeding the poor. But when the heart was struck and in awe of the almighty, the pain in this transient life might not matter much.

Saint Isaac’s Cathedral

In the heart of St. Petersburg stands tall Isaakievskiy Sobor or Saint Isaac’s Cathedral. Dedicated to Saint Isaac of Damaltia, the patron saint of Peter the Great, its gigantic 101.5m-tall golden dome and little domes soaring to the blue sky, surrounded by the colonnade for tiny humans to adore the city from the top.

Being the largest orthodox basilica in the world, Saint Isaac is the one not to miss and will forever keep you in awe. The massive bronze doors welcome you to the playground of artists, dazzling your eyes with an array of gilded sculptures, reliefs, iconostasis, and paintings on the ceilings from the moment you walk in.

Saint Isaac’s Cathedral

You will soon find yourself mesmerized by the large iconostasis, an image of Jesus guarded by the saints framed in massive columns. The mosaics all over the wall and ceilings were all meticulously arranged and in very lively colours! Nowadays it is hard to imagine how many man hours spent to finish such a masterpiece. Or how many people can actually do it?

The use of malachite and lapis lazuli gemstones in the altar was a rare sighting for me. Ten 10-meter vivid green and two smaller brilliant blue Corinthian columns stretched across the room, looking as extravagant as the gilded sculptures and icons they frame and somewhat in contrast with the stained-glass Jesus in the center dominated in white and striking red. You will be drawn to look further behind these columns. To the left of the iconostasis is a small chapel open to the public with more murals and icons. Lit a candle, sit and pray – but no pictures or video recording!

Having a sore neck is also inevitable. The vaulted ceiling under the domes are adorned with incredibly lifelike biblical images. Sunlight through the small windows surrounding the dome enhances the beauty of these arts that it feels like you look up to the glorious heaven yourself.

The Colonnade

Since you already feel like looking up to heaven, why not trying to actually get closer? Get yourself ready for some leg and booty workout by climbing over 500 steps to the colonnade. It’s a narrow, long spiral staircase, so take your time and watch your steps. It feels endless at some point and once you reach the end, there is a small passage to another staircase before you finally get to the colonnade. It’s not exactly fun to do during snowfall, which I did!

But all the sweating will be worth it. The 360-degree panoramic view is probably one of the best places to be in the city. The gilded Archangels are placed strategically on the roof looking down the tiny spectators on the ground.

From the colonnade, you can see Neva River right across the square, connecting Lake Ladoga in the west and Gulf of Finland in the eastern part of St. Petersburg. While it was not possible to do when I was there, in summer people would swing by the river after midnight to see the drawbridges over the river lifted to let the ships pass. There are 12 of them and it might be fun to watch! Check the schedule here:

How much to spend?

  • Entrance to Saint Isaac’s Cathedral: 350 rub
  • Entrance to the colonnade: 250 rub
  • Audio guide: 200 rub

If you enjoy interacting with people, you might want to queue up at the counter or the ticketing machine. But if you hate wasting time, buy your ticket online on

Now, onward to the next stop for another jaw-dropping experience!


ACN Written by:

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