Located in the heart of St. Petersburg, the Kazan Cathedral overlooks Nevsky Prospect, the most central street of the city. The Cathedral’s proximity to the colorful Church of the Spilt Blood means it is often overlooked by visitors to the city, but this Orthodox Cathedral is a must-see. It is one of the most important historical and architectural sites of St. Petersburg, and its stunningly beautiful exterior and uniquely detailed interior make it a worthwhile visit for any traveler.
The Kazan Cathedral was built between 1801 and 1811. It was designed by Andrey Voronikhin to replace a small decrepit church devoted to the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. The Cathedral was built to house a copy of an icon of Our Lady of Kazan.
Emperor Paul I wanted the Kazan Cathedral to resemble St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. He dreamed that St. Petersburg would become a northern Rome; a powerful religious center, with the Kazan Cathedral at its core. The grandeur of the cathedral is symbolic of the greatness of St. Petersburg at this time as the capital city and the home of great emperors, architects, and artists.
When Napoleon’s army invaded Russia in 1812, the commander-in-chief of the Russian army, Mikhail Kutuzov, asked Our Lady of Kazan for help. The Cathedral became a memorial to the Russian victory against Napoleon.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 and the creation of the Soviet Union led to the decline of all Russian religious buildings. The Kazan Cathedral was closed in 1932, and re-opened as a “Museum of Religion and Atheism.” The Cathedral fell into disrepair and all religious treasures were removed.
The Cathedral is one of the most significant political and architectural structures of St. Petersburg because it did not use imports: the architect, the workers, and all materials used were strict of Russian origin.
The Cathedral’s stunning façade — made up of 96 columns in a wide semicircle opening onto a stately garden - is actually the rear of the Cathedral, because the altar of an Orthodox church has to face east.
Two pedestals on either side of the colonnade stand empty today. They were meant to display two angel statues, but these were never built because the building committee disagreed on the best sculptor for the job.
After the fall of Communism, many Russian churches were restored as religion became accepted again.
The interior and exterior of the Kazan Cathedral were restored from 1950-1968. Religious services were resumed in 1991. The famous icon of Our Lady of Kazan was returned to the Cathedral in 2002.
Visiting the Cathedral
Things to notice:
- The Bas-Reliefs in the Exterior. Take a moment to admire the beautiful, detailed statues in the Cathedral's façade.
- The Floor and Ceiling. The floor is covered in detailed mosaic. The ceiling has striking frescoes and decorations. Pay special attention to the dome -- which is 71.6 meters tall and 17 meters in diameter -- and the figures painted around it.
- The Art on the Walls. The Cathedral houses a stunning collection of paintings, including a haunting portrayal of Jesus struggling under the weight of the cross and a uniquely bright and evocative image of Christ instead of a more traditional statue.
The Kazan Cathedral is located on Nevsky Prospect 2, Kazanskaya Square. Take the Metro to M. Nevsky Prospekt. Go online to see its admission hours.
Tips for Visitors
- Women should cover their hair while inside the Kazan Cathedral. While not strictly required, the locals inside the Cathedral tend to be strictly Orthodox and will feel uncomfortable about women who have not covered their heads. Simply put a scarf over your hair, or wear a hat or a hood.
- You will be allowed to enter the Cathedral during a service, but it is considered rude to take photos while a service is in session.