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Smolny Cathedral

Smolny Cathedral was originally intended to be the central church of a monastery, built to house the daughter of Peter the Great, Elizabeth, after she was disallowed to take the throne and opted instead to become a nun. However, as soon as her Imperial predecessor was overthrown during a coup, carried out by the royal guards, Elizabeth decided to forget the whole idea of a stern monastic life and happily accepted the offer of the Russian throne.

If baroque is your thing, then look no further than the sky-blue Smolny Cathedral, an unrivalled masterpiece of the genre that ranks among Bartolomeo Rastrelli’s most amazing creations. The cathedral is the centrepiece of a convent mostly built to Rastrelli’s designs between 1748 and 1757. His inspiration was to combine baroque details with the forest of towers and onion domes typical of an old Russian monastery. You'll get a fascinating perspective over the church and city beyond from the 63m-high belltower.

There’s special genius in the proportions of the cathedral (it gives the impression of soaring upwards), to which the convent buildings are a perfect foil. In stark contrast, the interior is a rather austere plain white as Rastrelli fell from favour before he was able to begin work on it. Recent years, however, have seen ongoing restoration and the transformation of the cathedral (used as a concert hall and exhibition space) back into a working church.