Try googling “St. Petersburg” and one of the images you’ll first see is that of a green building with white columns and gold embellishments. This is called the Winter Palace, home to the previous tsars and the last Russian ruling family, the Romanovs (yes, Anastasia!!!). The palace is huge – occupying thousands of square meters of floor space that spans from the Palace Square to the Neva River embankment. Despite its vast size, it is but one of the many buildings that make up the State Hermitage Museum complex.
One of the largest museums in the world, the Hermitage holds about 3 million+ items, including paintings, sculptures, armory and archeological artifacts, among other things. All of these are housed in the Winter Palace, the Small Hermitage, New Hermitage, Great (Old Hermitage), Hermitage Theatre, Menshikov Palace and the General Staff Building.
We entered the museum complex through the elaborately decorated gates on the Palace Square. The passage opens up to a courtyard. We spotted a ticketing machine and told ourselves “what an easy peasy way to get entrance tix!” So imagine our surprise when we saw the looooong line of visitors queueing for tickets! We made it to the doors quick, placed our coats in the bags (so we don’t have to leave our jackets in the cloakroom, read: queue), picked up a map and readied our cameras. Going through the whole complex could take you a day but just in case you’re in a hurry, here are the 9 things, IMO, you shouldn’t miss!
1. What could be a warmer and more elegant welcome to the Winter Palace than being greeted by the famous Jordan Staircase? Grand in every corner and detail, the staircase sets up the mood for more breathtaking sites waiting in the halls. I gasped at the sight of the intricate gold gilding against the white washed walls, the life-size marble statues, big glass windows, massive grey granite columns and the trompe l’oeil painting that borders the Gods at Olympus on the ceiling.
2. A palace wouldn’t be complete without a throne. The Throne Room of Peter the Great exudes royalty in the form of a richly adorned room with reds and gold. A painting of Peter hangs by the wall, serving as a backdrop to the empty, lonely seat.
3. The opulence continues to the Grand Church, which has basically the same style as the Jordan Staircase. It is a room bursting with so much beauty in white and gold. The altar, the iconostasis, the pulpit – ugh, so gorgeous! During the old times, royal weddings were held here.
4. The Military Gallery features portraits of Russian and foreign monarchs and generals. These portraits are framed in gold and set against red walls commemorating the heroes of the war of 1812 – when they won the battle against the French led by Napoleon I.
5. I didn’t see the Peacock Clock in motion but whether moving or not, this clock made by the famous English watchmaker James Cox is definitely impressive. How I wish we’d seen it putting up a show but thanks to the short film presented beside it that we had a glimpse of how awesome this clock really is. You gotta see the peacock spread its wings!
6. The Small Italian Skylight Room lets natural light in that best emphasize the humongous paintings and sculptures in the hall. I particularly love the powder blue accent on the ceiling that seemed to mimic the sky and bedazzled with gold gilding.
7. Upon learning that Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son is in the Hermitage, we scanned all rooms, weaving left and right, back and forth until we see it. We finally found it on the west wing of the New Hermitage together with other Rembrandt paintings. This work of art evokes so much emotion! We could go on standing there for a few more minutes examining each brush stroke that created each figure that represents something/someone. Superb!
8. Another painting that shouldn’t be missed is Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna Litta – an image of the Virgin breastfeeding the baby Jesus. The thing about admiring a work of da Vinci is having to rush and making a quick mental note of the whole thing because there’s a long line of people waiting for you to finish looking at it. :s
9. The Raphael Loggias stretch a good few meters of frescoes on walls and ceilings inspired by the work of Raphael in the Vatican Museum. They said these are exact replicas. Well, I haven’t seen the original to compare but whatever it is, this is just amazing. My photo couldn’t give justice to how very detailed it is. Very impressive!!
It’s not easy to pick just 9 out of the millions of things to see in the Hermitage. Oops, did I mention that the Hermitage houses a giant Zeus sculpture and a mummy(!!!) in the ground floor? And Henri Matisse’ Dance (damn, I missed this!)? So,when in St. Petersburg, do not ever miss this museum. It has a beautiful architecture embedded with rich history and adorned with such lovely and important works and pieces. I can guarantee that it’s not only for the artsy or the history buff.
Have you been? What are your favorites?