The Hermitage/Winter Palace
The Hermitage is one of the top art museums in the world and its close link to the history of Russia makes it one of the country’s most recognizable symbols. It was not only an art gallery, but also the home of the Russian royals.
The Winter Palace was built in 1762 for Peter the Great’s daughter, Elizabeth, but unfortunately, she died before it was complete and the palace was passed on to the next ruler.
At that time it was the Italian architect, Rastrelli, who built the palace (1050 rooms and 117 staircases) in Baroque style. As one of the city’s most beloved architects, his hands touched a number of other famous buildings around the city such as Smolny Cathedral, Peterhoff, Stroganov and Anichkov Palaces to name a few.
Catherine the Great was always interested in art and other precious things. Her private rooms contained personal collections of jewelry, porcelain and other prized items. So in 1764, she commissioned Yury Felton to design her own little palace that she affectionately called her Hermitage (meaning private dwelling in French). That same year, Catherine bought her first collection of paintings from a German merchant which consisted of 255 paintings and thus what we now know as The Hermitage was born. Because this was her private space, only close friends and relatives visited The Hermitage during those years. It wasn’t until 1852 that others could visit The Hermitage and even then it was difficult to get in as one had to request special permission to gain access.
It’s now the largest museum in Russia and houses about 3 million works of art and other artifacts.
Tips for visiting
If you’re visiting the Hermitage, plan to be there for at least 2 hours depending on how fast you look. I’m a quick looker and it takes me about 2 hours. Although you are not allowed to drink in the galleries, I’d advise you to take some water with you or plan to visit the cafe on the first floor after your tour.
Your ticket also enables you to go to the General Staff Building, Peter the Great’s Winter Palace and Menshikov Palace (the biggest palace in the city during Peter the Great’s time).
Free entry is now the third Thursday of each month as well as May 18th (International Museum Day) and December 7th (St. Catherine’s Day). Children and students can always enjoy free admission.
Usually the museum closes at 6pm, but on Wednesday and Friday it stays open til 9pm. The museum is closed on Mondays.
The peacock clock is turned on every Wednesday at 8 pm. Get there early to get a good spot!