Empress Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine I who decided to become a nun after she banned to take the throne, but after the royal guards’ coup against Ivan VI, she accepted the crown. However, she didn’t forget the religion and decided to establish the largest nunnery and grand school for girls in Russia. She commanded to build the place that later becomes the Smolny Convent.
Smolny Convent locates on Ploschad Rastrelli at the bank of Neva River. The Convent’s name comes after a place nearby in which they prepared the pitch for shipbuilding. The word Smola means Pitch in Russian, and the Smolny means the place of the pitch.
Empress Elizabeth selected the famous Italian architect, Francesco Rastrelli for the project. Rastrelli who got the Winter Palace’s reconstruction, the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo, and the grand palace in Peterhof in his resume was the valid option for the job at that moment. He decided to follow the Baroque architecture in his design and started the construction in 1748. There was a bell-tower in his design that meant to be the tallest structure in St. Petersburg and outranked the St. Peter and Paul cathedral’s bell tower which was the tallest structure in St. Petersburg at the time. Following the death of Empress Elizabeth in 1762, the project temporary suspended.
Catherine the Great who was the successor the crown after Empress Elizabeth didn’t fancy the Baroque architecture at all therefore after the construction of the cathedral finished, she dismissed Rastrelli before he got the chance to complete his grand design. He left the country without completing the interior design and the bell-tower.
The incomplete convent left abandoned until the 1830s when Nicholas I appointed Vasily Stasov to complete the cathedral. He reconstructed the cathedral with Neoclassical interior, and a small bell-tower aside it. He attached a half-circle fence in front of the cathedral and completed it by adding the white marble and blue paint to its exterior in 1835. There were lots of icons utilized to decorate the interior including the famous Resurrection of Christ by Alexander Venetsianov.
Like many other religious sites during the Soviet era, The Smolny Convent was looted and closed in 1922. The cathedral left to be slowly demolished until 1972 when all the icons and paintings were taken out of it, and the cathedral turned to city museum in which they held some exhibitions until the building changed into a concert hall in 1982.
The city administrator returned the convent to the Orthodox Church in 2015 to change it back to its original purpose as a church, but the classic concerts still held there sometimes.
The Smolny complex which house the departments of political science, sociology, and international relations of the St. Petersburg University is one of the latest and finest works of Francesco Rastrelli in Russia. The Smolny Cathedral which is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in St. Petersburg is quite significant in the city. You can observe its richness from various places in St. Petersburg including the Neva River boat tour. The beauty of this place can be one of the highlights of your travel to Saint Petersburg and your Russia tour overall. It can easily include in any St. Petersburg tour plan because of its astonishing exterior, fascinating icons, and charming interior.