Walks With Folks
Walks With Folks
Walks With Folks
Walks With Folks

Visiting the Hermitage

The Hermitage Museum is one of the most important cultural monuments in all of Russia. In addition to being housed in the former royal palace, the Russian State Hermitage Museum is home to the largest collection of both Russian and foreign art in the Russian Federation. Whether you stay for one day, two days or longer, there are few other places in the world where you can expand your mind under one roof.
Of course, there are practical reasons to visit the Hermitage Museum as well. St. Petersburg is bitterly cold for more than half the year, and is relatively rainy during the other parts of the year. A visit to the Hermitage Museum is an escape from the elements, regardless of how horrible the weather is. Finally, the Hermitage Museum sits at the center of St. Petersburg attractions like Vasilevsky Island, St. Isaac's Cathedral and the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood.

The Art Collection

The art in the Hermitage represents, for the most part, the former imperial collection of the tsars, which began some 300 years ago when Peter the Great began acquiring pictures and artefacts. It was hugely augmented in the late 18th century by Catherine the Great who bought many of the key Renaissance paintings. Nicholas I opened the collection as a museum in 1852, but it only became a state museum, with access to all, after the 1917 revolution. During the Soviet era, some works were sold, but the collection was also strengthened as many more works were looted first from rich Russians and later from occupied Germany. Most of the Impressionist and modernist art was amassed after the Revolution and came principally from the collections of Ivan Morozov and Sergei Shchukin – two great Russian patrons in the years running up to the First World War. These paintings, once on the top floor of the main museum, are now on display in the new galleries of the General Staff building, on the other side of Palace Square.

Where to Start

Of all the world's major museums, the Hermitage is probably the most confusing to find your way around at first, with about 400 rooms spread over three floors of five interlinked buildings. Many are closed or used as offices, which creates confusions and dead ends, and there are literally miles of corridors. So the easiest way to get the hang of the collection is to visit floor by floor. Broadly speaking, you will then be able to tour the antiquities on the ground floor, then European paintings on the first and second. Whatever approach you take, however, you are bound to get lost at some point – it's part of the fun.

History of the Hermitage - Elizabethan Times

The first structure that was built where the Hermitage Museum complex now stands, was built to act as the Winter residence of the Royal family, the largest palace in Russia;'The Winter Palace'.The Royal order was put forth by empress Elizabeth. This is why The Hermitage museum is often referred to as "The Winter Palace" — the original palace is housed in the Hermitage Museum Complex.

Elizabeth enjoyed displaying her immense wealth, so she ordered a huge palace, richly decorated with gold. She wanted to impress locals and especially foreign ambassadors.

At the time, palaces were a display not only of the Royal family's wealth but also that of the country's. Palaces such as The Winter Palace symbolized the wealth, power, and might of the country ;thus a huge beautiful palace was the ultimate show of power.

Empress Elisabeth, unfortunately passed away just a couple of months before construction of 'The Winter Palace" was completed.

Development of Hermitage during Catherine the Great

The next era of the palace began with Catherine the Great taking the throne after imprisoning her own husband. Unlike Elizabeth, Catherine preferred to have a small private palace where she could hide in solitude to spend her time reading and writing.

This is why Catherine ordered a very narrow palace consisting only of two galleries. She referred to this smaller palace as "l'Ermitage", which is French for a hideaway or a place where a hermit lives.

Catherine once wrote in her diary: "Only me and my mice enjoy this palace". This little building, her private hiding spot, later on inspired the name for the entire museum complex, "The Hermitage".

When she assumed the throne, Catherine also ordered some rooms to be redecorated and some additional halls to be built. For example, she ordered a hall to mimic 'Raphael's Gallery' in The Vatican. To accomplish this, she sent a team of 80 Russian artists to The Vatican for 3 years to study the original gallery to be able to return to St. Petersburg and replicate it!

The Current Collection

Catherine the Great was an enlightened empress - she believed in the power of education, literature, and liberal arts. She was the first Russian ruler to start collecting pieces of art.

Catherine never chose pieces of art herself though. She had a trusted team of art dealers who purchased collections for her. For example, the base collection for the museum was purchased from Johann Gotzkowsky, a famous Berlin merchant.

Today, inside The Hermitage you may find paintings by Caravaggio, da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt, Van Dyke, Sneiders, sculpture by Michelangelo and many other other world-renowned artists.

The collection of the Hermitage Museum grew so big that there was no place left inside the original two palaces, which prompted Catherine the Great, and later on her grandson, emperor Nicholas I, to construct additional buildings, 'The Old Hermitage' and 'The New Hermitage'.

In addition to the fantastic art and historical artifact collections house in the Museum, there are a series of incredible Palace rooms. Among these are the Throne Chair Room and Private Royal Chambers, in addition to many others.
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