Saint Sophia Cathedral or St Sophia Cathedral, located in the Sophia Square of Harbin, is the largest Eastern Orthodox church in the far east with more than 112 year’s history. It is also the most finely protected Byzantine architecture in China. Although it is no longer served as a church but Harbin Architecture Art Gallery, it still attracts many visitors with its beautiful exotic architecture.
While the main dome and bell tower are the traditional "green onion head" tent roofs of Russia, and the walls are all made of red bricks, Saint Sophia Cathedral is a highly unusual looking building to non-Russians. The 53.3-metre-high cathedral covers an area of 721 square meters and is the perfect example of Neo-Byzantine architecture. Under the bright sun, the church and the square look like Moscow’s Red Square. The view of St. Sophia Cathedral during the day and at night are two different kinds of beauty. As night falls and lights begin to shine, St. Sophia's Church appears to be covered with a mysterious veil, presenting a fantastic picture.
Saint Sophia Cathedral was firstly built in 1907 after the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1903, which connected Vladivostok to northeast China. The Russian 4th Infantry Division arrived in this region just after Russia's loss to the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese War (1904~1905). St. Sophia Cathedral was then built and completed of timber in March, 1907 as part of a plan to improve the morale of the army by building an imposing spiritual symbol.
Then, the Russian rebuilt it using masonry and timber four years later. The onset of a second reconstruction by Russian was marked on September 27th, 1923, and a ceremony was held to celebrate laying the corner stone. It was completed on November 25th, 1932, after nine years, and was hailed as a monumental work of art.
In November, 1996, it was listed as one of the Key Cultural Relics under State Protection. In the next year, it was repaired and renamed as Harbin Architecture Art Gallery by the Harbin City government. Locals and tourists still prefer to call it "Sophia Cathedral". It is a respectable landmark for Harbiners and for tourism.
In 2016, Harbin’s Orthodox Cathedral of St Sophia has been included in the first edition of the 20th century Chinese architectural heritage list along with 97 other sites. Experts say that the reason for this list is that these monuments witnessed Chinese history in the 20th century, representing the historical context of China’s social development and architecture in the last century.
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As the perfect example of Neo-Byzantine architecture, the exterior of Saint Sophia Cathedral is so magnificent that attracts millions of visitors from all over the world. The main structure is laid out like a cross with the main hall topped with a huge green tipped dome. The walls are all made of red bricks laden with history. Night and day give the building totally different views, and you could choose to visit the church at dusk. Then you could enjoy different beauty of it at once.
The white doves living in the Sophia Square, and large musical fountains in front of the cathedral are the best places to take wedding pictures. Many locals or people from other places would like to do this here.
This cathedral houses Harbin Architecture Art Gallery, and inside of which you could see exhibitions of many photographs from old time. These old pictures tell you the history of Harbin. Meanwhile, there are also pictures of the present and the future of Harbin, by which you could know more about Harbin.
There is also a world-famous mural on the main dome of the church - "Last Supper". Although the mural is a little mottled due to the passage of time, the characters in the mural are delicately and vividly portrayed with panic, anger, suspicion, whitening, gestures, eyes and actions.
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The entrance ticket for Saint Sophia Cathedral is ¥15/person, and it's free if you don't enter the church. It usually opens from 8:30 to 17:00 every day. However, if you just want to take photos from the outside, then you can go to visit it at any time.
Saint Sophia Cathedral is located at the Toulong Street of Daoli District in Harbin. It is near the Zhaolin Street Bus Station, so you could easily take the Bus No.1/No.13/No.42/No.61/No.85/No.113/No.130/No.131/No.133 first, and then walk for about 400 meters to arrive at the church.
Reputed as "Ice City", Harbin is well-known for its ice and snow, especially the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. So, how to plan a Harbin tour? Most travellers choose to visit Harbin during this festival, so they can catch many highlights of Harbin. Most of them may stay 3 days to explore the city's beauty. They may go to visit the world’s largest ice and snow theme park - Harbin Ice and Snow World, appreciate the Ice Lantern Garden Party in Zhaolin Park, wander along the Central Street to find old European-style buildings, take photo of the magnificent Saint Sophia Cathedral and so on.
Some travellesrs may stay 2 days more to get to the hot destinations around Harbin city, the most popular 2 choices among which are China Snow Town and Yabuli Ski Resort. The former one is the No.1 snow town in China, where you could see snow up to 2 meters. The later one is the largest ski resort in China, where you could ski with the most professional equipment.
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