TRIP TO ST. PETERSBURG
SIGHTS ST. PETERSBURG
NEVSKY PROSPEKT AND AREA
Though the Soviets tried renaming it 25th of October Avenue in honor of their revolution, the name never stuck. Nevsky prospekt is and always will be Russia's most famous street, running 4km from
the Admiralty to the Alexander Nevsky Lavra (monastery), from which it takes its name. The inner 2.5km to Moscow Station is St Petersburg's seething main avenue, the city's shopping
center and focus
of its entertainment and street life. Pushing through its crowds is an essential St Petersburg experience, and if you're there on a holiday evening (like City Day), the sight of thousands pouring like
a stream down its middle is one you'll not soon forget.
Nevsky prospekt was laid out in the early years of St Petersburg as the start of the main road to Novgorod and soon became dotted with fine buildings, squares and bridges. At the beginning of the
1900s, it was one of Europe's grandest boulevards, with cobble stoned sidewalks and a track down the middle for horse-drawn trams. On cither side of the tracks were wooden paving blocks to muffle the sound of horse-drawn carriages - an innovation that was apparently the first in the world and for which the prospekt was dubbed the quietest main street in Europe.
Today, things are bit noisier. A walk down Nevsky is a walk into the heart of the new Russia: a buzzing, swirling mishmash of new and
colorful shops, restaurants, bars, art galleries, banks and
perfumeries packed to overflowing with tourists and natives, workers and beggars, people selling their pets and shoes,
scam runners, pickpockets and purse snatchers, yahoos and religious fanatics -all
shoving past on their way to the action.
- Admiralty End. Inner Nevsky, ulitsa Malaya Morskaya and ulitsa Bolshaya Morskaya were the heart of the pre-revolution financial district. Points of interest include ulitsa Malaya Morskaya 13, where Tchaikovsky
died in 1893. The wall of the school at Nevsky prospekt 14 bears a blue-and-white
stenciled sign maintained since WWII starting Граждане! (Grazhdane!). This sign translates as
'Citizens! At times of artillery bombardment this side of the street is most dangerous!'
- Just before the Moyka River, the Kafe Literaturnoe is, despite being a repugnant tourist trap, worth peeping into for its Pushkin associations and ambience. Across the
Moyka, Rastrelli's green Stroganov Palace (1752-54) has kept most of its original appearance.
- Kazan Cathedral Area.
Opposite the cathedral is St Petersburg's biggest bookshop, Dom Knigi, topped by the globe emblem of the Singer sewing machine company, which constructed the building in 1902-04. The building also
housed the American consulate for a few years prior to WWI. Just behind the Kazan Cathedral, a bit south of the Central Train Ticket
Center, sits the Bankovsky most, one of St Petersburg's loveliest
bridges. Suspended by cables emerging from the mouths of golden-winged griffins, the wooden bridge affords a splendid view north up the Griboedova Canal past Nevsky prospekt to the Church of the
Resurrection of Christ. In the block of Nevsky prospekt over the canal from Kazan
Cathedral, pavement artists cluster in front of the Central Art Salon
(Tsentralny khudozhestvenny salon).
- Criboedova Canal to the Fontanka.
This section of Nevsky is the busiest; a whirlwind of activity and colour of which the Grand Hotel Europe (the
Yevropeyskaya under the Soviets) is the epicenter. The unbelievably lavish
hotel was completely renovated from 1989-91, and is once again one of the city's architectural gems, boasting shameless
splendour: marble and gilt, sweeping staircases and antique furnishings.
- Diagonally across Nevsky, the arcades of Gostiny Dvor department store stand facing the
clock tower of the former Town Duma on ulitsa Dumskaya, seat of the pre-revolution city government. One of the world's first indoor shopping malls, the 'Merchant Yard' dates from 1757-85,
stretches 230m along Nevsky (its perimeter is over 1km long) and is another Rastrelli creation. The St Petersburg equivalent of Moscow's GUM, Gostiny Dvor's facade has been completely restored, and
the inside is now quite fashionable.
- On the other side of Nevsky, in the arcade at No 48, the Passazh department store is beautiful to look at (notice the glass ceilings) and packed with pricey goods, but has a decidedly less
than exciting atmosphere. Downstairs in the basement, there's a well stocked Western supermarket.
- Tucked in a recess between the banks and the cafe near ulitsa Mikhailovskaya, the Armenian Church (1771-80), one of two in St Petersburg, is open, though under extensive renovation. The
Soviet regime deemed it reasonable to bash the place to bits and install a 2nd floor, which blocked the view of the cupola. The renovation, performed by members of the congregation, has included
removal of that 2nd floor and restoration of the cupola and several icons, but there is still a long way to go. A new iconostasis is being created, as well.
- The Vorontsov Palace on Sadovaya ulitsa, opposite the south-east side of Gostiny
Dvor, is another noble town house by Rastrelli. It's now a military school for young cadets; on weekends you
can watch mothers pass food parcels to their sons through the wrought-iron front gates.
- Ploshchad Ostrovskogo.An enormous statue of Catherine the Great stands amid the chess, backgammon and sometimes even mahjong players that crowd the benches here. The statue depicts, according to the Blue Guide,
'The towering figure of the Empress standing above her close associates'. Well, at least three of these were her known lovers:
Orlov, Potyomkin and Suvorov.
- This airy square, commonly referred to as the Catherine Gardens, was created by Carlo Rossi in the 1820s and 1830s, and its west side is taken up by the lavish National Library of Russia,
St Petersburg's biggest with some 31 million items, nearly a sixth of which is in foreign languages.
- Rossi's Pushkin Theatre (formerly the Alexandrinsky) at the south end of the square is one of Russia's most important. In 1896 the opening night of Chekhov's The Seagull was so badly
received here that the playwright fled to wander anonymously among the crowds on Nevsky prospekt.
- Behind the theatre, on ulitsa Zodchego Rossi, is a continuation of Rossi's ensemble. It is proportion deified: it's 22m wide and high and 220m long. The Vaganova School of Choreography
situated here is the Kirov Ballet's training school, where Pavlova, Nijinsky, Nureyev and others learned their art.
- The Anichkov Palace (1741 -50, the city's second palace), between ploshchad Ostrovskogo and the Fontanka River (its main facade faces the river and was once joined to it by a canal), was
home to several imperial favourites, including Catherine the Great's lover Grigory Potyomkin (who graciously accepted it as a gift from her). A slew of architects, including Rastrelli and Rossi,
worked on it. It became the city's largest Pioneer Club headquarters after 1935 and to this day houses over 100 after-school clubs for over 10,000 children.
- Anichkov Bridge & Beyond.Nevsky prospekt crosses the Fontanka on the Anichkov most, with famous 1840s statues (sculpted by the German P
Klodt) of rearing horses at its four comers. To witness pure artistic revenge,
put prudery aside and take note of the south-western horse's genitals: unlike his anatomically correct companions, this one's are apparently in the image of the sculptor's unfaithful wife's lover (another version has it that it's Napoleon's profile).
- The red 1840s Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace, at Nevsky 41, provides a photogenic baroque backdrop. It now houses a rather amusing Wax Museum. Between the Fontanka and Moscow Station, Nevsky prospekt has fewer historic buildings but heaps more chi-chi shops and cinemas, and in the
center of the strip is the Sheraton Nevskij Palace Hotel.
- Marking the division of Nevsky prospekt and Stary (old) Nevsky prospekt is ploshchad Vosstania (Uprising Square), whose landmarks are the giant granite pillar with the Commie star, the
Moscow Station, and the animation screen atop the building next to the station. Note the writing on top of Hotel Oktyabrskaya across from the station: ГОРОД ГЕРОЙ ЛЕНИНГРАД, or
'Hero City Leningrad'. Several cities were designated 'hero cities' for heroism, stoicism and losses during WWII.
Stary Nevsky juts off the north-eastern side of the square and heads south-east to the Alexandra Nevskogo bridge. Its charm is in its relative desolation and laid-back mood.
- Alexander Nevsky Monastery.
- The Tikhvin Cemetery (Tikhvinskoe kladbishche), on the right, contains the most famous graves.
Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Glinka all rest here. Make a right after entering and you'll reach the tomb of
Dostoevsky. The Lazarus Cemetery
(Lazarevskoe kladbishche), facing the Tikhvin across the entrance path, contains several late great St Petersburg architects - among them
Starov, Voronikhin, Quarenghi, Zakharov and Rossi.
- Across the canal in the main lavra complex, the first main building on the left is the 1717-22 baroque Annunciation Church
(Blagoveshchenskaya tserkov), now the City Sculpture Museum (Muzey
gorodskoy skulptury) and closed for renovation. About 100m farther on is the monastery's 1776-90 classical Trinity Cathedral
- Opposite the cathedral is the St Petersburg Metropolitan's House. On the far right of the grounds facing the canal you'll see St Petersburg's Orthodox Academy, one of only a handful
in Russia (another is at Sergiev Posad).
PAGES OF THE PICTURE ALBUM