The Theater Square took on its present appearance primarily in the second half of the 19th century. Of the buildings erected at an earlier period, noteworthy is the Cathedral of St. Nicholas (1753-1762) on Glinka Street. This exquisite Baroque cathedral was designed by the architect Savva Chevakinsky. It is an elegant turquoise and white building with a light bell-tower that appears to soar upwards. But the fame of Theater Square does not lie solely in its works of architecture. It has a place of honor in the development of Russian and Soviet musical art. The Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater and the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatoire are located here.
The square has long been the home of the stage. Back in 1765, a wooden theater was built here where carnivals took place and amateur troops performed. Seventeen years later a stone theater mushroomed on its site and was rightly called the Bolshoi (Grand) Theater, since it remained the largest theater in Europe for a long time. The building was many times rebuilt, was burned down and rose again from the ashes. Operas and ballets as well as plays were staged at the Bolshoi Theater. The stars of Russian stage appeared there.
In the 1880s the Bolshoi Theater was rebuilt as the St. Petersburg Conservatoire, the first institution of higher musical education in Russia, founded in 1862 on the initiative of the composer Anton Rubinstein. The lists of its first graduates are enhanced by the name of Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
The outstanding Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich, also a graduate of the Conservatoire, taught here. Since 1947 the conservatoire has borne the name of the eminent Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov. An opera studio and a secondary music school have been set up at the Conservatoire.
Up until the mid-19th century a two-story stone house stood opposite the Bolshoi Theater. It was used primarily for circus performances. After the fire of the 1859 this building was reconstructed according t the design of the architect Albert Kavos and in 1860 it was handed over to the Mariinsky Theater which was named after the wife of Alexander II, Maria. In the early years of its existence the theater staged only operas and it did not to stage ballet until 1880.