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.