Back in June I walked to and along one of the most ‘official’ streets of St Petersburg – Bolshaya Morskaya which literally means Big Naval or Big Maritime. It runs all the way from the Palace Square for more than a kilometer and it used to be so posh and oh so rich back in the old days.
We’ll start from the Neva embankment, at the strangest place in the city with the authentic stone pavement from leftover from the 18th century. The Neva embankment here is considered to be the face of St Petersburg, at least its official facade – or else front-door, paradny Petersburg.
The best viewpoint to admire the front-door St Petersburg is from the water. Or you can enjoy the view across the Neva river: stone embankments, famous skyline and boats. In summer the river gets pretty busy which adds to the overall brouhaha of the city.
And yet, you can take your time, stop for a while and observe.
The stone embankments of St Petersburg deserve a separate post, they are a real masterpiece. Although my fellow citizens (me included) prefer to avoid them on especially hot days. Reason? Well, other fellow citizens persistently use them as public WCs…
Same as the courtyards, unfortunately. But if you quickly make your photo and dash outside, there’s no harm. We’ve moved away from the river now, joining the Bolshaya Morskaya Street. My eyes immediately set upon these two Art Nouveau buildings standing side-by-side:
The story of this very spot (Bolshaya Morskaya 22) seems to go back to the very early days of the city when – allegedly – a Greek captain would settle here and thus establish a seaman community. They say he was even one of the first inhabitants of St Petersburg in general! This place later changed hands, styles and purpose. After serving as a house of St Petersburg head policemen, the central telephone station got its new facade in 1905:
It is still occupied by the main telecommunications company. Next to it is yet another well-known building (Bolshaya Morskaya 24) which also retains its original purpose throughout the years:
This is the Faberge house built in 1899-1900. Previously this place belonged to a bell master, then to a goldsmith and later to a jeweler but also to a bookseller who would have Alexander Pushkin among his clients.
However, its most celebrated owner was Karl Faberge who purchased this building and got it revamped in Art Nouveau for his shop, workshops and apartments. The different surface styles of the same red granite from Gangut make it stand out of the crowd: it’s massive, it’s polished, it’s expensive! And then you sneak into the courtyard…
As is usually the case with the Art Nouveau buildings, their backyards are sometimes even more architecturally curious than the front face. The staircase windows follow the movement of the steps while the entrance to the courtyard is adorned with tiles:
And once more – here’s the facade of Bolshaya Morskaya 35, which used to belong to the ‘Russia’ Insurance Company. Look at the elaborate majolica created after Nikolai Roerich’s drawings. The original frieze didn’t survive but was restored in 2009. You can hardly see it, it’s so high up but it’s wonderfully fairy-tale-ish!
And here’s what you’ll find behind its face:
Moving further along Bolshaya Morskaya, past St Isaac Cathedral, you get to the Nabokov fanily’s house (Bolshaya Morskaya 47):
His family lived here and Vladimir spent his childhood behind all these lavish decorations. Still have to visit his museum there – not that I’m any fan of his, but rather to see the interior.
Moving off Bolshaya Morskaya to the Moyka River Embankment (leaving one of my ex-work places looking like Hermitage behind), you’ll come across the New Holland island, one of the city’s artificial islands, which is under reconstruction now. Not sure what will eventually become of it but they say it will be some artsy space plus hotels and shops. This is what you do with an unused 18th century naval port🙂
A ship-like building along the Moyka Embankment grabs your attention by these, well, dangerous balconies and the rhythmic waves of bay windows.
And it’s actually known in the city as the House with Bay Windows. It was built by one of the masters of the ‘brick-style‘ quite popular at the end of the 19th century, with the Gothic elements which make it into some sort of a brick castle.
Right next to it is the architect’s own mansion, again in the brick style which preceded the Art Nouveau in St Petersburg. It was actually constructed earlier than the previous building and still carries the emblem devised by the same architect who set up the St Petersburg architectural society (look under the balcony).
And here I had to stop and walk back: we were to listen to some choral music in the St Isaac Cathedral later that day. More Art Nouveau stories coming for sure sometime soon.
This post goes to the St Petersburg series.