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The Mariinsky Theatre has played a pivotal role in Russian ballet ever since it was built in 1859 and remains one of Russia's most loved and respected cultural institutions. Its pretty green-and-white main building on aptly named Teatralnaya pl (Theatre Sq) is a must for any visitor wanting to see one of the world's great ballet and opera stages, while its brand-new second stage, the Mariinsky II, is a state-of-the-art opera house for the 21st century.

The building you see today opened its doors in 1860, and was named in honour of Maria Alexandrovna, the wife of Tsar Alexander II. Since its inception, the Mariinsky has seen some of the world's greatest musicians, dancers and singers on its stage. Petipa choreographed his most famous works here, including Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, and the premieres of Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades and Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet were held here. The Soviets initially closed the Mariinsky down, but as the renamed Kirov Ballet it became a major force in promoting the Soviet Union abroad, and is still the main reason that ballet and Russia remain synonymous worldwide.

The best way to experience the building as its designers intended is to see an opera or ballet here. As well as the main Mariinsky Theatre, there is also the brand-new, world-class Mariinsky II next door, a 2000-seat, six-stage theatre that marks the Mariinsky’s arrival in the 21st century.