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Nevskiy celebrates 300 years. The history of St. Peterburg’s main street

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Nevskiy is 300 years old! But can this be considered old – for one of the world’s main streets? The main avenue of the Russian Empire, the main street of Soviet Leningrad, St. Petersburg’s main transportation artery. 4.5 kilometers of history, ambitions and world architecture. Every building here is a reference to a certain style – Greece, renaissance Italy or modernist New York of the early 20th century.

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Vadim Bass, historian of architecture: “Nevskiy is a somewhat exotic place. This exotic aspect has always been there. When you come to Nevskiy, you see architecture from very different epochs, and that in itself is the proof of its European-ness. Even a hundred years ago people came here for the same reason – to grasp a piece of Europe inside Russia”.

Me and Vadim Bass are standing next to Nevskiy’s biggest masterpiece and. probably, the only true example of global architecture here – the Kazansky Cathedral. That’s where everything mixed into one – ancient Rome, antique style and Constantinople. But Nevskiy is not only about global architecture. It’s also about global literature.

From 18th century onwards, Nevskiy has been depicted, remodeled and placed on pages of novels by literally everyone who had important words to say about one’s epoch. But it has gradually been leaving the fiction books. Modern Russian literature almost completely ignores it. Evegeniy Vodolazkin decided to rectify the situation. He included a bit about Nevskiy into the nationwide dictation exam, which the country wrote in 2015. Moreover, we are standing at the very spot which was described in that bit from the dictation paper.

Evgeniy Vodolazkin, writer: “I wanted to give everyone a little shake, remind everyone about Nevskiy. I think we should not forget about it, because it represents a very important page in our country’s history”.

Which, of course, is the Golden Age of the Russian literature. But there were other pages too. Protests and clashes, omnibuses and blockade trams, marches, parades and religious walks. And there are spots on Nevskiy which have seen them all – and keep on seeing it. Places which have been loyal to Nevskiy and have been defining it for decades. And these are some of those. Clock workshop at building number 23 – which started operations long before the war. Anatoly came here as a 15-year-old intern – 42 years ago.

  • People who came to you to fix their watches and clocks, let’s say, 40-50 years ago – how different were they to the people of today?

Anatoly Kagantsev, owner and worker of clock workshop: “Well, we have had very different people here throughout the years. Some bring vintage alarm clocks with a bell, some bring elite wristwatches like Patek Phillippe”

  • What kind of people are those? Locally-residing ones or from all over the city?

  • Probably from all over. Creatures of habit – cause they’ve been coming here for years.

It almost feels like time is standing still at St. Petersburg’s oldest clock workshop – tools, gears and mechanisms which are several hundred years old. Or another place – the Palkin restaurant at the corner of Nevskiy and Vladimirskiy, which opened its doors in 1871. Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Blok and many others were big fans. It was closed and re-opened all the time during the Soviet years. But at the beginning of the 21sr century, it finally re-opened its doors permanently.

Evgeniy Kozhukhov, restaurant manager: “The fact itself that it’s a historic restaurant – the place where famous Russian writers went to – becomes a magnet for attention. People come here specifically. And we get table reservation calls from London, New York or Tokyo”.

Palkin is a proper St. Petersburg brand, which is inseparably associated with Nevskiy. And it’s hard to tell in this case what defines what. Such places underline Nevskiy’s richness – in every sense of the word.

Tatyana Parfenova, clothes designer: “My choice was a conscious one. And it was a right choice. And it was a clothes shop. Before the revolution it hosted a Moulin Rouge-like theatre. It’s worth mentioning, that this side of Nevskiy – up until Anichkov Bridge – has always been about adult entertainment. Nevskiy is like that – it has everything. Even a Golden Triangle – on a straightforward street”.

It really is very diverse. Having place for just about everything – in just 4,5 kilometers and 300 years of history.

Pavel Nikoforov, reporter: “But, eventually, whatever role Nevskiy plays today – or would play tomorrow – its essence was determined long time ago by Gogol – this is the only place where people flock to not because they have some necessity or mercantile interests. And you almost want to ask – so why do they do? They just feel attracted to it, as simple as that”.

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