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Nevsky Prospekt

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The most famous street in Russia, Nevsky (Nevskiy) Prospekt, [Нéвский проспéкт], in St. Petersburg was planned by the French architect Alexandre Jean Baptiste LeBlond, whilst working for the city's founder, Tsar Peter I (the Great).

This proud landmark originally called the Great Perspective Road until 1738, was cut through almost 4.5 km of forest land (c1718) and it varies between 25 and 60 meters in width. For many years it was roamed by wolves. During the early Soviet years (1918 - 44) it was officially known as the Avenue of the 25th of October, alluding to the day of the October Revolution, but this name was never accepted by the local inhabitants. Stretching from the historic Admiralty in the north to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, it is renowned for its splendid architecture and famous former patrons, like Pushkin, Gogol, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Nijinsky and Dostoevsky. In fact, just about every Russian you can name has visited this magnetic heart of the city as it has always thrived with exciting prospects for both locals and tourists alike.

 
Alexander Nevsky was a 13th century Russian national hero who was given credit for defeating the separate Swedish and German invading armies. He was later canonized and lies buried in the Lavra, which is the monastery named after him by Peter the Great on the (wrongly) purported 1240 battle site against the Swedes. (That battle actually took place some 30 km distant at Ust-Izhora in what is now Kolpinsky District).
At least twice, in 1721 & 1777 Nevsky Prospekt was completely navigable by boat due to flooding. In those days this mainly broad avenue was partially lined with trees and the trees were regularly used by Nevsky's residents to dry clothes! In Russian, prospekt means a straight street or avenue.
Every building on Nevsky is a monument and only the occasional building on the whole of the street was built as late as the twentieth century. One being the bizarre fortress-like former Aeroflot building at number 7, another on the same side is number 21 the former Mertens Fur Trade House. This Neo-Renaissance building has glass walls set in three arches mounted between slim rustic stone piers. Over on the 'sunny' north side at 28, is the old HQ of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, which is now Dom Knigi, the largest book store in town. Plus, at the time of writing, on the more stately upper section of Nevsky only three buildings have been erected since the Revolution; including the (already destroyed) Central District Tax Office at 68, and the school house at No.14, upon which is a simple memorial recalling the days of the horrific German siege between 1941-44. A plain blue sign 2m from the ground has the words "Citizens! This side of the street is the most dangerous during artillery bombardment" stencilled in white.
At number 18, the quaint Literaturnaya Cafe has a delightful interior reminiscent of pre-Revolutionary St. Petersburg. The nationally acclaimed poet and political rebel Alexander Pushkin was a frequent visitor to the 19th Century confectionery company housed here and it was here where he had his last meal prior to his fatal duel with Georges D'Anthes in 1837. Some of the cafés authentic furnishings were provided by the Pushkin Museum. Other literary greats such as Chernyshevsky, Krylov, Belinsky and Dostoyevsky (Dostoevsky or Dostoievsky) also took coffee and blini here whilst composing the plots of their masterpieces.

Overlooking Alexandrinskaya Square (known as Ostrovsky Square during Soviet times) and the bronze monument to Catherine the Great, is number 56 Nevsky. This 'moderne' style Art Nouveau building was designed for the Yeliseyev brothers by Gavril Baranovsky and built between 1902-06. On the ground floor until very recently one could have found the most exotic and most overpriced caviar,fruit & vegetables in town. From late 2006 until early 2011 this once glittering emporium became a darkened chamber of cobwebs as it lay unused awaiting a new owner/tenant who could afford the high real-estate costs.

Saint Petersburg's main shops and businesses are located on and around this central thoroughfare, where a diverse culinary choice of restaurants, cafes and bars to suit all tastes and pockets is available. They match any European City for quality and atmosphere, although stepping into a side-street could save more than a few Dollars.

Nevsky Prospekt's architecture is in spirit with the Champs-Elysées and it rivals the best of Amsterdam, Rome and Venice. "Step into it, and you step into a fairground," wrote Nikolai Gogol. In Gogol's time, it was swept clean by prostitutes doing their early morning penance, prior to them being released to err afresh on the cobbles that evening. Today, the authorities appear to turn a blind eye to the elegant ladies of the night who ply their trade around the hotel bars and in the bustling night clubs.

Upon crossing the Moika river you will see the recently restored orangey-pink and white baroque style Stroganoff Palace at number 17. Completed in 1760 on the site of an earlier palace, it was designed by the Italian Court architect Rastrelli who was also responsible for the Winter Palace. This is where the internationally known beef dish was allegedly created in 1891 by Charles Briere, chef to Count Pavel Alexandrovich Stroganov. In all probability the dish had been in the family for many years and came to the fore through Count Pavel's regular entertaining of foreign dignitaries.

Directly opposite the Kazan Restaurant and Dom Knigi (number 28) you cannot fail to see the monumental Kazansky Cathedral, designed by Andrey Voronikhin and built in a semicircle with 96 towering columns. Strangely this awesome façade is at the rear of the building. The reason being that the altar of an Orthodox church must face towards the west. After the Revolution this stately cathedral was the home of the Museum of Religion and Atheism for many years.

The residents of St. Petersburg are fortunate that Lenin decided to transfer the capital of Russia to Moscow, as that decision ensured that Nevsky Prospekt and the city centre retained its uniqueness and was not blighted with towering characterless skyscrapers as Moscow has been.

Of Nevsky's four bridges, the handsome Anichkov Most over the Fontanka river is probably the best known and is famed for its four bronze sculptures by Baron Peter von Klodt of men taming wild horses. These horse tamers having been installed on the bridge in 1851 were removed during World War II and buried in the grounds of Anichkov Palace for safety. The four legendary statues did not reappear on the bridge until the summer of 2001, after they had been fully restored using laser technology and a cocktail of chemicals. During the work it was newly discovered that each horse has a secret hatch on its back. For many years the Fontanka marked the city boundary and the newer buildings beyond the river are noticeably less grand, having large apartment blocks and more modest shops. The newest bridge, the Alexander Nevsky Most, at the south eastern end of the Prospekt is the longest in the city (905.7 metres) and was built in the early 1960's.

The Prospekt has five Metro stations along its length, with each having its own unique identity. These are; "Ploshchad Aleksandra Nevskogo", "Ploshchad Vosstaniya", "Mayakovskaya", "Gostinyy Dvor" and "Nevsky Prospekt". A sixth station called 'Admiralty' has just been built on the M5 line just off Nevsky on Bolshaya Morskaya ul. How many streets in the world can boast of having six separate underground stations?

The Tercentenary of St. Petersburg occurred during 2003. It is now over 300 years since Peter the Great declared that the old Finnish village by the Neva was going to be the new capital of Russia. Construction of the city began with laying the foundations of the St. Peter and St. Paul church in the wooden fortress where Peter made his base and only nine years later the capital was formally transferred from Moscow to St. Petersburg. The whole city recently experienced a carnival atmosphere which lasted throughout the summer of 2003 and Nevsky Prospekt was right at the centre of many spectacular celebrations. Virtually all prominent buildings on the street benefited from extensive restoration work and repainting, which brought to an end a two year period during which time almost every other building was covered with scaffolding and tarpaulins on the facade rejuvenation project which cost over a hundred million dollars. Is it mere coincidence that Vladimir Putin is a native of Leninburg?

On 27th May, the city celebrated the birthday of St Petersburg and there was a huge daytime carnival on Nevsky Prospekt and night-time fireworks by the Neva. There is no better time to visit the city with the bright evenings from the end of May - ahead of the phenomenal White Nights which commence early in June.

This website has several hundred images of the Nevsky Prospekt, both contemporary and vintage. Also on this site there is probably the largest on-line collection of pre-Revolutionary postcard images covering most areas of St. Petersburg and its environs (over 1700 at the last count). If you have any comments, constructive criticism, or wish to donate any missing old postcard images, please email or sign my 'Guest book'.

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