The State Museum St Isaac’s Cathedral –
The Museum Complex
St Isaac’s Cathedral
Building History

Former St Isaac’s churches


The first St Isaac’s temple was erected in 1707 by the order of Peter I in honor of the venerable St Isaac the Dalmatian, the patron saint of the tsar. It was rebuilt from the drawing barn located adjacent to the Admiralty. And the wedding ceremony of Emperor Peter I and Empress Ekaterina Alexeevna took place in this temple.


The second stone cathedral was erected by the architect G.I. Mattarnovi on the waterfront of the Neva River.


The construction of the third church began during the reign of Catherine II according to the design of Antonio Rinaldi, and was completed in a simplified version by V.Brenna under Paul I. The church appeared out of place in the grand surroundings of the Northern capital and the Emperor Alexander I had announced a competition for the best design to rebuild it. Many celebrated architects of the time had applied, but they failed to fulfill the tsar’s main wish – to retain the altar of the old church inside the new one in order to commemorate the great ancestors.  Finally the tsar had entrusted the task to a young French architect Auguste Montferrand. His design had received the royal approval.



The Fourth St Isaac’s Cathedral


The grand structure conceived by Montferrand required a reliable solid foundation. So the pine piles were driven into the foundation site, and after granite slabs and quarry stones were placed on top of them.


The Cathedral’s four facades are decorated with porticos of monolithic granite columns which were quarried at Pyuterlaks, and then transported on barges by water to the building site. The installation of the columns caused admiration among the public – they were raised manually by the means of the wooden scaffolding. In the same way, the columns of the domed drum were brought up from the ground level to a height of 43 meters.


The construction of St Isaac’s lasted for four decades and provided a testing ground for new technologies, many of which were employed for the first time. These include: the railway, the light metal dome, and an extensive use of galvanoplastic technique for the interior decoration.


The consecration ceremony and the opening of the Cathedral had taken place on May 30, 1858, in the presence of the Emperor Alexander II, the members of the royal family and the choir of 1,200 singers. St Isaac’s became the principal cathedral church of Russia.