Russian influence at its peak. The St Sophia church is one of the last few remaining Russian structures left in Harbin. We learnt how another Russian church was tragically destroyed during the Communist regime - as the church was completely hewn without nails and bolts, some really "intelligent" bloke only needed to remove some beams which were the core structural support and the entire building collapsed on its own accord.
I digress, the green dome and bricked walls of the church is starkly different from the architectural style of Chinese buildings. Especially the shade of green - Chinese buildings generally preferred a brighter shade of green. Hence, the church would stand out like a sore thumb if it was in another typical Chinese city, but in Harbin, it gels nicely since the majority of the city retained a large proportion of Russian style buildings.
The square in front of the church also resembles more of European squares or plazas, than those in Chinese cities.
St Sophia's in Harbin is an imposing building and is the principal, but certainly not the only, example of Russian architecture in the city. Inside has not been fully restored but is still well worth a visit. The interior is now a museum and has some very interesting exhibits. I was most interested in the old photographs of Harbin about 100 years ago.
Take the opportunities to admire and photograph the exterior of this beautiful church. Although the antics of tourists scrambling for a spot at the main door entrance to have their photograph taken seemed to be the order of the day, I was immersed in people (or pigeon) watching against the backdrop of this interesting architecture. I visited it in the day and happened to pass it again in the night. I must say I liked the night views better as it was calmer and quieter compared to the daytime.
I believe the St. Sophia Church was built around the turn of the century by the Russians, who rebuilt it soon after. Whatever the case, today it is used as a museum. It's lit up at night, and in the square that surrounds it on three sides, there are often concerts and events, some using the church as a backdrop. It may be the largest church in the far east, but it still retains much Russian style and sees mostly non-religious use, though there is at times music blaring from somewhere around it that is not quite religious, but nice to listen to, anyway.
Built in 1907, the Russian Orthodox St. Sophia Church costs 10 RMB to enter, no student price. There's a combination ticket for 20 RMB IIRC which includes admission into another place of worship somewhere else, but don't remember where or what it is.
Inside the church there's an exhibition about Harbin's architectural history.
This massive Russian Orthodox cathedral is located a little off the Old Russian neighborhood. But it's worth the unpleasant walk. Plan to visit around dusk, to enjoy the daytime, and then the illuminations.
Saint Sophia is not active for worship. Inside you will find a small museum of interest if you care about urban history.
Outside, you will admire the pigeons, like in Venice!
St. Sophia Church is the biggest Orthodox Church in the Far East regions. It was built in Mar. 1907 originally and the new one, rebuilt in Nov. 1996. It is Byzantine, magnificent and glorious, fully 53.35m in height, listed as a national culture relic.
Outside, the square has been beautified. This process includes putting in fake trees with garish orange leaves, because the natural beauty of indigenous trees is rarely sufficient in China.
To the south, some graceful old buildings look rather forlorn - but splendid still - while on the other side, high volume music pumps out of glass-fronted stores. Ambience is not China's strong point.
Just behind the former church, is a very good exhibition on Harbin's current and future development (reviewed separately). It's included in the price of entry to St Sophia's, but you are only allowed in each place once. Those are the rules. Rules cannot be broken, because otherwise the sky will fall in.
There are some very good Eastern Orthodox websites that provide fascinating, and very touching vignettes of the lives of Orthodox priests and parishioners in Harbin (and elsewhere in the Russian Far East):
Orthodoxy in China
Some early history about the Orthodox Church in the Far East, including Harbin.
There is also a rather unhelpful Chinese website about St Sophia's.
Inaccurately referred to as a cathedral and technically even as a church, St Sophia's is Harbin's most famous building. It never was a cathedral and it has been deconsecrated for a long time; it is now merely a museum of Harbin's history with a few religious artefacts of dubious provenance at the back.
The church is in good condition externally, but the state of the inside walls higher up suggests that refurbishment funds go on the froth and the paint.
St Sophia's Church was built originally in 1907 as a wooden chapel for the Tsars 4th Siberian Infantry Division who were based in Harbin to protect the city and, more importantly the railway and associated mines and industry, from attacks by anyone. In 1912, a brick casing was built around the wooden chapel, and then in 1923 work started on a much larger building. It took nine years to complete, and was a fitting symbol of Tsarist Russia, which, of course, had long disappeared by then. The exiled Russian community devoted itself to investing in their Harbin safe haven, and there were many Eastern Orthodox churches built in Harbin. Only a few survive now, and only one (on Dongdazhie Jie) continues to function as a church.
St Sophia's is just a skeleton now, the skin taught on a hollow shell. The exhibition of old Harbin photographs inside (no English or foreign captions) is interesting, but it remains cold, proof that churches are not about buildings or architecture, but about people.
The apse has some really crude, gaudy paintings and frescos, and the shop sells tacky 'Christian souvenirs': about as tasteless as it gets, considering that many tens of thousands of Harbin Russian exiles eventually were transported back to torture and death in Siberian Gulags after the Soviet 'liberation' in 1945.
Since Harbin had been ruled by both China & Russia, there are many russian architecture in the city. It is said that Sofia Church is the biggest eastern orthodox church in the far East.
This chruch was built in 1907 in byzantine way. lts area is 721m*m with 53.35 hight.
Near the chruch, there is a museum which shows the model of Harbin. Personally, l do recommand this museum.
It has been chosen National AAA tourist spot.
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