The Smolny Cathedral is a magnificent building far away from the great tourist flows, offering an amazing view over the city.
Considered one of the most beautiful churches in all of Russia, The Smolny Cathedral's elegant powder blue and white exterior radiates the era of the Romanov Dynasty and is the last of Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli's great architectural gems built for Peter the Great's daughter, Elizabeth Petrovna.
The Cathedral bears the name of the site it is situated at - Smolyanoy Dvor, which means the "tar yard". The tar for the shipyards of the growing and developing Saint Petersburg was prepared there. In the year of 1723 the tar yard moved to another place and in 1744 Queen Elizabeth who was reigning at the moment, ordered to start a convent.
The works began in 1748, and the Russian cathedral was nearly finished in 1764, when the construction of the rest of the ensemble began. Rastrelli succeeded to mix the Russian traditions with new techniques and trends in architecture. The square in front of the convent bears his name. The inner decor was completed by Vasily Stasov in 1832-1835, because it was not possible to do that early.
The blue baroque cathedral's interior is simplistic compared to the opulent churches
of St. Petersburg, with its marble columns framing a white and gold
iconostasis and candles flickering beneath holy portraits framed in
gold. Visitors describe the atmosphere as serene and soothing. They also
encourage others to take the 277 steps up to the bell tower to enjoy a
fabulous view of the surrounding scenery and the city.
Located northeast of downtown St. Petersburg on the banks of the Neva River, The Smolny Cathedral is removed from the city center and main attractions. In the quiet setting apart from city crowds, this cathedral's atmosphere of tranquility and beauty sets its apart as well.
The bright blue and white baroque style of Smolny Cathedral certainly stands out along the Neva embankment, and the view over the city from the cathedral is worth the climb to the top of one of the bell-towers. Click on the link below to learn more.
The Smolny Cathedral (93.7 metres high) is a little off the beaten path from many attractions in St. Petersburg, but it can be an interesting addition to your visit, if you have time to spare.
Inside the Cathedral you can admire the White and Gold Iconostasis as well as beautiful Russian portraits and a small photographic exhibition about the history of the church. The interior is not as much as luxury as other cathedrals in the city but the exhibition on display are worthy. From the outside you can enjoy the stunning Ukranian baroque style together with its Blue Domes and the famous Bell Tower, which you can reach by climbing 277 steps.
Nearby the cathedral you can also explore Lenin's Memorial Apartment which has been preserved as a museum, and see the once monastery built for the ladies.
Today Smolny Cathedral is an active Russian Orthodox Church and is used primarily as a concert hall (you can enjoy the concerts of classic music here), and the surrounding convent houses various offices and government institutions.
In the 1750s and 1760s, at the same time as the cathedral, two storey blocks were put up around it enclosing the convent territory with four small churches placed at their inset corners. The blocks contained the nuns cells and convent facilities, as well as a school for noble girls that was established by Catherine the Great in 1764.
Known as a bright, outgoing woman, Elizabeth had a passion for social life, fashion and entertaining. However, when it was thought that she would not inherit the throne, she made plans to join the nunnery and retire at a monastery, so Rastrelli designed a baroque church with classic towers and domes to honor traditional Russian monasteries of the times. But in 1741, when her predecessor was overthrown by the royal guards in a coup, Elizabeth claimed the crown of Russia and her plans for life in the convent came to an end.
Empress Elizabeth died in 1762 and in 1764, the monastery opened as The Institute for Noble Maidens, Russia's first school for girls of noble ancestry. Founded by Ivan Betskoy, Catherine the Great's adviser on education, it was eventually renamed The Smolny Institute and became St. Petersburg's most prestigious school for women. Catherine was not only a benefactress of the institute, she was known for personally attending student's final exams.
During the October Revolution of 1917, it became Soviet headquarters and the place where Vladimir Lenin proclaimed Bolshevik victory. The Soviet government was established here and Lenin and his wife also lived here until they relocated everything to Moscow in 1918. It was closed in 1923, then pillaged and left to decay until 1982. Now restored, the cathedral serves as a concert hall and the monastery buildings are used for private and government offices.
The area of The Smolny Cathedral is poorly served by the metro and does not have a lot of public transportation options. Some say the walk is too long and it's easier to grab a cab. That said, to get there you can walk 20 minute from Chernyshevskaya metro station, take the the electric buses number 5, 11, 15 and 22, or take the bus line number 46 from The Summer Garden (Lebyazh'ya Kanavki).
The entrance to the Cathedral is free, but if you want to climb the bell tower, a ticket is necessary, and it costs around 50-15Rubles. While if you want to watch the concerts the price range is 200-270Rubles per ticket to buy on the spot.