Built in the mid-1700s for Peter the Great’s daughter, Elizabeth, the Hermitage was later filled with the art collection of Catherine the Great. The Hermitage’s vast collections of European masterpieces make it one of the world’s top art museums, ranking with the Louvre and the Prado. How does the Hermitage stack up among the world’s top collections of paintings for you? Photos by Trish Feaster, see her blog at The Travelphile.com.
Housed in the Romanovs’ Winter Palace, the Hermitage is actually two top-notch sightseeing experiences in one: an art gallery of European works and an imperial residence. You can enjoy the Leonardos, Rembrandts, and Matisses while imagining the ostentatious lifestyles of the czars who collected them. Between the canvases, you glide through some of the most opulent ballrooms and throne rooms ever built.
With the help of our local guide, I learned that you can avoid a ticket line by simply buying your Hermitage tickets at the machines in the courtyard. In Russia, I found that machines like this generally have an English mode and work well.
All over Europe, people are waiting needlessly in long lines. In St. Petersburg, the sight where you’ll mostly likely have a long wait is the Hermitage. With up to 10,000 cruise travelers a day flooding into the city and the Hermitage the top sight on their lists, it can be a zoo. But with our machine-bought ticket, we walked right by the ticket line and directly into the palace.
Throughout Europe, former palaces — or at least palatial buildings — are filled with a country’s best paintings. But nowhere is the rich mix of a royal art collection and a royal palace so powerful. This is the throne room of the czars.
If you’re looking for Europe’s great masters, you’ll find them in the Hermitage. Some visitors come away thinking, “But where’s the Russian art?” They’re in the wrong museum. The Russian art is in (logically) the Russian Museum. It’s every bit as exciting as the Hermitage — and it’s filled with art by painters whose names most Americans don’t know.
The last time I visited the Hermitage, I knew it had an awe-inspiring collection. But it was dingy and poorly displayed. After my recent visit, I’d give the Hermitage “the most improved museum in Europe” award. It is dazzling — both the art and the palace in which the art hangs.
Looking out the window of the Hermitage, the Winter Palace Square evokes scenes and memories of the Bolshevik Revolution. I can imagine members of Russia’s provisional government looking worriedly out this window as angry crowds of workers, inspired by the ideology and promises of Lenin, filled this square.