Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Tallinn, Estonia | C.1900

Photo Credit: George Xypolitos

An example of Tsarist Russian orthodoxy and opulence at its pinnacle, this church (Tallinn’s largest cathedral) reaches new heights of aesthetic wonder. Rising confidently from a peak vantage point, five black cupolas topped with gilded iron crosses tower over the city, with the whole structure resting on the limestone Toompea hill, neighboring the Estonian Parliament. From inside these towers an ensemble of eleven church bells were raised, requiring the might of 500 soldiers–as the largest bell among them weighs over 16 tons. When they ring in unison, it’s often called, “Scripture in Sound.”

Built when Estonia was part of the Russian Empire, the Nevsky cathedral was constructed in the Russian Revival style. The design was as artful as the location was strategic: with prime hilltop placement to establish and symbolize utter dominance during the Russification of the entire city at the time.

For that reason, many Estonians harbored resentment toward the Cathedral, and even campaigned to see this commanding symbol of oppression demolished. Such efforts were never actualized, though the Cathedral went through long stretches of neglect, given the USSR’s lack of religious affiliation.

The stunning beauty of Tallin’s landmark church eventually dominated over any lingering resentment. In 1991, when Estonia reclaimed its freedom, it also embraced its city’s high points. Their bulbous Nevsky Cathedral has since been carefully restored and revitalized, and the Scripture in Sound continues to ring throughout the capital, each toll ensuring that the soldiers’ collective heaves were not in vain.

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