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 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. 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 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 the years of 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 - named after Tsar Alexander I - which is made of a single monolith of red granite and is the largest free standing column in the world. The whole monument is 155 feet high which includes 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 provides the opportunity to see the different styles of architecture with rooms such as the Throne Room provide an insight into the workings of the palace and the life style of the Tsar and his court.
The rooms contain works and artefacts 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. With many of the great masters such as Rubens and Leonardo da Vinci having rooms devoted just to their works.
The Hermitage is always crowded, although the opportunity exists for visitors to have private group tours in the evening which are combined with a concert in the beautiful Spanish Skylight room with its wonderful acoustics; something not to be missed.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.