Fairytale spires and turrets topped with sugar-iced domes: It can only be St Petersburg. The city’s eclectic architecture veers giddily from frothy Baroque edifices to neoclassical grandeur. And the city’s unique aesthetics don’t end with its exteriors. Venture into its iconic cathedrals and palaces to be dazzled by gold-encrusted, jewel-coloured frescos. A glance upwards reaps spectacular rewards, with kaleidoscopic fractals and gilt-edged mandalas illuminating St Petersburg’s ceilings. Here’s where to look up while sightseeing in St Petersburg.
Its gleaming onion domes and decorative façade are iconic of St Petersburg, but enter the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood’s ornate doors for the real show-stopper. More than 7,500 glittering mosaics adorn the church’s walls and ceilings, to the designs of Russian revivalist Viktor Vasnetsov and Symbolists Mikhail Nesterov and Mikhail Vrubel. Discover an intriguing marriage of modernist and Byzantine styles throughout, completed in a riot of highly saturated colour.
A vast mint green icon, along the banks of the Neva River, The State Hermitage Museum is home to three million artefacts and the largest collection of paintings in the world. But tear yourself away from the fascinating ancient Egyptian talismans and 18th-century Russian porcelain and you’ll discover equally enthralling sights within the fabric of the building. The ceiling of each gallery is adorned with incredible detail; discover extraordinary Renaissance-style frescoes in one room, beautiful Russian folk art in another, and yet another encrusted in gold flourishes. The ceilings in St Petersburg’s former Winter Palace certainly rival the extraordinary artefacts housed beneath them.
The world’s largest Russian Orthodox cathedral, St Isaac’s flexes its muscles as one of the finest examples of the faith’s florid aesthetics. The current incarnation was erected over a span of 40 years, and was completed in 1858. The interior is clad in multicoloured marble and granite, with columns of malachite and lapis lazuli. But the star of the show is St Petersburg’s most impressive ceiling. Decorated with the skilled compositions of the great Russian master Karl Bryullov and his contemporaries, it’s mosaiced in exquisite detail. Beneath the dome, which is plated in pure gold, is a suspended stark sculpture of a white dove – representing the holy spirit.
Host to the more erudite of St Petersburg’s theatrical productions, the Mariinsky Theatre offers a compelling line-up of events that veer from epic operas and romantic ballets to skilled concertos. A visit here is rewarded not only with some of Russia’s best musical talent, but also the city’s most opulent interiors, including, of course, an exquisitely frescoed and gold-detailed ceiling. The venue’s history is steep: It was opened as the Bolshoi Stone Theatre in 1783 but, following numerous fires and renovations, has emerged as the prestigious destination it is today.
Once you’ve admired the gold-dipped bell tower – the world’s tallest at 123m – step into the beautifully lit Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral. Even the most agnostic visitor will be impressed by the sense of religious splendour that infuses these interiors. Vivid trompe-l’œil frescoes raise the vaulted ceilings to dizzy heights, with trumpeting angels and chubby cherubim gazing down at the glittering chandeliers hung below them. If Peter Carl Fabergé were to design a cathedral along the lines of his coveted eggs, this would be it.
Murder, intrigue, crime and punishment… St Petersburg has it all. Those fascinated by the more ghoulish side of history will love these significant spots from fiction, and real life.