Great Museums of the World – The Hermitage St Petersburg

The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia is one of the world’s oldest and largest museums.

The Hermitage was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great, although it didn’t open to the public until 1852. The museum has a collection of over 3 million items, but only a small percentage are on display.

The Hermitage is not contained to just one building. In fact, the main architectural ensemble of the Hermitage, which is situated in the centre of St Petersburg along the Palace Embankment, consists of the magnificent Winter Palace, the former state residence of the Russian Tsars which has an interesting and violent history, the buildings of the Small, Old and New Hermitages, the Hermitage Theatre and the Auxiliary House. The museum complex also includes the Menshikov Palace and the Eastern Wing of the General Staff building, the Staraya Derevnya Restoration and Storage Centre and the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory.

The Winter Palace is huge and is believed to contain 1,500 rooms, 1,786 doors, 117 staircases and 1,945 windows. It was built by Peter the Great in 1703 and was the scene of the Bloody Sunday Massacres in 1905, which led to the rebellion against the Imperial Family and was the start of their downfall. It was the storming of the Winter Palace in 1917 which saw it become an iconic symbol of the Russian Revolution.

The Hermitage collection covers an enormous range of eras and styles. There is a large collection of prehistoric art and artifacts including objects dating from the Palaeolithic to the Iron Ages, from the period of man’s first development to the period when countries began to be formed. The items were discovered on Russian territory between the 18th century and the present.

The collection also includes 106,000 items representing the art and culture of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and Italy, and ancient settlements on the Northern Black Sea coast.

The representation of Western European art is regarded as one of the finest in the world, and forms the nucleus of the Hermitage display. It occupies 120 rooms in the four museum buildings, and reflects all the stages in the development of art from the Middle Ages to the present day.

The art and culture of Russia, representing a period of one thousand years is especially outstanding. The items of Peter the Great’s time illustrate the epoch of important transformations. Works by celebrated masters of the 18th century enable us to appreciate the reign of Elizabeth Petrovna and the grandeur of Catherine the Great. The original palace interiors contain numerous works of art of the period from the 19th to early 20th centuries, many of which belonged to the tsar’s family.

You could spend many days enjoying the many displays in the buildings of the Hermitage Museum, but it is closed on Mondays, so take that into account with your planning. If you happen to visit the Museum on the first Thursday of each month, then entry is free. The entrance is from Palace Square.

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