The real centre of St Petersburg
‒ its main 'square' or urban space, you could say ‒ is the vast aquatic arena ringed by the Peter and Paul Fortress and Peterburgskaya Embankment on its north side, Liteyny Bridge on its east, the Summer Garden and the Winter Palace on its south, and the Spit of Vasilievsky Island with the Stock Exchange building on its west. This stunning
space ‒ a brimming reservoir of light, a luminous heart whose arteries spread outwards to supply the surrounding area with shimmering blood ‒ is the model for the rest of St Petersburg. It lays down once and for all the city's unique pattern of horizontals (the three constant lines constituted by the unvarying water level, the rim of the embankments, and the more or less steady line of the city's roofs) crossed by verticals (St Petersburg's needle-like spires); and it determines a way of looking at the city's buildings ‒ from a distance, across expanses of space ("Never has classical architecture had so much room," wrote Joseph Brodsky in his essay The Child of Civilization) ‒ that is unique to St Petersburg.
This, not Nevsky, is the quintessence of the city, and it is something that needs to be experienced as soon as possible. Only then can you begin to get a feeling for the vast and mostly empty squares that have been a feature of St Petersburg since its foundation. Palace Square, St Isaac's Square, Senate Square, Haymarket Square, Nicholas Square, Kulibina Square, even (from a later century) Moscow Square are intrusions of Russian prostor (wide open space) into the fabric of the city. They have been tamed over the years, and partially furnished, especially during the 19th century, with columns, statues, churches, vegetation, or whatever, but they remain spaces on an essentially non-urban scale. They are welcome clearings, pools of air, after the six-storeyed claustrophobia of St Petersburg's central streets.