Sitka, Alaska, is both remote and accessible. It’s a city of 9,000 people without an exit in the form of a road that takes them into Alaska. To go into Alaska locals must use the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system. Sitka is not on the Inside Passage but on the Pacific Ocean. A nearby volcano, Mount Edgecumbe, erupted on April Fool’s Day in 1974, scaring everyone. It is still visible from town.
Sitka was once was called Novo Arkhangelsk because it was the Russian capital of North America. It was a true New World outpost and a rainy capital at one time although its summer tends to be rain free.
There is much to do in Sitka, and the cathedral is one of its main attractions. St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral sits on an island that Lincoln Street, Sitka’s main shopping avenue, flows around taking strollers into the residential part of town.
If you plan ahead, you can take a tour of this landmark cathedral, and you should. Ruth and I did. Russians came to Sitka to trade pelts until Alaska became part of the United States in 1867.
Ninety-nine years after Russians arrived St Michael’s burned to the ground, but most of its Russian icons were saved and are still on display for all to see and appreciate. Sitka’s businesses were also mostly all destroyed by this fire. The icons had been sent from Russia by wealthy patrons to decorate this grand cathedral. Ninety-four Orthodox parishes were eventually developed in Alaska, which was a very Russian community for much of its history. Most Tlingits who attend this cathedral today have some Russian ancestors.
The Tlingit people preceded the Russians by several hundreds years, and they constitute most of St. Michael’s regular patrons today. Before peace came to this city that is often compared to Paris, Tlingit warriors destroyed most of the existing settlement and killed the Russians. However, the cathedral was built 46 years later here in Alaska’s first and oldest city. During World War II, Sitka hosted 30,000 military service personnel.
Our cruise ship was visiting Sitka for the first time. Sitka is seldom visited by cruise ships because it lacks a downtown dock. We had to get to town on tenders to see Alaska’s first capital city and its many National Register Buildings. Looking back Sitka was a five star experience.