Dvortsovaya Maberezhnaya, 34 7-812-710-90-79 www.hermitagemuseum.org
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The State Hermitage collection started with the 225 paintings bought by Catherine the Great from a Berlin merchant in 1764, and today it encompasses almost 3,000,000 priceless works of art, 5 percent of which are on display. The six buildings covering a quarter of a mile of the banks along the Neva River are St. Petersburg’s main attraction and to describe them requires superlatives that are so overused they feel redundant.
Most visitors first encounter the Hermitage through the frame of Carlo Rossi’s triumphant arch at the entrance of the Palace Square. Standing in such a vast, empty space in the middle of St. Petersburg, surrounded by the mint-green of the Winter Palace and spectacular Neo-Classical buildings and topped by imposing statues is a truly moving experience.
Given the more than 1,000 rooms, it could take weeks to explore the museum and see all the priceless works. It is reported that to spend just 30 seconds looking at each item in the collection would take up to five years, without stopping to sleep. Most visitors will want to pack the trip into one or two days, making the presence of a knowledgeable guide, who can also skip the long lines, essential. An unforgettable experience, and one that Indagare can arrange is a private, after-hours tour of the museum.
Highlights include the thirty rooms of Italian Renaissance art including works by Raphael, as well as breathtaking pieces by Da Vinci and Michelangelo and a loggia whose ceiling was painted by Raphael. Other not-to-be-missed rooms include those that hold the gilded Peacock Clock and the room of Rembrandts (74, to be exact, the largest collection outside the Netherlands).
In what is certainly the least magnificent section of the museum, architecturally speaking, the former servants quarters on the top floor, sits what is probably today the most valuable of the Hermitage’s holdings—a collection of French Impressionist and Modern paintings that were considered lost for decades after being hidden during World War II. There you will find Matisse’s The Dance, Van Gogh landscapes and portraits from Picasso’s Blue Period.
A particularly chilling sight is the French mantel clock in the Tsar’s Small Dining Room, which is frozen at 2.10pm, the exact time the Bolsheviks seized power on October 26, 1917.
Tip: You can skip the notoriously long lines for tickets (especially during the summer months when you can wait for as long as three hours) and pre-book tickets online. Just be sure to take along a photo id when you pick up your tickets. But since many signs are only in Cyrillic and museum guards rarely speak anything but Russian, we strongly recommend hiring a guide to navigate the museum and focus on the highlights instead of trying not to get lost in the maze of treasures. Indagare members can contact our bookings team to arrange for a special private visit as well as access to some of the private rooms not regularly open to the public.
- Nikki Ridgway