The most famous street in Russia, Nevsky Prospekt is renowned for its fine architecture and famous residents. Palaces, churches and monuments, along with shops and restaurants, line the boulevard.
Building the Street
Originally known as the Great Perspective Road, Nevsky Prospekt was designed circa 1718 by French architect Alexandre Jean Baptiste LeBlond, who was employed by Peter the Great and given the task of creating a number of buildings and thoroughfares throughout the city. This grand boulevard was cut through acres of woods where packs of wolves once roamed.
In its early years, the street was prone to flooding and historic accounts note that it was sometimes navigable by boat rather than on foot. But, nonetheless, the Great Perspective Road quickly became famous for the opulent houses that were built up and down the street, which runs from the Admiralty on one end to a monastery on the other.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the street had the most expensive real estate value in the country, and many banks and other financial institutions were headquartered here.
The street was eventually renamed for Alexander Nevsky, a patriotic thirteenth-century hero who defeated the Swedish and German invading armies. He was later canonized and his remains lie at the monastery which sits at the end of the Prospekt and also bears his name. Throughout the centuries, Nevsky Prospekt became “the place” to live if you were a wealthy and well-known citizen of St. Petersburg. Famous residents include composers Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, renowned early twentieth-century Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, and author Nikolai Gogol.
A walk along Nevksy Prospekt
The main shops and businesses of St. Petersburg are located on and around Nevsky Prospekt, which has been compared to Paris’s Champs-Élysées. While shopping and dining seem to be the major activities occurring along the Prospekt, there are, however, a lot of buildings of note along the way where visitors should stop and take a look, especially at the section between the Admiralty and the Anichkov Bridge.
Starting at the Admiralty, the first building at Nevsky Prospekt no. 1 is a magnificent Art Nouveau Building. A bit further east, at no. 15, is the Barrikada Cinema, known simply as the ‘house with columns’ for its colonnaded facade. Just east of the Moika Canal is the Stroganov Palace, a pink and white Baroque structure which was completed in 1760 and designed by Italian Court architect Rastrelli. It’s where the famous beef dish of the same name was invented!
A bit further across the street is a Lutheran church with a classical, twin-towered facade. Across the church is the imposing Kazan Cathedral. Built in a semicircle with ninety-six gigantic columns (visible from the rear due to the mandated westward-facing direction of the altar), this ornate Orthodox Church was once home to the Museum of Religion and Atheism.
Located at no. 18, Literaturnaya Café is a delightful example of pre-Revolutionary St. Petersburg architecture and was a favorite hang out of Pushkin during the years it served as a confectionary company.
Continuing east, there are two more churches on the east side of Nevsky Prospekt: St. Catherine’s, an 18th century church and the Armenian Church, a picturesque blue and white structure built in 1780. Across the street is Gostiny Dvor, a large department store housed in an impressive historic structure with long arcaded halls.
Adjacent to Gostiny Dvor is the Russian National Library, the second largest in the country. The majestic statue of Catherine the Great graces the bordering square. The statue is placed in front of the Alexandrinsky Theater, designed in the neoclassicist style by Carlo Rossi.
Across the wide Fontanka canal is the beautiful facade of the Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace. The bridge spanning the Fontanka canal features a series of four bronze statues of wild horses and their tamers which were, for sixty years, buried for safekeeping, finally being resurrected in 2001.
Further west, Nevsky Prospekt passes along Moskovsky Vokzal (Moscow Station), a large train station originally built in 1851. The street ends at Alexander Nevsky Monastery, famous for its necropolis.