St. Petersburg's largest department store, Gostiny Dvor is one of Nevsky Prospekt's most famous landmarks, and has been at the center of trade in the city for 250 years.
It was the idea of Empress Elizabeth to build a single, central arcade that would become the main trading site of the Russian imperial capital - the Bolshoy ("big") Gostiny Dvor. Several prominent architects presented their plans for the building during the 1750s, including Antonio Rinaldi and Bartoloemeo Rastrelli, but it was eventually early neoclassical designs by Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe that were chosen. Construction of the building took over twenty years, from 1761 to 1785.
The building is an irregular rectangle of two-storey arcades surrounding an inner courtyard, with porticoes at each external corner and a large central portico facing Nevsky Prospekt. The relative paucity of the building's decoration may in part have been due to financial considerations, as Rastrelli's ornate plans were rejected on considerations of cost. In 1887, the Nevsky Prospect facade was significantly altered by Nikolay Benois, who added a dome above the central portico, and decorated the walls with plasterwork and statuary. This was removed during reconstruction after the Second World War, and the building was restored to the elegant simplicity of de la Mothe's designs.
The original bazaar consisted of around 100 stores covering 53 000 square meters. Stores were divided into rows according to the type of produce, including cloth, furs, silver, shoes, etc. The external rows were for retail trade, while wholesale trade was conducted in the courtyard. The second floor was reserved for storage.
At the end of the 18th century, Giacomo Quarenghi was responsible for adding two auxiliary buildings to the west of the Bolshoy Gostiny Dvor on Dumskaya Ulitsa - the Perinnye Ryady ("Feather rows"), where only women traded, and the Maly ("Small") Gostiny Dvor, which specialized in the sale of furniture. The former building was demolished during construction of Nevsky Prospekt and then reconstructed 2000-2002.
After the October Revolution, the Bolshoy Gostiny Dvor was left boarded up for several years and then severely damaged in bombing during the Second World War. Restored and reconstructed from 1945 to 1955, the building was transformed from 178 separate stores into one large department store with the removal of its internal walls. Bolshoy Gostiny Dvor now has 15 000 square meters of retail space occupied by 122 different departments, and is still St. Petersburg's main department store, the first place to look for anything from knitting needles to party supplies.