If there’s one thing that you simply cannot visit St Petersburg without doing it is the State Hermitage. And it’s for good reason. Founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great [it's a well-known fact that Catherines are always great, however this one was particularly so], it is one of the oldest and largest museums in the world. Only a fraction of its collection is on permanent display, and it would take years to properly take in each piece on display. The State Hermitage is comprised of six buildings, four of which are open to the public at least partially – the Winter Palace, the Small Hermitage, the Old Hermitage and the New Hermitage.
We didn’t particularly enjoy the queue to buy tickets, nor the number of people inside. But it’s the Hermitage, so neither was exactly unexpected. And there was no way in hell I was going to miss it.
Inside, it’s a maze. We were constantly referring to our map, and frequently asking the museum staff to verify where in fact we were. The buildings are divided up into different sections and different periods. We started on the ground floor with the Egyptian antiquities and moved in vaguely logical direction from there.
I can’t really explain the Hermitage. It was incredible. The building itself was designed to show off particular collections, and every room is decorated differently but incredibly lavishly. It feels more like a luxurious palace than a museum. It’s simply phenomenal. In many ways I think I enjoyed the buildings more than the collections. To be fair I usually felt like that when looking at 17th century Dutch still-life painting or other sections that to me were equally dull.
But that’s part of the beauty of such an old and extensive museum – even if you’re walking through sections where you don’t really appreciate the art hanging on the walls, you can instead take in the beauty of the design instead. And with such an immense collection on display, spanning vast regions and times, there’s bound to be parts you find fascinating and others that you’re happy to power-walk through. Nothing appeals to absolutely everyone.
There was one room that got me particularly excited. John was walking ahead of me and saw it first. He grabbed my hand and warned me not to get too excited. I don’t know why he thought that would prevent it from happening. The room was, of course, a library. And it was beautiful. To be fair, I’d probably prefer a little more light in the room, but if someone plucked it out of the Hermitage and plonked it into my house… I’d be in heaven!
Everything about the Hermitage was grand. The floors, some marble, others inlaid with intricate and delicate birch veneer patterns, were divine. It hardly felt right to walk on some of them. The ceilings weren’t forgotten either – many were painted beautifully to match and enhance their rooms. The light fittings – OH the light fittings! They were divine. It appears that having a royal patron makes all the difference!
We spent about six hours at the Hermitage and by the time we left we were exhausted. Our feet were sore and I don’t know how many more sculptures and paintings my eyes could have appreciated. It’s definitely the kind of place that you should visit more than once to really enjoy it, but we don’t all have that luxury. And while we couldn’t see it all, we saw a hell of a lot. And we enjoyed it. If we’d stayed much longer I don’t think that would have been the case!