These were the exclamations that kept coming out of my mouth — to myself, out loud — as I walked from room to shining room of the Winter Palace, former residence of Russian emperors and now home to one of the greatest art museums ever. The Hermitage, according to multiple sources, is actually the largest art collection in the world, boasting more than 3 million pieces from Antiquity to Modernity spread over six buildings. Four hours and a dead camera battery later, I felt like I barely scratched the surface. Rembrandt, Rubens, Picasso, Van Gogh — at times the collection seemed literally endless.
But, magnificent as they were, it wasn’t the paintings themselves that had my mouth gasping and my head spinning; it was the palace proper. Rooms of gold and scarlet, tables and vases carved of solid malachite and lapis lazuli, walls and ceilings decorated top to bottom with exquisite Italian frescoes…I will let you see for yourself. One of the things that struck me as I wandered around these magnificent halls was how empty the place seemed. Despite its richesse, the Hermitage is only the 13th most visited art museum in the world. Not quite surprising, considering its fairly remote location, and while probably not great from the commercial standpoint, it makes for a highly relaxed and enjoyable experience for those who do visit the place.
The rooms and halls of the Winter Palace and the Hermitage Museum
Select artwork of the Hermitage
Pieces that caught my eye. The Diamond Rooms were a highlight, featuring several thousands of years of Russian jewelry, including a horse blanket embroidered with thousands of diamonds. A HORSE BLANKET.
The Palace Square
The red granite Alexander Column (the tallest of its kind on the world, standing without foundation and grounded entirely by its own weight), the Winter Palace, bow-shaped General Staff building and additional Hermitage buildings.