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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …