Exploring the treasures of the Hermitage museum

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One of the high points of a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia is visiting the Hermitage museum, one of the world’s great art museums. If you love art, it’s a place that has to be on your bucket list, along with the Louvre in Paris and El Prado in Madrid. It’s well worth the trip to the far end of the Baltic Sea.

The Hermitage is actually the former Winter Palace of the Russian czars, who lived there from 1762 until February, 1917. But it also takes in several other buildings, including the Menshikov Palace and the museum of the royal porcelain factory. That means it’s a huge complex, and no place for a quick visit: you could spend several days exploring the public buildings and their amazingly diverse collections.

The museum houses three million artifacts and works of art from around the world, ranging from prehistoric finds to paintings by modern artists. It even has Voltaire’s entire library, purchased by Catherine the Great, who amassed many of the collections in the museum.

But even with this massive collection, it’s often the building itself that impresses, especially as you walk up the massive Jordan staircase, named after a yearly ritual when the royal family made a hole in the ice to bless the waters of the Neva River. The ornate marble staircase was where state guests and ambassadors entered the palace, and the ceiling above is just as beautiful as the marble below. (Hint: click on the photos to see them full-sized.)

The Jordan staircase, entrance to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia

The ceiling of the Jordan staircase, in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia

The rooms within are just as impressive, each one decorated with distinctive styles and colour schemes to suit the collections they contain. And some are just spectacular, like the throne rooms and halls reserved for state functions.

A golden room at the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, Russia

A royal throne at the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, Russia

It’s the art you come to see, however, and the collections don’t disappoint, with paintings from most of the old masters, including Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt.

A royal throne at the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, Russia

A Rembrandt painting at the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, Russia

But you could easily spend whole days just admiring the other objets d’art, like this classic stone table, the beautiful vases, pieces of furniture, sculptures and miniatures on display.

A table in the Hermitage museum, St. Petersburg

A decorated stone tabletop in the Hermitage museum, St. Petersburg

A statue in the Hermitage museum, St. Petersburg

There’s even a bit of history. This wonderful gallery, lined with art from floor to floor, was damaged during World War II, and the curators have left one mirror with the bullet hole still visible as a reminder of the past.

A narrow gallery in the Hermitage museum

Mirror

The Hermitage museum is about the history of art, but it doesn’t ignore modern history. Its collection of impressionists is one of the best, with works by Picasso and most of his contemporaries. Like everything else in the museum, the gallery is priceless.

The impressionist gallery at the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg

If you’re looking to visit the Hermitage, you can buy tickets online before going — a good idea, since the lineups can be long. Going with a group allows you to skip the lineups, but you lose the freedom to wander on your own.

You can get ticket details and a wealth of information on the museum and its collections at the official Hermitage website. After that, all you need is a ticket to St. Petersburg …

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About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

8 Comments

  1. Ivan Desilets on

    Stunning, awesome, whatever adjectives you can use do not do justice to the contents of the Hermitage similar to the Louvre or the Vatican museum or Sistine Chapel.

  2. Hi Paul, Thanks for this lovely piece. I loved the Hermitage and went for the first time on a snowy, freezing March morning in the early ’90s. We had to pay a special “tariff” in order not to wait in line. One of the things I noticed about your photos is the feet of the museum patrons – they are walking on the floors with their shoes! Believe it or not that was absolutely NOT allowed through at least the ’90’s (I haven’t been there since 2000) When you entered you removed your boots and checked your boots with your coat (only a barbarian would walk a museum with a coat and boots!) then put on the shoes you (hopefully) brought with you. Then you were given booties – similar to the ones used in high-end renovations when putting in a new floor. If anyone dared to touch the floor with the soles of their shoes the old lady guards would jump up, lecture and physically throw you out if need be! This was the same drill in all the museums in St. Petersburg and Moscow and everywhere else I visited in those 9 years. It was nice actually. They enforced a kind of respect for the museum, the art – and even in a way for yourself.

    • Thanks for commenting, Roberta. I hadn’t thought of it before, but you’re right. The odd thing is, I did have to put cloth “booties” over my shoes at the Catherine Palace, but not at the Hermitage. I guess there’s a different bureaucracy in charge now that figures the stone floors at the Hermitage will stand the traffic while the wooden ones at the Catherine Palace won’t. Funny to think of having to bring a pair of indoor shoes when you visit a museum — but that’s the old Russia.
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  3. dennis francz on

    3 million pieces could take a long time to see all those. I have never been but the photos look excellent. thanks Paul for the vicarious journey through the Hermitage museum.

  4. Paul…this is a beautiful piece of writing…simple..not long- winded..esp, in our world now…the 40 char twit..
    I was at the Hermitage last May…and I could relate to what you wrote..
    Your pics are beautiful..

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