“Oh, do not believe this Nevsky prospect. Everything is deception, everything is a dream, everything is not what it seems” – with these words Nikolay Gogol ended his eponymous story about the main street of Saint-Petersburg.
Why did the central avenue of the Northern capital, which has become much more than just a symbol of the city, lead to such a reaction among famous writers? After all, Gogol was not the only one who didn’t like Nevsky prospect. Another major word artist, Alexander Block, also preferred to “keep away” from the main passage of St. Petersburg.
Nevsky Prospect at night
Nevsky prospect started as a simple dirty road, laid exclusively for transportation of materials to the first Russian shipyard on the Baltic Sea – the the Admiralty. The road was paved through the swamp and should have connected the shipyard with both the Novgorod path (which was located approximately along the line of modern Ligovsky Prospekt) and the Alexander Nevsky Church. In general, Nevsky Prospekt appeared in 1710 as the connection of two roads from the Admiralty and the church with the trade route. There is a legend about the birth of the Nevsky prospect: it is believed that the road was built (or, rather, cut through the forest) from two ends. From the side of the Alexander Nevsky Church it was cut by the monks, and from the Neva river side – by the imprisoned Swedes. The meeting of these two “corridors” occurred on the site of the modern Vosstania square.
By the way, at the beginning the Nevsky prospect, as well as other land routes of the capital, was not really in favor. The czar-founder of St. Petersburg not only preferred other transport solutions (namely water ones), but also wanted the people of St. Petersburg to do so. The new Russian capital had to conform to the idea of Peter I about “the Venice of the North”, and therefore everybody was supposed to travel through the city by boat.
“Another paradox about Nevsky prospect is connected with houses numbering and sun lighting”
Another paradox about Nevsky prospect is connected with houses numbering and sun lighting. Surprisingly, even the sides of the avenue have their unofficial names: the right side is the “sunny” one and the left is the “shadowy”. That is because of the peculiarities of the northern sunlight. The left part never falls into the area of the sun, so one side of the Nevsky prospect always remains in the shade.
The same surprise is with the numbering of buildings on Nevsky prospect. During the reign of Nicholas I the numbering was conducted according to formal general system of numbering in all cities of the Empire. Thus since 1834 the even numbers of all the buildings were on the right and odd numbers on the left. So it was in the capital. However, in 1858 in St. Petersburg this system was mysteriously inverted, and numbers of the buildings on the Nevsky prospect became even on the left side and odd on the right.
Vintage photo of Nevsky Prospect
It is also interesting that Nevsky prospect got its name not at once; historians say that the central road of the capital had about 15 different names in different time periods. In fact Nevsky prospect became that in 1776, and its last name change happened in the pre-war Soviet period, when the street was named the Prospect of 25-years of October revolution. But after World War II Nevsky prospect got back its historical name like many other squares and streets.
Today Nevsky prospect is the iconic street of St. Petersburg. Its significance for the citizens is not less than the Arbat for the people of Moscow or Champs-élysées for Parisians. It is impossible to imagine the city on the Neva River without Nevsky prospect.