i've been longing to see this type of structure because of the famous St Basil church in Moscow. so i didn't have second thoughts. immediately decided to make Harbin as my side trip to Beijing. it was initially Mongolia but then train trips to Ulanbataar from Beijing was just twice a week.
the next day after i arrived in Harbin, i got myself a map from the hostel and walked my way to St Sophia. felt the early morning breeze but still hoped that it would snow. it has been two weeks according to the daily weather that the city had no snowfall despite it was still on a month of February.
good thing the hostel where i stayed is part of Daoli, Harbin's central district, where the church is also located. it just took me 15minutes to reach the square. there were many beautiful colonial structures along the way but when i saw the church, i was awed by its scale.
i have always been fascinated at huge brick structures but it was the church dark green cupola and the multiple golden cross that made it even more striking. being in the center of the open square, it was just imposing. it somehow made me feel like i was in Russia.
thru the years when a large community of Russians occupied Harbin, other minority groups from Ukraine, Germany, Israel and Denmark also established structures and churches in the city. but what remained today as iconic structures were predominantly Orthodox.
sad though that like the church of St Basil in Moscow, this church is already a museum. contrary to my thought that it still is a church. but let's look at some of the similarities and the differences of the two churches:
St Basil Church (Moscow, Russia)
Date built: 1561
Location: Red Square
Number of domes: 9
Number of spires: 2
Floor layout: Irregular
St Sophia Church (Harbin, China)
Date Built: 1907
Location: Harbin Square
Number of domes: 1
Number of spires: 5
Floor layout: typical cross-shaped orthodox style
it may not be as old as St Basil Church, its history as a spiritual symbol to the Russians who lived in the city, makes it the most iconic structure in Harbin. the church was closed in 1959 and was a warehouse for certain years. only in 1996 when it was decided to be re-opened as a museum of architectural heritage.
there was not much to see inside except for old photos and a miniature set of the old city and the church. but then i was more interested in the interior structure itself more than the photo exhibit. the rustic pillars and the high dome ceilings was beautiful.temperature that day was ranging from -5C to 0C. so i stayed inside the museum to about 20minutes for the heat. checked out some souvenirs and bought post cards before i went out. not knowing that outside the church it started to snow.
the entire time i thought i will leave the place without experiencing snow fall. it made St Sophia Church even more majestic. quite a great chance to have captured the church without and with snow on one day.
church: from 1907-1958
closed: from 1959-1996
museum: from 1997 to present
built by Russians as a spiritual symbol
re-opened by China as a museum
St Sophia Cathedral-Museum
Harbin Square - Toulong St corner Zhaolin St
short walk from Harbin's famous Zhongyangdajie
for more updated information:
Website: St Sophia Church
how to get there:
most major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Guangzhou have regular direct flights to Harbin.
Trains Schedule Beijing to Harbin
Train D29 - Beijing ETD 7:00am ETA 3:00pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train D25 - Beijing ETD 10:00am ETA 6:00pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train D101 - Beijing ETD 1:50pm ETA 9:50pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train D27 - Beijing ETD 3:15pm ETA 11:15pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train T157 - Beijing ETD 6:18am ETA 5:00pm (Estimated trip length: 10hrs)
Train K339 - Beijing ETD 11:00am ETA 2:40pm (Estimated trip length: 15hrs)
Train K297 - Beijing ETD 12:00nn ETA 2:00am (Estimated trip length: 15hrs)
Train T39 - Beijing ETD 1:45pm ETA 4:45am (Estimated trip length: 15hrs)
Train K2265 - Beijing ETD 1:57pm ETA 8:30am (Estimated trip length: 18hrs)
Train T47 - Beijing ETD 6:57pm ETA 6:20am (Estimated trip length: 11hrs)
Train K1082 - Beijing ETD 8:43pm ETA 4:04pm (Estimated trip length: 19hrs)
Train T17 - Beijing ETD 9:23am ETA 8:30pm (Estimated trip length: 11hrs)
Train K19 - Beijing ETD 11:00pm ETA 3:04pm (Estimated trip length: 16hrs)
Trains from Beijing to Harbin will be from Beijing South Railway Station (Kaiyang Rd Cor Nanzhan Xingfu Rd)
Train length varies depending on the train speed and the number of stopovers.