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Connecting with Russia's Rich Legacy of Culture & History at The Hermitage

by Alyssa Smith

August 08, 2019

2 minute read

Russia has always fascinated me. From tales of a lost princess and elaborate ballets to prophetic tomes of literature and dark realist painters, the country has an inimitable and rich cultural legacy. One such mecca of Russian history and culture I had yearned to explore was the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. Considered one of the oldest and most expansive museums in the world (the Louvre is the largest), the Hermitage was a must-visit on my recent trip to Russia with Collette. Contained within the Winter Palace – the former residence of Russian Tsars – the museum started out as the personal collection of Catherine the Great, one of Europe’s most imposing monarchs. As I walked through the Hermitage’s grand halls, I was curious to know more about the museum’s extravagant former owner.

hermitage 2

I learned from our helpful guide that Catherine the Great was a powerful empress and provocateur who reigned over her state with tenacity and fervour for 34 years. When not ruling over the Russian empire, Catherine II fancied herself a tastemaker with a deep appreciation for the arts. Under Catherine’s direction, St. Petersburg is said to have become Russia’s “window on the West.” Catherine became close friends with cultural influencers like Voltaire and Denis Diderot and was deeply passionate about acquiring ancient and contemporary paintings and sculpture.

catherine the great

From 1764 until her death in 1796, Catherine amassed thousands of paintings, drawings, coins, and medals – even copies of original frescoes from the Vatican. The museum's name was derived from the term “hermitage,” a dwelling of a recluse, to denote the exclusivity of access to the museum. According to historians, in one of Catherine's letters, she lamented that "only the mice and I can admire all this." Finally, close to 100 years later, Nicholas I opened the museum to the public when it was deemed property of the Soviet state.

Today, the Hermitage’s complex spans across five linked buildings and features over 3 million artworks and artefacts ranging in history from ancient Egypt to early 20th century Europe. And whilst Catherine might not be there to survey the land, her precious collection of art is enjoyed by local and visitors alike to this day.

Discover some of the world’s finest masterpieces whilst being transported back in time on a guided tour of this spellbinding museum on the new Imperial Russia tour.

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