The Church of Saint Nicholas was built between 1704-1755 on the site where formerly a Gothic church from the 13th century stood. It has been described as the most impressive example of Prague Baroque.
In the second half of the 17th century the Jesuits decided to build a new church designed by Giovanni Domenico Orsi. A partial impression of the original planned appearance of the church at the time the Jesuits chose the initial plans by Giovanni Domenico Orsi in 1673 and laid the foundation stone is provided by the Chapel of St Barbara, which was built first so that mass could be celebrated. The church was built in two stages during the 18th century. From 1703 till 1711 the west façade, the choir, the Chapels of St Barbara and St Anne were built.
The new plans involved an intricate geometrical system of interconnected cylinders with a central dome above the transept. The massive nave with side chapels and an undulating vault based on a system of intersecting ellipsoids was apparently built by Christoph Dientzenhofer. The pillars between the wide spans of the arcade supporting the triforium were meant to maximize the dynamic effect of the church. The chancel and its characteristic copper cupola were built in 1737-1752, this time using plans by Christoph's son, Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer.
In 1752, after the death Dientzehofer in 1751, the construction of the church tower was completed. During the years the church continued to expand its interior beauty. Following the abolition of the Jesuit Order by Pope Clement XIV, St Nicholas became the main parish church of the Lesser Town in 1775.
During the communist era the church tower was used as an observatory for State Security since from the tower it was possible to keep watch on the American and Yugoslav embassies respectively and the access route to the West German embassy.
The church excels not only in the architecture, but also in the decoration, mainly with the frescos by Jan Lukas Kracker and a fresco inside the 70 m high dome by František Xaver Palko. The interior is further decorated with sculptures by František Ignác Platzer. The Baroque organ has over 4,000 pipes up to six metres in length and was played by Mozart in 1787. Mozart's spectacular masterpiece, Mass in C, was first performed in the Church of Saint Nicholas shortly after his visit.
The 79 m tall belfry is directly connected with the church’s massive dome. The belfry with great panoramic view, was unlike the church completed in Rococo forms in 1751-1756 by Anselmo Lurago.References:
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of the main sights of St. Petersburg. The church was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated and was dedicated in his memory. Construction began in 1883 under Alexander III, as a memorial to his father, Alexander II. Work progressed slowly and was finally completed during the reign of Nicholas II in 1907. Funding was provided by the Imperial family with the support of many private donors.
Architecturally, the Cathedral differs from St. Petersburg's other structures. The city's architecture is predominantly Baroque and Neoclassical, but the Savior on Blood harks back to medieval Russian architecture in the spirit of romantic nationalism. It intentionally resembles the 17th-century Yaroslavl churches and the celebrated St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.
The Church contains over 7500 square metres of mosaics — according to its restorers, more than any other church in the world. The interior was designed by some of the most celebrated Russian artists of the day — including Viktor Vasnetsov, Mikhail Nesterov and Mikhail Vrubel — but the church's chief architect, Alfred Alexandrovich Parland, was relatively little-known (born in St. Petersburg in 1842 in a Baltic-German Lutheran family). Perhaps not surprisingly, the Church's construction ran well over budget, having been estimated at 3.6 million roubles but ending up costing over 4.6 million. The walls and ceilings inside the Church are completely covered in intricately detailed mosaics — the main pictures being biblical scenes or figures — but with very fine patterned borders setting off each picture.
In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the church was ransacked and looted, badly damaging its interior. The Soviet government closed the church in the early 1930s. During the Second World War when many people were starving due to the Siege of Leningrad by Nazi German military forces, the church was used as a temporary morgue for those who died in combat and from starvation and illness. The church suffered significant damage. After the war, it was used as a warehouse for vegetables, leading to the sardonic name of Saviour on Potatoes.
In July 1970, management of the Church passed to Saint Isaac's Cathedral (then used as a highly profitable museum) and proceeds from the Cathedral were funneled back into restoring the Church. It was reopened in August 1997, after 27 years of restoration, but has not been reconsecrated and does not function as a full-time place of worship; it is a Museum of Mosaics. Even before the Revolution it never functioned as a public place of worship; having been dedicated exclusively to the memory of the assassinated tsar, the only services were panikhidas (memorial services). The Church is now one of the main tourist attractions in St. Petersburg.