advertisement

St. Isaac's mighty, somber facade rose only in the mid-19th century but has become an indelible part of St. Petersburg's skyline since then. Critics of the day called it "The Inkwell" because of its boxy shape topped by a single enormous gray dome, in contrast to the multilayered and multicolored domes and towers of most Orthodox churches. Its massive hall can accommodate 14,000 people, though it probably never has. More popular with tourists than believers, the church earned residents' respect during World War II, when it endured Nazi shelling and its grounds were planted with cabbage to help residents survive the 900-day Nazi blockade. Its interior is as awesome as its exterior, with columns made of single chunks of granite, malachite, and lazurite; floors of different-colored marble; and never-ending frescoes. If the viewing balcony around the dome is open, it's well worth a climb for the view of the city and of the cathedral from on high. However, ticket prices for this activity are rising at an alarming pace. Allow an hour, more if you visit the balcony.