St. Petersburg – Been ThereThe Hermitage will exceed your expectations
If I were forced to compare the Hermitage to, say, the Louvre, the Prado or the Rijksmuseum, then the Hermitage would win hands down.
Jochem WijnandsFounder / photographer
St. Petersburg’s world famous museum is a complex of six magnificent buildings on the embankment of the River Neva, forming the heart of the city. Chief among them is the Winter Palace, former home of the tsars, and the core of the museum is the vast collection of art and treasures the former rulers collected when Russia was at its imperial height. With about 3 million items in total, only a fraction can be displayed and, no matter how long your visit, you’ll see only a part of that.
Even though I came with huge expectations, fuelled by enthusiastic reports from those who’d been here before me, I was still awed. Every painting, every sculpture, everything is of an impeccable standard. Works from all the most famous painters of the early Middle Ages to the 20th century are on display. There is a breathtaking collection of Rembrandt, Rubens and other masters such as Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck. The walls display more works by Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Matisse and Gaugin than you could conjure up in your wildest dreams.
What is it that makes this place so special? The fantastic collection, the huge halls of the Winter Palace, the grandiose staircases and the ceilings that are worth a visit in themselves. One of the original rooms of the Winter Palace was unimaginably rich, lined with six tons of amber. Called the eighth wonder of the world, it was presented to Peter The Great in 1717, a gift from the King of Prussia. Moved to the Catherine Palace outside St. Petersburg in 1755, it was stolen by the occupying Germans in 1941 and destroyed in the latter stages of the war. It’s a romantic and mysterious story that now has a happy ending.
A team of craftsmen spent 25 years working to recreate its wonders, combining tiny pieces of amber into ornate coverings for four entire walls. The reality can never match the fantasy, of course, but there’s an awful lot of artistry and wealth on show. Even more impressive is the ambition that brought it all about, a sign that the sleeping Russian bear can always awake. It was readied for St Petersburg’s 300th anniversary in 2003 and opened by then President Vladimir Putin, a native of the city.
Standing in this near-mythical Amber Room, you are surrounded by countless more rooms, each designed by the leading European architects of their day, inspired by great rooms in Venice, Vienna, Florence or Paris. Each room is filled with priceless objects: paintings, porcelain, clocks. And after Catherine Palace, you still have Peterhof, the ‘Russian Versailles’.
In St. Petersburg, there is no way around it. All roads, and all cruises, should lead you to the Hermitage.