Smolny Convent

Saint Petersburg / Russia

Smolny Convent is one of the most beautiful sights in St.Petersburg. It’s a convent which in practice never was a convent. It’s a generally recognized architectural masterpiece but the grandiose plan of the architect who is responsible for this masterpiece was never implemented in full.

The name Smolny (tar in Russian) appeared long before the convent was built. In Peter I’s times tar there was a tar plant on the locale.

Peter I’s daughter Empress Elizabeth wanted to have a convent built on this site, which got the name Smolny convent. A legend says that the Empress who was a beautiful woman and religiously devout intended to become a nun and had the convent built for herself. Whether it was because she failed to change her myriad of beautiful dresses for a black monastic robe or because she died before fulfilling her plan is unknown but in either event she never entered monastic life, and the construction of the convent was never completed.

The complex of convent buildings was designed by Elizabeth’s favourite architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli in the Russian Baroque style. Rastrelli’s design also included a tall bell-tower, which would have been the architectural focal point. However, due to shortage of funds the bell-tower was never built.

Catherine II used convent buildings to accommodate the School for Noble Maidens. However, it appeared that cells built for nuns were not fully convenient for girls from noble families, and convent buildings didn’t have enough classrooms. For this reason a separate building was soon constructed for the school nearby, which is known as Smolny Institute.

After the Revolution, buildings of the Smolny convent housed different institutions, among them departments of St.Petersburg State University.

At present, the Smolny Convent Cathedral is a functioning church and open for visits. You can climb to the bell cot if you offer a donation.