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To get lost in Art: the guide to the Hermitage for a tourist

The state museum Hermitage in St. Petersburg is a unique palace complex in which rare and richest expositions of masterpieces of painting, sculptures and architecture and also historical values of the previous centuries are collected. Nowadays it is one of the biggest and most popular complexes – it enters in TOP-20 of the most visited world's art museums and contains about three million invaluable exhibits for the period from the Stone Age and till the 21st century!

The history of the museum’s complex began with a private collection of Catherine the Great which was located in a palace annex (currently it is the Small Hermitage) and served as a private place of gathering of the Russian bohemia, close friends of the royalty and her personal monastery of art. Over time the collection grew, and in 1852 the first exposition was created. It was opened for public in the building which was specially built for this purpose – now it is called the New Hermitage.

Today the Hermitage consists of five buildings, looking from the coast at waters of the majestic Neva River and it also possesses the Menshikov Palace on the opposite coast, the repository in the Staraya Derevnya, East wing of the General Staff located at the Palace Square and furthermore a set of historical constructions.

If you want to plunge into the atmosphere of imperial Russia, to get acquainted with the culture of various countries, to see unique cloths and the most ancient artefacts, then the Hermitage is the museum which should be visited in St. Petersburg first of all. As the German poet Gotthold Lessing said, "artists write with eyes of love, and it is only with the eyes of love that you should judge them", so be ready to come to love art wholeheartedly!

How to reach the Hermitage and when is it better to go to an excursion

The Hermitage is located on Dvortsovaya Naberezhnaya (Embankment), 38 and Dvortsovaya Square, 2. The stations of the subway that are the nearest to the museum – Nevsky Avenue, Gostiny Dvor (they are the most convenient in order to reach Griboyedov Embankment) and Admiralteyskaya. If you get off at Gostiny Dvor and Nevsky Avenue stations, you will appear on Nevsky Avenue, and then it would be necessary to walk a little to the Neva river (it is possible to orient on the direction of decrease of numbering of the houses). The spire of the Admiralty to the right of which there is a Winter Palace can serve as a guiding light as well.

It will be even easier to reach the museum if you get off at the Admiralteyskaya metro station – it is disposed as close as possible to the Hermitage. After leaving the subway turn left, then to the right, and you will get on Nevsky Avenue. Then move to the Admiralty spire – and you will face the Palace Square.

Saint Petersburg subway's scheme


How to read subway's stations in English in order it was similar to Russian

There is a direct entrance to the Winter courtyard from the Dvortsovaya Square – it is easy to find mentioning the high arches and florid shod gate. There are stands and a board in the yard where all information on relevant excursions and prices are displayed. If you do not plan to use subway for your trip than the card will help you to make an optimum route (it is necessary to specify where you are at the moment, Google service will make a route).

When planning a walk to the museum it should be taken into account that on Mondays it is closed. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays the Hermitage receives guests from 10:30 till 21:00, and ticket offices work till 20:00. Moreover, there are special free days in the museum when anyone can see masterpieces, without having spent at the same time a single rubble. These days pass every third Thursday of every month, but please remember that there are huge queues at this time and probably you will have not enough time for seeing at least one shred of the exposition.

Several rules and tips for those who go to the Hermitage

  • Even if you are used to sport clothes style, we do not recommend to put on shorts and undershirts in the museum – a light dress for a Lady and trousers with a shirt or a polo for a Gentlemen will be quite suitable clothes which will not prevent you from enjoying a walk in galleries and halls;
  • Ladies are not recommended to put on shoes on sharp heels – they can damage the solid wood parquet laid in many halls;
  • As well as in any museum, it is forbidden to touch sculptures, vases, furniture, frames and other exhibits. Please be kind with workers monitoring the security of works of art;
  • If you have a large bag or a suitcase, it should be given to the wardrobe for the reasons of safety of exhibits. Moreover, it is obviously difficult to enjoy a travel on museum halls with a massive baggage;
  • Also it is forbidden to bring food and drinks with you to the museum – the security service checks visitors' bags at the entrance;
  • It is possible to make photos of almost everything in the museum, but for mummies, temporary expositions and jewellery. When shooting pictures, fabrics and carpets it is necessary to switch off flash;
  • For holding a professional photoshoot with the corresponding equipment it is necessary to buy a special ticket allowing such type of photoshoot.

12 interesting facts about the Hermitage 

1. The Hermitage – is one of the biggest museums on the planet

The Hermitage is not just a one separate museum, it is the whole complex of five buildings in which the main expositions are located – and these are over three million exhibits! In comparison with other world "giants”, the exposition in Louvre contains "only" about three hundred thousand objects, and the Vatican Museum – about fifty thousand. The total number of halls of the Hermitage is 350 and in order to bypass them all it is necessary to walk not less than 20 kilometres. In order to observe each exhibit for not less than a minute, you will have to spend about ten years, and this number is counted without taking into consideration any dream or food breaks!

2. A quest through centuries of history

Many historical museums have only one focus. For example, there are palaces in which interiors, household items and traces of life of their famous owners have remained. There are palaces in which third-party exhibits are exposed and there is no any trace of stay of the former owners. There are isolated museums where the exhibition of expositions is carried out only.

The Hermitage is unique by the fact that it combines in itself a great mixture – historical values from all around the world, live history and interiors of the former owners, architecture of old times and even history in walls of palaces. Walking on the Hermitage, you are dipped into the most real historical quest and never know what exactly you meet behind the next turn – the Egyptian deity, Rembrandt's painting or the Tsar’s bedroom!

3. Palace complex as a ground for technical novelties testing

The Hermitage from the very beginning became some kind of "experimental ground" for testing of all technical innovations. For example, it was the first to become connected to water pipes, a heating system, started to use elevators for people and freights, first to use telegraph and phone line. Progress in the Golden Age of government of Nikolay the second was especially pronounced – in 1910 the journey between the Winter Palace and the Small Hermitage turned into a parking for imperial cars. There were: a private car wash, a gas station and steam heating on the platform.

4. The museum created by a woman

During the period of creation of the Hermitage as a unique collection, it was operated by a woman that was a rarity in those days. And she was not just a woman, but the Empress Catherine the Great who managed to collect nearly the biggest and the most valuable collection for an exposition that contained cloths of Rembrandt, Titian, Poussin, Rubens, Van Dyck and other eminent paintbrush masters.

5. Dwelling of the hermit

It would be amusing but this is how exactly the word Hermitage is translated from French. This is how all private vacation spots for communication with friends and relatives with no strangers allowed were called. The collection of paintings was such a place for Catherine the Great.

6. Personal hall of Rembrandt

The Netherlands artist has his own hall in the museum with 24 paintings presented - it is the biggest collection outside Rembrandt's homeland. The majority of pictures are exclusive masterpieces.

Unfortunately, the paintings attract both art admires and people with cruel intentions. So, in 1985 the criminal who crept into the hall with an excursion poured sulfuric acid over the invaluable painting "Danaë" and knifed it twice before he was detained. The painting was successfully restored with the help of the Leningrad academician Mr. Schultz who combined two rare qualities – he was a great expert in the field of chemistry and perfectly understood all specifics of an oil painting. His consultations helped to save a precious painting the restoration of which took 12 years.

7. Imperial collection of cars

The little-known fact is that Nicholai the Great loved and appreciated cars. He bought his first car in 1905, and only six years later there were about 50 various automobile brands in his vehicle fleet. He even built the parking hi-tech for those times for his collection. Among Nikolai's favourites there were cars "Mercedes", "Rolls-Royce", "Peugeot", "Renault" and also Russian "Lessner" and "Russo Balt". Unfortunately, the collection did not survive till the twenty first century – after the revolution Bolsheviks plundered imperial vehicle fleet completely.

8. Malachite as a gift

The malachite living room is the only hall in which the interior of an imperial era faultlessly remained. Those days this amazing room was a transition between halls for receptions and personal rooms of the empress. Today the malachite living room is a unique exhibit topped with the Ural malachite. The stone for the room was given as a gift to imperial family by mine owners Demidov family.

9. The Vatican frescos

Thirty years later after opening of the Winter Palace the well-known loggias of Raphael from Vatican appeared in it. Definitely, it was not the original – only exact copies. They were located in the gallery of a two-storeyed corps built by Giacomo Quarenghi. It was Catherine the Great who ordered to build it as during this period classicism started to become fashionable in Russia, and the empress never lagged behind the freshest trends.

10. Organic exposition

This is probably the most unusual and at the same time horrible exposition of the Hermitage. Such harmless exhibits as the most ancient woollen carpet which remained up to now and handmade Chinese silk are presented in it. At the meantime you can observe tattoos applied to human skin. This is a find from the Altai natural boundary Pazyryk where a lot of organic material remained due to permafrost which covered barrows.

11. A unique military gallery

Devoted to the war of 1812, the gallery is really invaluable. It describes history not only with dry facts and names, but also with the faces of its direct participants. 333 portraits of war heroes with Napoleon are looking at visitors from the walls of the gallery. Some of them are depicted to its full length, others on breast-length, holding equal lines. There is one king, two emperors and the famous generals of the Golden Age of Russia among the portraits.

12. Secrets which everyone can open

Each visitor of the museum was tormented at least once by a thought that all the most tantalizing, valuable and unique is hidden from his eyes in storages where access is closed for the stranger. The Hermitage decided to save the guests from tortures and to lift the veil of secrecy for them. Any visitor will be able to see in the new repository in the Old village (Staraya Derevnya) everything that is not presented in the main exposition and is contained in storage. Restoration of works of arts are carried out in the building and each guest can see how exactly it is stored behind once unapproachable doors of the museum.

10 amusing facts proving that the Hermitage is unique

1. Security service having a tail

It can seem strange, but in 1745 Elizabeth Petrovna gave a decree under which cats were sent to the yard for protection of expositions. Fluffy inspectors constantly live in the palace, they have their own room for food, dream and a toilet and also they have their own veterinarian who watches over their health. Today there are about 60 cats working in the museum, and the best food and medical care is provided to them. Moreover, the museum annually celebrates a special day – the Day of a Hermitage cat.

If you ask what became the reason of such an imperial whim. Everything is very simple – big halls of the museum with exhibits attracted a huge number of rats because none of poisons or traps help. Elizabeth made the decision "to employ" cats for preservation of a collection that quickly coped with a misfortune.

2. It is forbidden to build above!

The general height of the Winter Palace is 23.5 meters, and it remained the highest city building at the Imperial government though the level of development of the construction industry allowed to build even higher constructions. Historical documents helped to explain this strangeness – in 1844 after the creation of of the Nicholai's I palace he issued the decree under which it was forbade to build any construction higher than 11 sazhens (23.43 meters on the modern metric system).

3. A procession of knights – only to the sound of music

There is a strange, but spectacular ritual in the museum in which orchestra, military and … a parquet participates! Sounds absurdly, but in reality everything is very simple – expensive parquet floor in the Knightly hall needs to be restored from time to time and when the exposition with horse knights is taken out, the procession is accompanied by military orchestra under the leadership of the state King of Arms. So the museum pays respects to the valour of soldiers and their weapon.

4. An accidental find worth one million

Each museum over the years acquires legends, and the Hermitage did not become an exception. It is rumoured, that many treasures about which even employees of the museum do not know are still hidden in its walls and galleries. Surprisingly, but in the sixties of the last century this myth became a reality. The art critic Herbert Haverkamp-Begemann from Holland was walkin in the Hermitage, and accidentally noticed a leaf corner behind one of the closets. When the find was taken out, it turned out to be a huge (228х170 cm) drawing of the mannerist Hendrik Goltsius under the name "Bacchus, Ceres, Venus and Cupid". Since then each keeper of the museum dreams to make the same discovery and to find a treasure.

5. "The Russian Schliemann" - the museum archaeologist

An unusual archaeologist who is in jest called "the Russian Schliemann" works in the museum though the archaeologist has no relation to the adventurer. So, what is unusual? The fact that in 2001-2003 he made a sensational archaeological discovery during excavation in Tuva. The archaeologist found the "imperial" Scythian barrow of Arzhan-2 dated to the seventh century B.C. in which the materials and values have perfectly remained. This barrow can tell a lot of things about the left civilization and fill some gaps in the history.

6. Royal attentiveness test

If you appear near Karl the First portrait made by Antoon van Dyck, pay extra attention to the painting's details. You will see an amusing mistake of the artist – both gloves are right-handed at the painting.

7. Ghosts of the past

As well as any ancient place, the Hermitage is shrouded in mystical legends, many of which treat Romanov's couple – the last ruling dynasty. Many claim that they saw shadows of imperial family in dark halls, and even noticed silhouettes in windows & ghosts in desert galleries. However it is possible to call one message of Romanov really truthful– the inscription at a window of the second floor made by Aleksandra Fiodorovna diamond. It says "Nickey watches 1902 hussars on March 17", and it is made in three years prior to tragic death of an imperial couple.

8. Sekhmet comes with the full moon

One more museum legend belongs to the hall of Ancient Egypt in which there is a sculpture of the goddess Sekhmet with the lion's head. It is rumoured that in a full moon on a lap of a sculpture a bloody pool appears but soon completely disappears. However, this myth has no documentary confirmation to this day.

9. Pushkin who was not let to the museum

As we already spoke earlier, initially the museum was a personal collection of Catherine the Great, a private place, closed from strangers. When Alexander Pushkin claimed to see a collection, he turned to be refused, and only after a personal request of Vasily Zhukov who had strong influence at court, the poet could see a unique exposition.

10. Fatal engineering miscalculation

In 1826 new apartments under the decree of the emperor were built in the imperial residence. The architect August Montferrand who made a slip when planning a heating system was engaged in projecting. This mistake became the reason of the awful fire in December, 1837 – the flame did not stop for two days and destroyed the building to the basis. The reconstruction took about two years and was made under the leadership of Vasily Stasov. As a result, the new palace turned out to be an exact copy of the old one both externally and from within.

What it is worth looking in the Hermitage firstly

The Winter Palace

It strikes with the beauty both outside and inside – starting from one ladder of white marble! It is possible to see the front Ceremonial hall, the Throne-room and also a set of portraits of fearless generals of the times of Napoleonic war.

Art gallery

This unique collection of pictures of the period from the late Middle Ages till the twentieth century. Da Vinci and Rubens's ingenious works, Rembrandt and Titian, El Greco and Raphael's cloths – the real art paradise are presented to expositions!

The French collection

The special collection of paintings of the French masters is unique by the fact that it is collected not by the imperial family, but by the industrialists Schukin and Morozov from Moscow. There are Renoir, Monet, Cezanne, Gauguin, Matisse and Picasso's paintings in the collection - it is a special pride of the Hermitage and one of its main "pearls". It is possible to get acquainted with the collection in the Winter Palace – it is located on the third floor.

The Unknown masterpieces

One more collection of the French paintings is remarkable by the fact that all works were delivered by the Soviet army from Germany at the end of the Great Patriotic War. It is a really unique show – the paintings that could be destroyed in the fires and sink into a non-existence, have by miracle survived and now please art connoisseurs.

Hall of Knights

This is an original exposition in which visitors of the museum will be able to see boards swords, helmets, an armour, plumes, crossbows and arkebuza – almost all finds are dated the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries. The Knightly hall is located in the building of the New Hermitage.

The antique exposition

Surprisingly, but there are much less guests in these halls, than at paintings expositions. At the same time the collection of sculptures and household items of antiquity are very impressive – gods depicted in a stone, emperors and athletes, graceful ceramics with painting and other attributes of antiquity as if transfer you to Ovidiya, Aristophanes and Homer, Caesar and Alexander of Macedon's times.

Culture of the primitive times

These halls are located on the first floor of the Winter Palace and show really surprising exposition of the most ancient finds. For example, there are unique exhibits found on barrows Pazyryk and Arzhan, an amazing mummy of the ancient leader whose skin is covered with tattoos, and the biggest in the world a felt carpet aged three thousand years’ origin.

East Halls

They are located on the third floor of the Winter Palace and represent an exposition of historical values from China, Japan, India, Iran and Ancient Egypt. Household items, works of art and other great attributes of east culture are presented here including statues and figurines of gods’ fabrics.

Diamond and Gold storerooms

If you are intrigued by gloss of jewellery and grace of works of jewellers of antiquity, then these halls will surely fascinate and captivate you! Both personal jewellery of a dynasty of Romanov, and the products of precious metals and stones found in tombs are presented to expositions. For visit of an exhibition it will be required to acquire the separate ticket in cash desk – in the same place it is possible to learn the schedule of excursions.

Peter the Great’s Cabins

It is a fine opportunity to plunge into life and chores of the imperial persons living in the Winter Palace. The exposition is in Hermitage Theatre, and it is possible to see imperial cellars, the interior of personal rooms of Peter the Great in it. Only original personal belongings of the Tsar were used during the reconstruction process. You will also mention the well-known waxwork of Peter created by Bartolomeo Rastrelli.

The malachite living room

It is the only palace hall in which the situation of imperial times completely remained. Visitors can admire a unique furniture, a magnificent interior with abundance of white marble and gilding. Moreover, the legendary interior products from malachite are also here. It is possible to fall in love with that architecture once and forever after facing that kind of beauty!

Rembrandt’s Hall

The unique collection of the paintings of the Netherlands artist includes 24 pictures located in a spacious gallery. In spite of the fact that there is a lot of space in the hall, it is almost always kindled by visitors therefore it is better to go on a visit to Rembrandt before the forenoon – excursion for school students and visitors begin after 12.

Certainly, it is not all treasures of the Hermitage.  The collections of the museum are so rich and extensive that they are almost impossible to be described. Come to the Hermitage if you have time and desire to make a fascinating trip to this amazing world of art, to be ready to feel as Indiana Jones revealing unique secrets of history behind each new door and surely the staff of the museum will help you to solve them!


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