One of Russia’s premier religious sites, the monastery named for Prince Alexander of Novgorod is among the most popular tourist destinations in St. Petersburg. Like many attractions, the site isn’t visited so often solely because of its religious significance. For most visitors, it’s because it has so many architectural and artistic elements to view.
The monastery, known also as the Alexander Nevsky Lavra, was founded in 1710, just a couple of years after the establishment of St. Petersburg itself. Several of the structures date from the decades following, up to 1790. ‘Lavra’ is a designation reserved for monasteries of the highest order, of which there are only a few in all of Russia. Today, the grounds house five of the 16 churches extant in 1915, and several notable cemeteries.
Prince Alexander ruled in the mid-13th century, long before the city existed, and is famed for driving back the Germans and Swedes from Russian territory. The original structure was sponsored by Peter the Great as were many of St. Petersburg notable sights, and named for the leader whose battle in 1240 secured his rule from the Swedes. ‘Nevsky’ is not a surname, but derives from the nearby River Neva winding alongside the city.
Entering through the Gate Church, visitors can clearly see the two cemeteries alongside the main building that forms part of the attraction. Here are buried many of Russia’s notables, such as Dostoyevsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky in the Necropolis of the Masters of Arts.
On the grounds are also several structures, including the Church of the Annunciation, which houses a small museum of architecture. There are models of several of St. Petersburg’s outstanding buildings, along with superb pieces of sculpture.
The main church is the Trinity Cathedral (Troitsky Sobor), which remained open during most of the 70 odd years of Soviet oppression. Though, several others were closed from 1931-1936 at the height of the Soviet crackdown. Completed near the end of the 18th century, it’s another of St. Petersburg’s outstanding examples of Baroque architecture.
It has a large central dome (one of many in the city) and is definitely worth a look owing to the excellent gilding and numerous frescoes.
Near the St. Nicholas Cemetery on the grounds, there’s a small yellow and white church that is also worth a visit. Inside are several photos and other objects forming a small memorial to Russia’s final royal family, executed by the Soviets during the Communist revolution.
Ironically, not far away is the Communist Burial Ground. Here are buried many Bolsheviks who participated in the overthrow of the monarchy, as well as those who were part of the Siege of Leningrad in WWII. St. Petersburg was called Petrograd early in the 20th century, then Leningrad then reverted to its traditional name after the fall of the Soviet system.
The Alexander Nevsky Lavra is located at the eastern end of Nevsky Prospekt, along the River Neva. Take the Metro to Ploshchad Aleksandra Nevskogo.