Nevsky Avenue

Nevsky Avenue, St. Petersburg’s main thoroughfare, traces its history back to the time when sumptuous architectural ensembles began to take shape on the banks of the Neva.

The Nevski Prospect is the pride and boast of St. Petersburg. Its praises have been sung all over the world, and its name is as familiar as is that of Regent Street or of Piccadilly.

Through Finland to St. Petersburg, Alexander Scott, 1914


The Nevsky developed in stages: first, it was a path cut through the woods to connect the Admiralty shipyards with Moscow Road, the Alexander Nevsky Laura and the Smolny Yard; later it became known as the Nevsky Perspective where palaces rubbed shoulders with low, timber huts; and in mid 18th century it began to acquire its present status of the city’s main street.

Peters idea of cutting through the forests on the left bank of the Neva some straight avenues called "prospects," or "perspectives," has received a brilliant justification in the Nevsky. There the Nevsky is something tense and exhilarating in the very straightness of this fine, broad thoroughfare, something that tempts the adventurous though heavily-padded coachman to drive his splendid horses at headlong speed, scattering humble cabmen before him.

Russia of the Russians, Harold Williams

Gogol begins his story Nevsky Prospekt with the following words: “There is nothing better than Nevsky Avenue, in St. Petersburg at any rate; it means everything for this city. Whats doesn’t this beauty-street of our capital excel in?”

The Nevsky acquired its charm after the appearance of ensembles and squares designed by Voronikhin and Rossi.

Nevsky begins at Admiralty Boulevard

Nevsky begins at Admiralty Boulevard. And all the way you will have the shining gold spire and small ship sailing in the sky behind you. The street appeared around 1710 when Swedish prisoners-of-war extended the Admiralty road to the east and paved it. After a while houses began to appear. At the Admiralty end they belonged to the Admiralty masters but further down the buildings grew progessively simpler and poorer. By the late 1730s they stretched as far as the River Fontanka. Early in her reign Empress Elizabeth banned the hanging out of washing on the trees lining the street. It was also forbidden to build on it without planning permission. The Empress wanted to make sure that only the highborn and wealthy lived there. In her reign some major construction was started that went on for the next two centuries. This explains why the buildings are of different periods and styles.

If you start down this four and a half kilometer long street from the Admiralty, you will not be particularly impressed at first. It will seem just a street like any other, not too wide and not too charming. But as soon as you cross the Moika you will find that the street has become wider, the buildings more varied and interesting, and a little further on, the solid line of houses on the right-hand side will break off abruptly to give way to a small but amazingly harmonious square on which towers the Kazan Cathedral (Kazansky Sobor), built by Voronikhin in 1801-1811.

The Nevsky is a business street, but it contains no very fine shops — in fact, there are no stores in St. Petersburg that make a great display ; rich wares are bought and sold in hundreds of shops of moderate size and the Morskaia is the only street where trade assumes a certain splendour. There are three dark red palaces on the Nevsky, the churches and the Public Library, the Imperial Theatre and a garden, and a number of banks, some of which have recently adorned the Nevsky by erecting new stone buildings. There is no sense of crowding, of fierce competition that suffers no elbow room. The serenity of the capital dominates over the rush of business. But all ways lead through the Nevsky, and its traffic is an epitome of the citys life.

Russia of the Russians, Harold Williams

Kazan Cathedral (Kazansky Sobor) on Nevsky Avenue

A semicircular court formed in front of the cathedral by its majestic yet graceful colonnade faces the Nevsky. Paul I, who commissioned the building of the Kazan Cathedral, demanded that it should be modelled on St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome with its open colonnade. Voronikhin’s approach, however, was entirely original and his design differed in many respects from that of the Roman Cathedral. There, the colonnade is much smaller that the portico with which it is hardly connected. Voronikhin’s colonnade is of the same height as the portico and seems to branch out from the body of the cathedral itself. In Rome, the colonnade encloses a round piazza, and here the end walls are spread out linking the Kazan Cathedral with the adjoining streets.

The cathedral building is shaped like a cross, and the walls are sectioned off with Corinthian pilasters and deep, large windows. Tall statues of Prince Vladimir and Alexander Nevsky, St. Andrew and John the Baptist stand in the niches behind the columns.

The Kazan Cathedral is a national museum of battle trophies — mostly, flags; and it is the shrine of a widely-celebrated holy picture, the Virgin of Kazan, to which the faithful have for centuries attributed wonder-working powers.

Two months in Russia, July-September, 1914.  Merry, Walter Mansell.

The sculptors who decorated the cathedral followed the general idea of the architect, which is evidenced by the figures in front of the porticoes and the haut reliefs of the side attics of the colonnade, the one on the eastern side showing Moses striking water from a stone and the other, on the western side, depicting Brass Serpent. These skillfully executed complex compositions emphasizing the length of the attics are meant to be viewed from afar.

Out of the Admiralty Square run three streets, called prospekts, or perspectives, I suppose be cause each street has a view of the Admiralty spire. Of these the Nevsky Prospekt is the largest. It reaches more than two miles to the convent of St. Alexander Nevsky, and is twice as broad as Regent Street, which it very much resembles, except that it has trees on each side. The shops are shewy on the outside, most of them having large painted signs, with inscriptions in Russian, French and German, and sometimes in English.

Journal of a tour to Moscow, Robert Paul, 1836

Inside, the cathedral little resembles the usual churches with their massive pylons supporting heavy, vaulted ceilings. It is light and elegant, and is more like a palace than a cathedral. The pylons are so slender that their structural strength was questioned at first. The general impression of solemnity is enhanced by the 56 monolithic columns with bases and Corinthian capitals made of bronze.


Nevsky Avenue in 1835. P. Ivanov, after Sadovnikov, 1835.

Continuing down the Nevsky Avenue you will soon come to Brodsky Street, branching off to the left, and see a palace in the distance. If you come closer you will see a square, with a lawn in the center, lined with uniform buildings. There would seem to be little attraction in those plain yellow walls, and yet you’re enchanted the moment you enter this square. The uniform rows of windows, the laconism of the straight lines, and the severity of the façades make a wonderful prelude for the radiant beauty of the palace at the end of the square.

Mikhailovsky Palace/Russian Museum

This palace was built by Carlo Rossi in 1819-1825 for the Grand Duke Mikhail on a large site between the Nevsky, the rivers Moika and Fontanka, and Ekaterininsky Canal. When designing the palace, Rossi rearranged and reconstructed the whole of the surrounding district so thoroughly that it became quite unrecognizable.

The Mikhailovsky Palace was highly admired by contemporaries who thought it was one of the finest buildings in Saint Petersburg.

As always with Rossi, the composition is logical and clear-cut. The central part of the building is taller and more ornate than the two smaller, adjoining wings. A Corinthian portico of eight columns, set upon a ground-floor arcade, marks the center of the main façade which is approached through a formal court. To the right and left of the portico, the second floor of the building is adorned with Corinthian semi-columns placed rhythmically between the large windows. Sculpture has been used lavishly. Bronze lions guard the broad staircase leading to the main entrance; the flat walls above the ground-floor windows are decorated with lions’ heads and coat-of-arms; and an ornament in haut-relief runs along the length of the façade on a level with the capitals of the semi-columns.

Of all the streets in Petersburg the Nevsky is the most important and interesting. It is like the Strand of London in one sense. If you wish to meet a friend, you stroll up and down the Nevsky, and sooner or later you will probably see him doing the same saunter in the broad, animated, pleasant thoroughfare.

A park was laid-out behind the palace where the façade is just as splendid as the main one. Here, twelve Corinthian columns form a wide loggia with a decorative attic. The white columns, yellow walls, and the lush green of the park combine into a truly splendid picture.

The interior of the palace produced a staggering effect. Besides being an excellent architect, Rossi was a remarkable interior decorator, and he made the drawings for most of the furniture and décor himself. Working in cooperation with him were sculptor Demut-Malinovsky, painters John and Peter Scotti, Barnaba Medici, Yakov and Vasily Dodonov, and the city’s best upholsterers, carvers, carpenters and cabinet-makers. The main vestibule and staircase and the White Hall on the main floor have been preserved intact, despite all the alterations made in the palace since and one can judge from them of the lofty artistry of the palace’s interior decorations.

Nevsky Avenue in 1780. Watercolors by Lamoni, 1780.

Today, the Mikhailovsky Palace is occupied by the State Russian Museum which is one of the county’s largest depositories of Russian national art. Displayed there are paintings of Bryullov, Fedotov, Repin, Surikov, Serov, the works of sculptors Rastrello, Shubin, Antokolsky, and other outstanding works of art. Modern Russian artists are displayed as well.

Arts Square

Simultaneously with the construction of the Mikhailovsky Palace, the surrounding area was re-planned. A rectangular square called Mikhailovskaya Square (since then renamed Arts Square) was designed by Rossi in front of the main façade with a plain high iron grille railing off the formal front court. Two new streets – Inzhenernaya and Sadovaya – were laid to make the southern and eastern boundaries of the palace grounds. Later, a third street, Mikhailovsksya, was laid to connect the palace with Nevsky Avenue from where the central portico could be viewed.

Saint Petersburg (Russian: Санкт-Петербург) is the second largest city in Russia. It is located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. St Petersburg is often described as the most westernized city of Russia, as well as its cultural capital.It is the northernmost city in the world with a population of over one million.

Population: 5 197 114 (2015)
Founded : 1703
Time zone : UTC+4
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Former name : Petrograd (1914-1924)
Former name : Leningrad (1924-1991)