Breakfast at the hotel was interesting. It was a smorgasbord with the selection
ranging from what kiwis might eat for breakfast, to what we might eat at tea.
Bread consisted of small slices of French bread, which were slightly stale.
Coffee was a little weak, so I needed three to start the day. I am afraid I
couldn't resist the novelty of hot chips for breakfast.
I made my way to the bus to take us into the central part of town for our visit
to the Hermitage. The Hermitage incorporates the Winter Palace of the Romanov's,
the Hermitage Museum and the Hermitage theatre. The Palace was constructed
between 1754 and 1762 for Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great.
The Winter Palace was the family home of the Romanov Emperors from the time of
Empress Elizabeth right up until the palace was stormed during the revolution of
1917. The palace square was the site of the infamous events of the 9th of
January 1905, or 'Bloody Sunday', where royal troops opened fire on a crowd of
peasants and workers who had come to address the emperor.
Looking out on the Palace Square from the Hermitage
The Hermitage museum was officially founded by Catherine the Great in 1764 to
house her personal collection of treasures. She is reputed to have said that
'only mice and me' can admire this museum. Suffice to say very few were invited
into the Hermitage. Servants were not even allowed to enter the dining area
Catherine used for diplomatic engagements - a 'down waiter' table was
constructed so that the servants could prepare the table on the ground floor
before elevating the table to the first floor.
The ceilings inside the Hermitage are
The collection was started with 225 paintings acquired from a Berlin merchant
called Gotzkowsky. These were originally made for Frederick II of Prussia, but
Frederick found he could not afford the paintings following large spending
during the seven years war.
The Hermitage Theatre was constructed in 1783 on the orders of Catherine. It is
the oldest theatre building in St Petersburg.
Following the October revolution, the Hermitage and the winter palace were
converted into a public museum by the revolutionaries. The private collection of
the Tsars, as well as many other private collections from around Russia were
nationalised and made open for public viewing inside the Hermitage. The creation
of the collection is a good example of how nationalisation can benefit all.
While the creation of a world-class art museum, open to the public is a good
thing, it is a shame that the conversion of the Winter Palace into an art museum
was so complete, given its historical importance. While the Grand Staircase and
the library remain close to how they were in imperial times, and the main throne
area of the St Georges Hall has been restored, nearly all other rooms in the old
palace, including the living quarters used by the Romanov family have been
converted into collection rooms. However, this loss is balanced by the
restoration of the Summer Palace.
Between two Monet's
One of my favourite parts of the palace was the Grand Staircase (also known as
the Jordan or Ambassadors staircase). White marble of the staircase contrasts
with the grey granite columns on the upper landing, and the intricate gold on
(artificial) marble decoration on the walls. Allegorical figures on the high
point of the walls appear to hold up a ceiling painting of Mount Olympus. I
admit the staircase made me think of those old telemovies about the Russian
revolution such as 'Nicolas and Alexandra'. It was good to see it for real.