The Smolny Cathedral

The Smolny Cathedral is often called one of St. Petersburg's most beautiful churches. It was built at the behest of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna, one of Peter the Great's daughters and successors. The joyous and festive spirit behind the building is clear to see.

Fascinating Facts

  • Despite being built during the Baroque period, there are several important departures from that style. The gold-leaf embossed columns are capped with Corinthian capitals.
  • Baroque architecture in Italy is characterised by always having one theatrical facade - whereas here at the Smolny, all the facades are equally ceremonial. The main adornment of the interior decoration is its white colonnade.
  • The building of the cathedral remained incomplete when its architect, Rastrelli, died. The project was completed by a different architect, Stasov.


The palace of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna was located not far from the Smolny Cathedral. She spent the years of her youth there, and soon developed a desire to found a convent, which would also house an institute for young ladies to study – as well as a bell-tower.

Her choice of architect for the project was the foremost Italian working in Russia at the time, Bartolomeo Rastrelli, and the project began to take shape from 1751 onwards. The Empress didn't stint any funds for the project, and so it proceeded rapidly. However, the events of the Seven Years’ War began in 1757, and sapped the ready budgets which were available at the outset – causing backlogs with the deadlines. When the Empress herself died, the work came to a temporary standstill.

It was only in the 1820s that work was resumed, on the orders of Emperor Nicholas I. Vassily Stasov took over as lead architect. The cathedral was finally consecrated in 1835.

Along with the work of finishing the building itself, Stasov also took in hand the beautification of the surrounding grounds. He arranged for new roads to lead to the cathedral, and a square to be laid out in front of it.

What to see

  • The interior decoration of the cathedral. The decorations make use of stucco, wrought-iron work, the capital columns, and the rich ornamentation of the dome. The cathedral has a capacity of 6000 worshippers, and its sheer scale alone astounds our imagination.
  • The richly-decorated ikonostatis, or ikon-screen, and the crystal balustrade around the altar.
  • The majestic columns were conceived as the entrance-way to the cathedral convent, and are an example of Russian classicism.

Guided Tour to the Smolny Cathedral

You can book a tour in English on our website.

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