Running directly off Red Square between GUM and the Kazan Cathedral, Nikolskaya Ulitsa takes its name from the Nikolskiy Greek Monastery, the remains of which can be seen at No. 11.
The Monastery, which is first mentioned in records from 1390, became the home of Greek monks invited to Moscow by Ivan the Terrible, and the centre of a small Greek colony in the city. In 1935, the Cathedral of Nicholas the Miracle Worker, the central church, was destroyed, and the remaining 19th Century buildings were significantly altered.
The neighbouring Zaikonospasskiy Monastery (Nikolskaya, 11) fared only slightly better (the Cathedral of the Saviour survived, at least). This was once the home of the Slavo-Greco-Latin Academy, the first institute of higher education in Russia, which in part gave Nikolskaya Ulitsa its reputation as the home of the Russian Enlightenment. Although the street is now lined with boutiques, bars and fast food joints, there are still a number of reminders of its time as a centre of learning and culture.
One of these is the former Synod Printing House, at Nikolskaya, 15, which lies on the site where Ivan Fedorov printed the first book in Russia, 'The Acts of the Apostles', in 1564. A statue of the printer can be seen just around the corner on Teatralny Proezd. Here also, in 1703, the first Russian newspaper, Vedemosti, was printed. As the name suggests, however, the Synod Printing House was mostly concerned with the publishing of religious texts, which it did from the early 18th Century up until the Revolution. The current building, with its wonderfully ornate fasade, was erected between 1810 and 1814. Worthy of note among its decorations is the bas-relief of a lion and a unicorn, the symbol of the Tsar's printing press, offset by an equally prominent hammer and sickle. In 1935, the building became home to the Historical and Archive Institute, now known as the Russian State University of the Humanities.
17, Nikolskaya was built in 1873 on the orders of Aleksander Porokhovshchikov to house the famous Slavyansky Bazaar restaurant. Porokhovshchikov was an entrepreneur and civil engineer who was responsible for some of the most important structural developments in Moscow in the second half of the 19th Century, including the introduction of asphalt to the centre of Moscow - this stretch of Nikolskaya became the first street in Moscow to be covered with the new material in 1872 - and the construction of the first heated trading arcades. Like almost all his muscovite contemporaries, he was a keen follower of the Slavophile movement, and this was the realization of his plan to create a centre of Slavic culture. The building contained not only a restaurant, but also a hotel and concert hall, and quickly became a popular haunt for artists, composers, writers and the wealthy merchants who were often their patrons. Porokhovshchikov himself commissioned a then-relatively-unknown Ilya Repin to provide portraits of famous Slavic musicians for the interior, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov were guests here, and the hotel is mentioned in Chekhov's greatest story, The Lady with the Lapdog. For muscovites, it is probably most famous as the site of the historic meeting in 1897 between Konstantin Stanislavskiy and Viktor Nemirovich-Danchenko, which lead to the founding of the Moscow Art Theatre. In Soviet times the building housed a puppet theatre.
The Chizhevskii Court, at Nikolskaya, 8, is an unremarkable example of another 19th Century hotel and trade house, its simple fasade enlivened by a modernist panel around the corner entrance. Inside its yard stands the more interesting Church of the Ascension of the Virgin, a small, all-white baroque church erected in 1691 by the Soltykov boyars, whose estate it was once a part of.
Houses 19 and 10, which face each other towards the far end of the street, were both originally part of estates of the extremely wealthy and influential Sheremetev family, who by the 19th Century were most famous as patrons of the arts, with a household of talented serf musicians and actors. Stepan Degtyarev (1766-1813), one of the most prolific and talented early Russian composers, whose work included the first Russian oratorio, was the conductor of the Sheremetev's serf orchestra and the choirmaster of their theatre, and had apartments in 10, Nikolskaya for several years at the turn of the 19th Century. 19, Nikolskaya was bought from the Sheremetev's by the Tretyakov brothers, Pavel (the founder of the Tretyakov gallery) and Sergei. In the 1870s, as a gift to the city, the wealthy merchants commissioned their brother-in-law, the architect Aleksander Kaminsky, to create an arch and alleyway connecting Nikolskaya with Kuznetskiy Most. This glorious Russian Revival ensemble was named Tretyakovskiy Proezd in gratitude to the brothers and, after decades of neglect in the Soviet Union - it was closed off and used as a store - was reopened in 2000 as possibly the most exclusive shopping precinct in the city, with boutiques including the Moscow branches of Tiffany & Co., Prada and Gucci.