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Why is the Hermitage museum a must visit in St Petersburg?

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Everyone has heard of «the Hermitage Museum» but why is it so famous?

Built as a residence for the royal Romanov family, the Hermitage has always caught either a fascinated or jealous eye.
Besides being a remarkable art collection, the Hermitage museum is housed in the former winter residence of the Russian Imperial family making a very unique art display.
The start of the museum history dates back to the middle of the 18th century when the Winter Palace was built as a new winter residence for the Russian Empress Elizabeth I. However, the first Empress to move into the Winter Palace was Catherine II or Catherine the Great, and she was the one who had laid a foundation stone to the future museum collection.
In 1764, 2 years after she had become the only owner of the new winter residence on the banks of the Neva river, Catherine purchased her first collection of art from the German merchant Johann Gotzkovsky. Catherine’s passion for art, or rather art collection, was unstoppable. As she described herself, she was «gluttonous». By the end of her reign Catherine the Great accumulated more than 4 000 art pieces including paintings by Titian, Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens, Diego Velazquez, Anthony van Dyck, Frans Snyders and others.
The Hermitage became a public museum in 1852 at the reign of Catherine’s third grandson-Nicholas I.  For the purpose of the museum the building of the New Hermitage was designed by a famous German architect Leo von Klenze. However, the collection was still privately owned by the Imperial family.
The pattern set in place by Catherine the Great was continued by her descendants and the family collection was enriched by every single Russian monarch who ruled after her.
The last but definitely not the least acquisition of the museum before the October Revolution of 1917 is «Madonna Benois» by Leonardo da Vinci.  The Imperial Hermitage purchased the painting from Benois family (a family of court architects) in 1914.  «Madonna Benois» is considered to be the one of the first Da Vinci’s independent paintings and preserves its bright colors regardless the fact that it is more than five hundred years old!
You can see «Madonna Benois» along with other amazing masterpieces of the collection on our Hermitage Museum Tour.
The 3-hour highlight tour of the museum includes also a tour of the winter residence interiors and comprehensive story of its buildings.
One of them is the Small Hermitage.  The Small Hermitage was built next to the Winter Palace as a place to entertain Catherine the Great’s close circle of friends.  In the Pavilion Hall of the Small Hermitage, visitors can view The Golden Peacock, a unique mechanical clock. The clock is attributed to the famous English jeweller, James Cox, and is decorated with jewels, silver, and gold. Every Wednesday at 20:00 you can see a remarkable show of the Peacock clock, which is wound up only once a week.

To see the Peacock clock in action, please, join our Hermitage: Impressionists Tour.
It combines a classic tour of the Winter Palace and the Hermitage collection masterpieces, the Golden Peacock viewing and the Impressionists art exhibition in the General Staff Building.
The building of the General Staff Headquarters  is very spacious and full of light — perfect for modern art display. Among many famous paintings to view on this tour are Henri Matisse’s «The Dance» and Claude Monet’s «Woman in a Garden».  The collection of works by Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renoir, Paul Gauguin impress even an experienced art fan.

On the Impressionists tour, you will enjoy the visit to the museum in the late afternoon-early evening when tourist crowds are not so dense and you have time to look around and truly enjoy art.
If you are a cruise traveler we arrange a VISA FREE tour, just contact us for details. If you are an independent explorer, you can book the Hermitage tour online and meet your guide near the Alexander Column. The video will help you to find the tour meeting place.
For more of our stories, photos and discussions about all things «Russian», feel free to join our Facebook group Russia Travel.

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