The Hermitage - History and Facts | History Hit

The Hermitage

Palace District, Saint Petersburg, Russia

The Hermitage is a world renowned museum in St Petersburg which includes a vast array of global exhibits ranging from ancient artefacts and archaeological finds to modern history.

Image Credit: Ninara / CC.

About The Hermitage

The Hermitage is a vast museum complex in St. Petersburg housing around three million historic and archaeological artefacts, paintings, sculptures, numismatics and other works. It is one of world’s most well-renowned museums, with an astonishing array of exhibits ranging from the art and culture of ancient civilisations such as the Romans, Greeks and those of the Orient to Western European art and Numismatic coins.

History of the Hermitage

Found on 7 December 1764 by Catherine the Great to house a collection of paintings she acquired from the Berlin-based merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky, the Hermitage is the second-largest museum in the world, with over 3 million items in its collection. It’s also houses the biggest art collection in the world – only a fraction is ever on display at any one time.

The name, the Hermitage, derives from its exclusivity in the early days – very few people were permitted to visit.

The museum was first opened to the public in 1852, but remained relatively exclusive. Following the revolution of 1917, the Soviet state took control of the former Imperial palaces and collections. Between 1930 and 1934, over 2000 works from the collection were sold at auction abroad in order to raise funds, including works by Titian, Raphael, van Eyck, Rembrandt and Botticelli.

In 1994, the Hermitage revealed it was housing a major cache of Impressionist and post Impressionist paintings from private German collections, and displayed them to the public for the first time the following year.

The Hermitage is made up of six buildings, each consisting of exhibits relating to different eras and specialities. The main buildings are called the New Hermitage, the Small Hermitage and the Old Hermitage. These house, amongst other things, Greek and Roman artwork and artefacts, including vases, sculptures and gems dating back as far as 2000 BC, antiquities from Siberia and exhibits of Russian culture dating back to the 10th century.

The Winter Palace of Peter I, also known as Peter the Great, is another building in the Hermitage complex and displays pieces relating to the life and times of this monarch in his eighteenth century palace. Amongst this collection is Peter I’s own incredible collection of prehistoric art, mostly gold pieces taken from ancient burial grounds and dating back as far as the sixth century BC.

Other buildings in the Hermitage complex include the beautiful Menshikov Palace, being the former home of St Petersburg’s first governor-general, Prince Alexander Menshikov, the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory, The Hermitage Theatre and the Reserve House and the Staraya Derevnya Restoration and Storage Centre.

The Hermitage today

Whilst undeniably impressive, the Hermitage is also terrifyingly vast: allow at least a full day to explore the complex – if you’re a real art fiend, come back for multiple visits to make the most of what’s on offer here. Guided tours (available in a variety of languages) are a great way to see the collection highlight if you’re pressed for time.

Look out for guided tours of the the Staraya Derevnya Restoration and Storage Centre, which must be booked in advance – they’re well worth the effort. Don’t forget too to look up and take in the sumptuous decoration of the palace. It’s quite remarkable.

Closed on Mondays.

Getting to the Hermitage

It’s hard not to see the Hermitage if you’re in St Petersburg. The nearest metro stop is Admiralteyskaya, a 5 minute walk away. Palace Square is impressive in itself.

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