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Nikolskaya Street

If you’ve ever been to Moscow, I’m sure at some point you’ve been annoyed by the huge plastic sheets with a fake facade that they drape over buildings during construction. If you haven’t been, take a look at the right of the picture above and you’ll get the idea. I guess I’m largely alone in my great fascination with architectural decay, but I’d much prefer to see gutted buildings than this strange plastic monstrosity. But they’re not paying me the big bucks to run this city, so I guess I don’t have a say.

What I’m circularly working my way around to say is that I’ve happily paired up with a local tour company, Moscow Private Tours who offered to give me the background on Nikolskaya street – one which I’ve unwittingly walked through so many times but never gave much thought to. When I got there the other day I was absolutely delighted to see that a great deal of plastic cover had been removed since the last time I’d been, giving me (and the million other people pushing their way through) a much nicer view!

Without further ado, let’s explore together, shall we?

Nikolskaya is named after the Nikolskaya Tower which stands opposite Red Square to the street’s entrance. (You can see the tower in the center of the picture above.) The tower, named for St. Nicolas, is not just beautiful but quite miraculous – twice over! The first miracle occurred during Napoleon’s invasion during the War of 1812. As French troops withdrew from the Kremlin, they put a bomb at the base of the tower which destroyed the tower almost entirely but surprisingly left the icon of St. Nicolas totally unharmed! Nikolskaya Tower had its second miraculous recovery during the communist era. In preparation for one of the first military parades, the religious buildings on Red Square were covered with red brick so as not to offend communist sensibilities. On the day of the actual parade the red brick was mysteriously cut away from Nikolskaya tower and the icon was revealed. (Don’t mess with St. Nicolas, apparently.)

Moving onto the street itself, there’s a number of remarkable buildings – even more so now that they’ve finally taken down those plastic tarps! One of the flashiest is what used to be the first Russian high school called (rather unimaginatively) the Slavic Greek Latin Academy which was attended by Lomonosov himself – who, if you don’t know, went on to found the first university in Moscow. Today the Academy is a hot pink church.

My personal favorite building on Nikolskaya Street is the Moscow Print Yard. Here the first Russian book was printed and Peter the Great himself designed the first issue of the first Russian newspaper Vedomosti. (Don’t miss the two beautiful sundials located on the front entrance of the building.)
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The next building was the former Slavyansky Bazar restaurant and hotel. The restaurant boasted the first Russian a la carte menu in Moscow which drew a great number of Moscow’s elite. If you really wanted to go wild, you could purchase the most expensive item on the menu: ‘Cranes’ cognac. This ultra-luxe French cognac was served in a hand-made carafe covered by – you guessed it – golden cranes. Part of the cost probably stems from the fact that you got to take the golden carafe home with you. The concept was so wildly popular that a phrase emerged: ‘to have breakfast until the crane’ (to have a very long meal).

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There is also an old pharmacy built on the same place as the first Russian pharmacy, opened by Peter the Great. It’s a massive three-story building which used to be the biggest pharmacy in Europe which also boasted medicines made from bear fat. A live bear helped with advertising, naturally.

At the far end of Nikolskaya street is Lubyanskaya Square where you get a great view of the infamous Lubyanka building which was once the headquarters of the KGB. (Sorry, no pictures! I’d murdered my camera’s battery by that point!)

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Nikolskaya Street

Walk into Red Square and turn left at GUM (metro Ploschad Revolutsii)

A big thanks to Moscow Private Tours who kindly gave me this fascinating history lesson! This is a sponsored post, but all opinions are my own. I highly recommend Moscow Private Tours for their knowledge and overall helpfulness!

  • I’d be so pleased that the plastic sheeting was gone- the detail and color of the buildings on this street is so beautiful!

    • It’s really unbelievable the work they’ve put into these places!

  • Ok, I am going to get all sanctimonious with you (right after acknowledging that this was a brilliant profile of Nikolskaya, and even tho I walked it a hundred times, I want to go back NOW).
    I LOVE these plastic building covers. I grew up in the mist rundown, decrepit, gloomy 80s and 90s in Moscow, when “architectural decay” wasnt some fascinating case study but just one aspect of hundreds of a decaying nation. So I take great pride in the turnaround of things, however incremental, however cosmetic, as I hope and think that this is just one of the first steps. I take pride in the city that is starting to take pride in its appearance, that wants its residents to do the same, that saves us the broken windows and metal carcasses as reminders of what once was, and makes us think of what it can be and will be. Most Moscovites love our city; yet sometimes loving it is not enough – but actually liking it inspires us to improve it further.

    • Oh man there’s so much I want to say about this but… I take your point and stand by mine.

  • Beautiful pictures, and it’s crazy how much history can be found just on one street!

    • I know! As an American especially it’s crazy to think how old everything can be!

  • This street looks beautiful, and the history behind it is rather impressive too!
    In The Hague right now half of the city center is covered in tarps … But I’m actually dreading the day that one comes down, because in its place will be the new Primark, and then I will never be able to make my way onto my street without shoving my way through hoards of strangers again!

    • Oh no, that’s too bad. This street is a bit the same – some of the old buildings have been restored and are beautiful hotels/theaters. The others… shoe stores :/ Less thrilling.

  • very awesome post ..i liked your post very much…Thanks for sharing it .

  • Em

    Golden carafes and bear fat medicine – sounds like a fascinating place! (And the buildings look like wedding cakes.)

    • Lol, no one can ever claim that Russia or Russian history was ever boring!