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St Petersburg


The Hermitage (Winter Palace)



The Hermitage is a series of six buildings assembled over 250 years and which now makes up one of the world’s greatest museums. The buildings include the Winter Palace which was started in 1754. This was to become renowned when it was “stormed” on 26th October 1917 by Bolshevik forces, which led to the beginning of the Soviet Union.


The Hermitage is a series of six buildings assembled over 250 years and which now makes up one of the world’s greatest museums.  Its collection shows the development of the worlds culture and art from the Stone Age to the 20th century. The buildings are situated along the embankment of the River Neva, in the heart of St Petersburg.


The main building of the Hermitage Museum is the Winter Palace shown on the right of the photograph above.

Started by Empress Elizabeth in 1754 in the Baroque style it required a vast amount of money and involved over 4,000 people working on the construction.  Elizabeth never saw its completion as she died and the new monarch, Catherine II (the Great), was an admirer of the new architectural style, Neoclassicism and appointed a new designer and architect. The Palace was completed in 1762 when it became the official residence of the Russian Tsars. 

In February 1917 the ruling dynasty of the Romanovs was overthrown by the Revolution. This started due to the shortages of bread during the First World War when on the 23rd February 1917 the women of Petrograd (which was the name of St Petersburg at that time) marched through the city protesting, over the next few days this was repeated and over 100,000 people occupied the centre of the city.  Although it was at that time just a demand for bread, the thing that turned it into a revolution was when the chief of the military district ordered his troops to fire on the unarmed crowds.  The situation deteriorated and Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate resulting in a provisional government being formed.  

After the February Revolution the Palace became the headquarters of the Russian Provisional Government although it is best known for being “stormed” on the 26th October 1917 at the start of the October Revolution by Bolshevik forces, under the leadership of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, which led to the beginning of the Soviet Union.  With the establishment of a new government under Lenin the Hermitage was declared a museum.
Between 1771 – 1787 the Great Hermitage was built by Catherine II in order to house the Palace Art Collection and Library. Catherine was also to add the Small Hermitage, the New Hermitage and the Hermitage Theatre, which underwent a major renovation in 1991 and is now the home of the Russian Academy of Music. The General Staff building was built between 1820 and 1827 and was given to the State Hermitage in 1993 to house new exhibitions of the Museum. The Menshikov Palace was added as a branch of the Hermitage in 1981.
The square in front of the Winter Palace is considered to be the main square of the city and is an excellent example of how different styles can be combined.  

In the middle of the square is the Alexander Column. which is named after Tsar Alexander I, who ruled Russia from 1801-25. 



This is the largest free-standing column in the world and is made of a single monolith of red granite and is 83 feet tall by 11 inches in diameter. The whole monument is 155 feet high which includes a pedestal which is decorated with symbols of military glory as it commemorates Russian military victory in the war with Napoleon and a statue of an angel with a cross, the face of the angel is said to be modelled on the face of Alexander I.


The Hermitage consists of many opulently decorated rooms and many different styles of architecture. 

The rooms contain works and artifacts dating from prehistory, Ancient Egypt and Classical times to early 20th century Europe. It contains over 3 million items including the works of the great sculptors and artists: including a significant amount of works relating to Renaissance and the modern masters. Paintings, sculptures, arms and amour, silver and gold objects, clocks and other exhibits by all the great masters are exhibited in some of the most exquisitely designed and opulent rooms. 

On entry via the side of the river Neva visitors walk along the Jordan Gallery, which prior to the 19th century was known as the Main Gallery. It led to the Main Staircase which is now the Jordan Staircase. Its name was changed due to on the day of Epiphany, the "Jordan" - a tabernacle used for the consecration of water which was used for religious services took this route on the way from the Grand Church of the Winter Palace to the Neva where it was erected over a hole in the ice in the Neva River. The Jordan staircase is made of marble and decorated with sculptures, stucco and gold plating.  



The Pavilion Hall located on the first floor, contains architectural elements of classical antiquity, renaissance and the orient. It contains a collection of mosaic tables made for the wedding of Alexandra III. 



It also contains a copy of the floor mosaics, unearthed in an ancient Roman bath at Ocriculum, Italy 1780.  It shows the head of Medusa and scenes of the war between man and the centaurs from Greek Mythology, which are depicted in The Parthenon in Athens. At the side of the niche are two marble fountains. These replicate the Fountain of Tears in the Tartar Palace in the Crimea. The Peacock Clock was obtained by Catherine II from Potemkin, one of her lovers.




The Armorial Hall of the Winter Palace was intended for official ceremonies.  Over the entrance of the hall is a colonnade supporting the balcony with the balustrade between a Sculptural group of Russian warriors either side of the entrance. The gilt bronze chandeliers incorporates shields with the coat of arms and heraldic emblems of all the provinces of Russia.



The Council Staircase connects the Small, the Great and the New Hermitages. The entrance and the staircase owe their name to the meetings of the State Council held on the ground floor of the Great Hermitage in the mid-19th century. The top of the staircase is decorated with white marble pillars and contains a large malachite vase. 



Large Throne Room is also known as St George Hall. This served for official ceremonies and receptions and contains the throne. Over the throne canopy is a marble bas-relief showing St. George Slaying the Dragon. The room was destroyed by the fire which swept through the building in 1837. The restoration used Carrara marble instead of coloured Russian marble it had originally. Prior to the fire the room had a painted ceiling, this was replaced by one with vary large coffers embellished with gilt bronze decorations. The parquet floor is made from sixteen different kinds of wood and mirrors the pattern of the bronze ceiling.



The Military Gallery is devoted to the War of 1812 and commemorates  Russian victories in the Napoleonic Wars.  It contains 332 portraits of the generals who were the heroes of the 1812 and European campaigns of 1813-14. 



One of the most lavishly decorated halls of the New Hermitage is the Spanish Skylight Hall. It has a large vault, and the frieze are decorated with moulded and gilt arabesques.  The acoustics are excellent, and concerts are frequently held in this room.


A number of the rooms are named after the displays that are held in the room. These which many of the world’s most famous artists. One such room is the Hall of Leonardo da Vinci which was one of the guest rooms of the Great Hermitage.  It now contains two of da Vinci’s pictures, The Madonna with a flower and the Madonna and Child.



The Hermitage is always crowded, although visitors can have private group tours in the evening which can be combined with a concert in the beautiful Spanish Skylight room with its wonderful acoustics.


To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.



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              All  Photographs were taken by and are copyright of Ron Gatepain

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