Hermitage Museum/ Winter Palace

Ermitazh/ Zimny dvorets

The Winter Palace was the official winter residence of the Russian emperors from 1762 to 1904. In 1904 Nikolas II moved the residence to the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. The present building is the fifth version of the palace. The first one was built to commemorate the wedding of Peter I in 1712. The modern day palace was started in 1754 by an Italian architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli. He planned to create a colossal Baroque construction with elements of French Rococo in interiors dedicating it to Empress Elizabeth who unfortunately did not live to see that architectural masterpiece. The palace was finished in 1762, during the reign of Catherine II.

The Winter Palace hides a lot of secrets and has many legends to tell, the most intriguing of which are related to the ghosts of the royal family members. Thus, on multiple occasions museum staff said they saw shadows of Nicholas I, Alexander II, Catherine II and Nicholas II in storerooms or in rare-to-be-visited corridors. There is an ages-old story telling that on the eve of her death Catherine II saw her doppelganger sitting on the throne and then going out of the hall. Other constantly reviving rumors suggest that the Winter Palace has a lot of concealed underground passages connecting it to different buildings in the city, such as, for instance, the mansion of ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska, Nicholas II loved one (the passage was never actually found).

After the Revolution the palace became a residence of the Provisional Government, then it became part of the State Hermitage Museum that possesses a collection of almost three million exhibits. It will take you several years to see the complete collection of the Hermitage paying just one minute per an artwork! The Hermitage is especially proud of its collection of painting by the masters of the Italian school, such as Raphael, Titian, Michelangelo and of course Leonardo da Vinci. The museum proudly displays the famous Madonna Litta and Benois Madonna. The Hermitage also is the place to behold the greatest (apart from the Netherlands' collection) array of Rembrandt's works. The Hermitage is also one of the Top 3 in the TripAdvisor's Top Museums of the World 2016 rating. The first place is occupied by the NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art, while the Chicago Institute of Arts holds the second place. The first 10 also features Parisian Orsay Museum, Mexico's National Museum of Anthropology, New York's National September 11 Memorial, Madrid's Museo del Prado, London's British Museum, the Acropolis Museum in Athens and the Vasa Museum in Stockholm.

Beyond the Winter Palace, the Hermitage is a museum complex that includes the buildings of the Great (Old) Hermitage, Small Hermitage, New Hermitage and the Hermitage Theater. The Menshikov Palace and the building of the General Staff are museum's affiliates. The Great Hermitage built in 1878 was meant to house the library and keep the royal painting collection. In 1792 Giacomo Quarenghi added the Raphael Loggias, a precise replica of the Papal Palace's gallery in Vatican. Up until 1885 the ground floor of the Great Hermitage housed the State Council and the Committee of Ministers, for their usage Andrei Stakenschneider designed the Council staircase and built a separate entrance. The theater staircase serves as a passage to the Hermitage Theater and the Raphael Loggias from the side of the Palace Embankment, it also interconnects three floors of the structure. The Small Hermitage was commissioned by Catherine II, the empress loved to organize festive evenings here, which were called "small hermitages". First, the South wing was built (empress Catherine's "favourite", count Grigory Orlov lived there), then at the same time as the North wing was built the construction called the Hanging Gardens was erected. It is a garden raised to the first floor above the ground to be situated between the galleries linking the North and the South wings. The Hermitages was the empress's place to escape from the bustle to meet with her close circle or with high-ranking guests, play cards or have supper, which is why a raising table was added to the pavilion. This was also the place where Catherine kept her unique painting and sculpture collection that was the foundation stone for the State Hermitage astonishing treasury.

Today, one of the most famous exhibits of the Small Hermitage is the Peacock Clock. The New Hermitage opened in 1852 was Russia's first building originally meant to house and displays a museum's works of art collection. Today it displays collections of Antique art, painting, sculpture, European decorative and applied arts. A portico with ten gigantic telamons made of grey Serdabol granite decorates the entrance to the museum, while the whole building is adorned with statues and bass reliefs depicting famous artists, architects and sculptors of the past ages.

Another staggering detail – the basements of the museum is home to more than 70 cats, who are considered to be museum's freelancers! Catherine II once even granted the cats an "art gallery guardians" title.

Address: Dvortsovaya Emb., 38 (Dvortsovaya naberezhnaya, 38)
Opening hours: Tue, Thu, Sat, Sun 10.30 am – 6 pm, Wed, Fri 10.30 am – 9 pm. Closed on Mon. To avoid waiting lines purchase the tickets in advance online or at the General Staff.
How to reach: Admiralteyskaya metro station
Coordinates: 59.939879, 30.314642