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Savior's Island, St. Petersburg, Walking Tour
Text by Jeremy Howard   Photo by ITAR-TASS/Yuri Belinsky
Photo: St. Petersburg, Russia
Gostiny Dvor (Trading Rows) was imperial St. Petersburg's largest retail location.

About halfway between the Griboedov Canal and the Fontanka River, Nevsky Prospekt is bisected by Sadovaya (Garden) Street. Created between the 1730s and 1820s, Sadovaya traversed the whole of Savior's Island and was a vital means of cross-city communication. Architect Carlo Rossi completed the street's northern extension to the Field of Mars and created the two main architectural ensembles that give the areas around the Nevsky/Sadovaya axis their definition.
*Bolded names and numbers in the text below correspond with our map of this tour. 

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Begin your walk at the equestrian monument to Peter the Great (1) that stands in front of Michael's Castle. Less visited than the Bronze Horseman, this Peter is a far more baroque vision (with all the military trappings) of a triumphal and severe Roman emperor. He is even placed above reliefs depicting scenes from his greatest land and sea battles (Poltava and Hangö). Modeled by Bartolomeo Carlo Rastrelli while Peter was still alive and cast during the reign of Peter's daughter Elizabeth, the statue remained in the casting store until 1800, when Tsar Paul decided to set it on a pedestal in front of his new palace with an inscription "To Great-grandfather from Great-grandson." Its installation screamed of Paul's obsession with countering the symbols of state left by his mother Catherine the Great.

From the monument, walk down the center of tree-lined Klenova Street, past Michael's Castle's twin lodges, to the palace's manège (riding school) (2) and flanking stables on Manezh Square. (The riding school is now the Winter Stadium.) These buildings were given their present empire-style appearance by Rossi in 1824.

Cross the wedge-shaped square to the corner of Italianskaya and Malaya Sadovaya Streets. On the left is the oversize and showy 1914 Merchants' Club House (Italianskaya 27), now the studios of the popular Channel Five TV station, and on the right is the rather refined, early 1750s palace of Count Ivan Shuvalov, a favorite of Catherine's and president of the Academy of Arts. It houses the Center of Medical Prophylaxis and with it the little visited Museum of Hygiene (3) (Italianskaya 25, closed Sat.–Sun.), which exhibits diseased organs in jars, a display dedicated to Ivan Pavlov and his salivating dog, and a striking early 18th-century mummy of a woman in well-preserved clothes.

Walk down the pedestrianized Malaya Sadovaya Street toward Nevsky, into which the street ends. The view ahead is tidily closed by the Alexander Theater (and Catherine Monument) on Ostrovsky Square across Nevsky. With its benches, street lamps, fountain, lilac, and occasional buskers, Malaya Sadovaya offers a pleasant respite from the hurly-burly of Nevsky. At the far end, you can take your photo with the new bronze monument to Karl Bulla (by B. A. Petrov, 2001), the photographer of pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg.

At the corner with Nevsky, enter the unmistakable Gastronome (4) (Nevsky Prospekt 58). This fine food and wine store takes up a large part of the grand, multifunctional Yeliseev building, one of St. Petersburg's best examples of art nouveau. Built at the turn of the 20th century, its generous structural use of concrete, iron, and glass open up the interiors. In the first-floor delicatessen (which sells a top range of chocolate, tea, and alcohol), you can still see the magnificent mirrors, marble counters, chandelier, lights in the form of flowers, and stained-glass panels. Upstairs held the Farce Theater (since 1929 the Akimov Comedy Theater) and a casino. On the exterior, a great arch wraps around the stained glass of the upper floors and the large allegorical sculptures of Trade and Industry, Art and Science.

At this point, cross over (or under) Nevsky. If you wish, visit the adjoining Ostrovsky Square, then return to this point. From here, walk down Nevsky and follow the curved corner of the Russian National Library to head south along Sadovaya Street. Where Sadovaya Street meets Lomonosov Street, glance through the railings of Rastrelli's mid-18th-century Vorontsov Palace (5) (Sadovaya Ulitsa 26), with its fussily decorated entrance. Tsar Paul gave the palace to the Chapter of the Maltese Order of the Knights of St. John in 1798 and had Giacomo Quarenghi build an Orthodox church and Catholic chapel here. In 1810, it became an elite officers' military school, the Corps des Pages, today's Suvorov Military Academy.

Now cross to the other side of Sadovaya and enter Gostiny Dvor (Trading Rows) (6) (Nevsky Prospekt 35), which began life as a merchants' inn. Rastrelli started the project in the mid-1750s, but cost overruns soon prompted the hiring of Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe and a design change. The result is four remarkably long, unadorned strings of two-tiered arcades around a building that takes up the whole of an irregularly shaped block. Ever since the 19th century this has been St. Petersburg's most important mall, where people promenade as much as shop.

Make your way through the mall to the metro stop near the 1804 hexagonal clock-tower-cum-beacon of the City Duma (Nevsky Prospekt 31–33) and take the pedestrian underpass to the other side of Nevsky. Two neoclassic churches, both built between the 1760s and 1780s and both dedicated to St. Catherine, stand not too far apart: the Yuri Felten–designed Armenian Church (Nevsky Prospekt 40–42) and Vallin de la Mothe' Roman Catholic St. Catherine Church (Nevsky Prospekt 32–34).

At the corner of Nevsky and Mikhailovskaya Street, admire the Rossi-designed 1839 Nevsky facade of the Grand Hotel Europe (7) (Mikhailovskaya 1–7). Ignore the later Mikhailovskaya facade, which disrupts the architectural harmony of the area, and wander into the hotel to appreciate Fredrik Lidvall's art nouveau interiors (1908–1910). A visit to the restaurant is worth it for a view of the superb mushroom-shaped stained-glass panel of Helios.

Continue down Mikhailovskaya Street to where it meets Arts Square and Nevsky Prospekt. The last building on the right is the 1839 former Nobles' Club and is now, since 1921, the St. Petersburg Philharmonia (8) (Mikhailovskaya 2). Designed by Rossi and Paul Jacquot, its white-columned hall has superb acoustics. Tchaikovsky's "Sixth Symphony" premiered here in 1893, and the Philharmonic continues to offer some of the finest classical music in St. Petersburg.

Arts Square (Iskusstv Ploshchad) (9) forms the core of Rossi's plan for this part of the city. In the center stands a statue of Alexander Pushkin, one of the best sculptures of 1950s Leningrad and probably the most expressive of Pushkin. Notable addresses around the square include the Mussorgsky Opera and Ballet Theater (Ploshchad Iskusstv 1), one of three surviving imperial theaters; the Musical Comedy (Italianskaya 13); and Stray Dog (Ploshchad Iskusstv 5), a restaurant named for the earlier cabaret café here where the most daring performances of the early Russian avant-garde artists and writers took place.

Cross Arts Square toward the dominating Mikhailovsky Palace (the Russian Museum). On the palace's right is the Russian Ethnographic Museum (10) (Inzhenernaya 4, closed Mon. & last Fri. of month). Built in the Rossi style, it actually dates from the early 20th century (by Vasily Svinin, 1900–1915) and is worth seeing for its central Marble Hall, replete with glazed ceiling, marble colonnades, and the relief of "The Peoples of Russia," which wraps around three walls. The museum's impressive "Parade of Peoples" exhibit reveals the ethnicities living across the entire breadth of the Eurasian Russian Empire, showcasing a rich diversity of life, from Siberian reindeer herders to Caucasian mountain dwellers. Temporary exhibitions often relate to textiles.

Conclude your walk with a restful pause in the Mikhailovsky Palace Gardens, landscaped by the Scottish architect Adam Menelaws in the early 1820s. Enter on Sadovaya Street, to the east of the palace.

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