The Winter Palace, now officially named the State Hermitage Museum, in “Venice of the North” Saint Petersburg. State Hermitage is one of the most visited attractions and one of the largest art museums in Europe amongst Le Louvre, Prado, or London’s National Gallery. Obviously, the museum has an impressive collection of art paintings, literature, coins, and sculptures… originally a private collection of Catherine the Great, the collection is now opened to the public eyes after the revolution. More, the museum itself is a piece of art, while you are admiring the marvelous art pieces, don’t forget to check out the interior of the many rooms. So which are the best? We are here to find out.
State Hermitage, something you should know
As I mentioned, the State Hermitage is the top-visited museum in the world, but its number of visitors is behind Peterhof. However, both of these sites are located in St. Petersburg, making them also the most popular attraction in Russia. The impressive collection of the museum has over 3 million items, of course, they are not all for the public eyes, and they are preserved in the 365 halls. Imagine if you take one minute to look at each piece of the collection for an 8-hour day (when the museum is in business), you will need 11 years to finish.
Once upon a time, the museum is a private property in the 19th century, and only wealthy noblemen with invitations could visit this place. Some of the gruesome exhibits you could find in the museum include a real mummy of ancient Egypt, a piece of tattooed human skin, and a snuffbox, a murder weapon of the Russian Emperor Pavel the First. One thing that makes State Hermitage even more special, is that this is the only museum in Russia where you can see Leonardo Da Vinci’s paintings. Fun fact, State Hermitage is home to more than fifty cats, the population dated back to the 18th century when they were brought in to catch mice. Now, they are believed to be the mascot that protects the masterpieces of art.
The architecture of State Hermitage
Starting from the exterior, State Hermitage is a perfect example of mid-18th-century Russian Baroque architecture. It has undergone quite a few expansions due to the volume of collection increased tremendously in the time of Catherine the Great, Russian Revolution, and the U.S.S.R. Ruling; the entire structure consists of six buildings, five of them are open to the public, including the Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old (Large) Hermitage, New Hermitage, and Hermitage Theatre. Calling it a Hermitage seems to be an understatement because the museum is everything but small.
Opening hours and tickets
Open Hours: 10:30 am – 6 pm
How did I get there: Palace Square, 2, St Petersburg, Russia (Admiralteyskaya station, Subway Line 5)
It’s impossible for a typical traveler to see everything in such a big museum with merely 1 to 2 days, or 1-2 visits; State Hermitage is the kind of place that a visitor could visit many times in order to truly understand and learn how marvelous the collection is.
The extensive collection covers a range of artifacts from ancient times to modern times: including historical objects, clothing, sculpture, coins, painting, and more! Countless great names have their masterpieces proudly displayed in extravagant rooms. To me, the rooms are the highlights of my visit to the museum. Look at the ornaments, the chandeliers, the engravings… as if the museum is a giant artwork itself!
The five Hermitage buildings are now connected and the museum ticket gives permission to access the entire museum ground. I suggest doing a little bit of research beforehand and learn about the location of the rooms (as time is limited) – these rooms were not exactly marked on the museum floor plan. My recommendations of the rooms are (numbers in the brackets are the room #!)
The Grandeur Jordon Staircase is the main staircase connecting the first and the second floor, and it is the first thing visitor would see entering the exhibition rooms. The hall has 10 black marble pillars supporting the structure with Italian sculptures displaying in between; Soaked in the royalty stepping up the ivory marble stairs, it is the most “original” room in the winter palace – the staircase is the only place reconstructed and repair based on the original design after the fire in 1937.
The Malachite Room (#189)
Apparently, the Malachite Room is decorated with Malachite, a green-banded mineral gemstone, and you can see them from pillars, ceiling, floor, doors, vases to candle holders. The room utilized over 20,000 tons of malachite for the construction of the room.
The room was designed in the late 1830s by the architect Alexander Briullov to replace the Jasper Room that was destroyed in the fire of 1837; it is the formal reception room for the Empress Alexandra Fyodoronvna, wife of Nicholas I.
The Pavilion Hall (#204)
Designed by architect Andrei Stakenschneider, the Pavilion Hall is the most breathtaking room in the State Hermitage with its refined and detailed decorations. The room has 28 giant chandeliers hanging down from the ceiling, with golden engravings on the walls and mosaic tiles on the floor. The focal point of the room is definitely the peacock clock made by British jeweler James Cox.
1812 Military Gallery (#197)
The gallery is a setting for 332 portraits of generals who took part in the Patriotic War of 1812.
Throne Room (#198) – (#194)
Designed in a loose Baroque style, the room holds the throne recessed in an apse before a reredos, supported by two Corinthian columns of jasper, which contains a large canvas dedicated to Peter I with Minerva by Jacopo Amigoni.
A lot of ceremonies were held at the age of Czars. One of the most important ceremonies was 1906’s DUMA, the Russian Legislative Election that Nicholas II hosted the ceremony and civilians were allowed to enter the Winter Palace, in hopes of preventing the outbreak of a social revolution.
Loggia of Raphael (#227)
The Loggia of Raphael is a gentle reminder of my unforgettable experience in the Vatican museum. As a matter of fact, the room was really inspired by Raphael Loggia in the Vatican, after Catherine the Great visited the place herself. Originally the plan was to copy-cat and to display the painting in the room – it was later an architect Giacomo Quarenghi suggested to copy-cat the entire Raphael Loggia in the Hermitage in the 18th century and the room was officially completed in 1792. Interestingly, although it’s a “copycat”, some of the details were “Russianized” like the symbol of the pope was changed to Double-headed Eagles.
Instead of fine art pieces, Knight’s Hall displays armors, shields, swords of knights, more like historic objects. The center of the room displays four German knight armors dated back to the 16th century.
White Hall (#289)
The color is my favorite – the room is constructed for a wedding of Alexander II and manifests the Rococo style with Gold Chandelier and shiny white, masterfully engraved walls and ceilings. However, the whiteness of the room is impressive – this room is in a classical style, and this room retains its original decoration.
Gold Drawing Room (#304)
The museum also has an impressive collection of painting from Rembrandt (#254), Da Vinci (#214), Caravaggio (#237), Velazquez (#239), Tatian (#221), Flemish School Artists like Rubens and Van Dyke (#245-247), Matisse (#343-345), and Picasso (#348 – 349)!
It’s listed as one of my top picks of the best art galleries in the world. Check the rest of my top picks!