The Hermitage Museum is a must-see for all first-time travellers to St Petersburg Russia.
Founded in 1764 by Russian Empress Catherine the
Great, the State Hermitage Museum is a major attraction in the Imperial City of St Petersburg, Russia. It is a place of great beauty inside, as it is the home of the city’s Museum of Art and Culture, and out, because of the architectural grandeur of the buildings that make up the complex.
With three million artworks on display is one of the richest, finest, and biggest museums in the world. A tour inside the Hermitage Museum is a unique cultural experience introducing you to the history of art from the 25th century B.C. to the current days.
Viewed from across the Neva River, the buildings could have and can still inspire a variety of emotions: fear and possibly anger in the old days, awe and amazement today. Regardless of the emotions felt, anyone who has seen the complex would have to admit that the buildings are works of art as beautiful as those works found inside the museum.
The Hermitage Museum complex includes five main buildings: the Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Great (Old)
Hermitage, New Hermitage, and the Hermitage Theatre. Several other buildings are also part of the complex, such as the
General Staff Building, the Menshikov Palace, and the Imperial Porcelain Factory. They all are well known and generally open to the
public over a certain period of the year.
Personally speaking, walking through the thousands of rooms of each exhibition of the Museum to admire its worldwide art treasures would be an experience of a lifetime.
If you are looking for more information about the Museum so you can plan better your visit, check out the links below.
The main displays of one of the world's largest museums are located in five buildings facing the Neva and Palace Square. They form a single palatial main complex that was roughly a century in the making (from 1754 to 1852), and are referred by locals too as "Winter Palace". This main complex is what you see on typical photos of the Hermitage and postcards.
The Winter Palace is a huge three-story Baroque-style building. It contains 1500 rooms, 117 staircases, and a total floor of about 46,000 square meters. The palace was constructed in 1754-1762 by Bartolomeo Rastrelli for Empress the Elizabeth. In the past, it was a residence of the Russian emperors and the seat of the Russian Provisional Government for a short time following the Revolution of 1917. Some of the magnificent interior features include the Jordan or Ambassador Staircase, the large Throne Room, and the War Gallery of 1812, including the superb Malachite and Gold Drawing Rooms.
The Small Hermitage comprises two pavilions on the north and south that are linked by galleries and Hanging Garden. The architectural design combines features of the Late Baroque and Early Classicism periods of art. This was the original building built during the reign of Catherine the Great. The word “hermitage” means a hermit’s home, but popular parties of Catherine’s time featuring games and performances were known as “small hermitages”. Catherine’s parties were held in the northern pavilion and works of art were displayed in the side galleries. These artworks were the first pieces of the collections of the Imperial Museum.
The Great (Old) Hermitage was put up between 1771 and 1782 to the design of Yury Velten and was built to naturally complete the existing palace ensemble and accommodate Catherine II's collections and libraries. Of the many
amazing rooms inside, the Room of the Italian Renaissance, where the works by Leonardo da Vinci
are displayed, is the most attractive.
The New Hermitage building was designed by Leo Von Klenze, the creator of the Bavarian museum, and constructed to the south of the Great (Old) Hermitage for the Tsar Nicholas I. Inspired by the famous Pinakothek, the pride of Munich, this part of the museum opened in 1852 with 18 impressive halls housing interesting pieces of Ancient Art. For example, one of the halls contains a gigantic vase (4.5 meters in diameter) that was cut from a single piece of Revno Jasper by the craftsmen of the Kolyvan Lapidary Works in the Altai.
The Hermitage Theatre is one of the oldest theatres in St Petersburg and in Russia. Built for Catherine II by Giacomo Quarenghi, the old foundations of the palace are still visible on the ground floor. The theatre is viewed as a rare monument to Catherine’s personal tastes and affections. It features a semi-circular auditorium surrounded by ten niches holding statues of Apollo and the muses and is richly decorated in the Roman style.
The Hermitage Museum has also other branches worth visiting, such as the General Staff Building, the Menshikov Palace, and the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory.
The General Staff Building is one of the world's largest architectural compositions and, arguably, the finest creation of one of St Petersburg's foremost 19th century architects Carlos Rossi. Located opposite the Winter Palace, across the huge and beautiful Palace square, the building hosts temporary exhibitions about post-impressionist art. A large arched opening separates the east and west wings. The arch is topped by a triumphal chariot.
The Menshikov Palace constructed on the bank of the Neva River is the best and sole-surviving residence of General Alexander Menshikov. Founded in 1710 by Giovanni Mario Fontana, the palace was the first stone building in the city and has been a part of the Hermitage museum since 1981. It has been restored several times over the years, and today it hosts a constant exhibition about the life of early years of the history of St Petersburg.
The Imperial porcelain factory is one of the oldest factories in Russia producing ceramic porcelains. Today it also houses exhibitions about the history of porcelain, which consists of more than 30,000 items including porcelain, glass, drawings, photographs and rare publications.
The Hermitage Museum is one of the most significant art collections in the world (numbering around 3 million items), presenting the history of art from the Egyptian and Roman times, way through Medieval and Renaissance times up until the classical modern period and the present. Most famous are the displays of Western European art and the Treasure Gallery.
If you are wondering what you may find inside the museum, below is a short summary of the most interesting exhibitions to see split into categories.
An introduction to the ancient history of territories in which the foundations of a number of present-day civilizations were laid.
Hall 243, better known as the Knights' Hall, contains Western European arms and armor from the imperial collection (one of the largest in the world with some 15,000 items).
This is the largest display in the museum, the most famous, and probably, most valuable to see. It includes masterpieces by Giorgione, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Rubens, Hals, Cranach, Velazquez, Gainsborough and other great masters of world art.
The display occupies two halls on the ground floor, accessible by way of the Eastern Vestibule. Here are unique cultural artifacts from the states that formed in the Nile valley and between the Tigris and Euphrates in the 4th to 2nd millennia B.C.
Presents pre-Islamic and medieval art of a region from which in the era of the Crusades the cultural achievements of eastern civilizations flooded into Europe.
The collection numbers over 113,000 items, representing the art of Ancient Greece, Etruria, Roma and the Hellenic colonies of the northern Black Sea Coast.
The basis of the display is the priceless Siberian Collection of Peter the Great and unique artifacts from Scythian burial mounds. Here too are precious gifts made to the Russian rulers, including items from the legendary treasury of the Great Moguls.
With over 30.000 exhibits on display you can easily get a sense of overload and feel lost, if you visit the Hermitage museum unprepared. If you are wondering what to skip and what to see during your visit at the Hermitage museum, then take note of our hand-picked list of must-see collections below.
The St George Hall (The Large Throne Room)
This is one the largest state rooms in the Winter Palace approached by the main Jordan staircase, originally created to host palace ceremonial, and other royal events.
The Hall of Italian Renaissance (Hall 214)
The hall is dedicated to Italian art of the 16th-18th centuries on the first floor in the New Hermitage, which occupies the Small and Large Italian Skylight Halls.
The Peter the Great Hall (Hall 194)
This is one of the best room of the Hermitage museum dedicated to the memory of Peter the Great.
The Gold Drawing Room (Hall 289)
Along with the White Hall, the Green Dining-Room, the Crimson Study, the Boudoir and the Blue Bedroom, the Gold Drawing-Room offers an interesting exhibition of the private rooms of Empress Maria Alexandrovna.
The Hall of Egyptian Art (Hall 100)
The room display a wide range of masterpieces of Ancient Egyptian art.
The Malachite Room (Hall 189)
This is a beautiful room decorated with semi-precious stones from the Urals. Columns, pilasters, fireplaces and tables are faced with malachite in the technique of Russian mosaics.
The Gallery of 1812 (Hall 197)
The room display 332 portraits of Russia's victory over Napoleonic France.
The Armorial Hall (Hall 195)
Created for grand receptions, the room display Western European silver and several sculptural groups of early Russian warriors.
The Pavillion Hall (Hall 204)
Created in the middle of the 19th century, the Pavilion Hall in the Small Hermitage museum is the most popular with visitors because of its striking architecture.
Raphael Loggias (Hall 227)
The hall offers a nice narrow gallery whose east side overlooks the Winter Canal and the Hermitage Theatre.
The ticket office for the Hermitage Museum can be found inside the main building. Just walk through one of the three big arches facing Palace Square, then move all the way through the courtyard and enter the building through one of the two sides of the main entrance. You will see a big reception where you can ask questions and buy your tickets.
You can also buy the tickets at the Hermitage Museum Official Hotel. The biggest advantage of staying there is that you can buy your ticket in the lobby and save a lot of time at the museum. The hotel also provides a shuttle service to and from the museum twice a day.
Alternatively, you can buy your tickets online via the museum official website. Lastly, if buying tickets online is not an option for you, then you can even take advantage of a couple of self-service ticket machines in the courtyard before the main entrance.
Address: 2, Dvortsovaya Ploschad (Palace Square)
Open: Daily 10:30 am to 6 pm. Last admission is at 5:30 pm. Wednesday and Friday, till 9 pm. Last admission is at 8:30 pm.
Prices: 600 Rubles - entry ticket to the Main Museum Complex and the branches (the General Staff Building, Winter Palace of Peter the Great, Menshikov Palace, the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory). 300 Rubles - entry ticket to one of the Hermitage branches (Winter Palace of Peter the Great, Menshikov Palace, the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory, Staraya Derevnya Restoration and Storage Centre)
Free admission: Preschool children, school children, students. Free admission to all visitors on the first Thursday of each month.
Best time to visit: Visit in the spring or autumn to avoid the crowds.
How much time to spend: 3-4 hours.
With over 1000 rooms, the Hermitage museum is the most confusing to find your way around. For this reason we recommend that you hire a local tour guide, if you can afford. If this is not an option, or you prefer to tour on your own, then get a map and/or an audio guide.
Written by Davide C.