The most memorable experience for most people of a trip to Russia is a visit to the "crown jewel" -- The Hermitage.
Founded in 1764 as a private museum of Catherine the Great, today it houses nearly 3 million pieces of art.
The first Hermitage burned in 1837, but all the art was saved and it was rebuilt in 17 months.
The collection occupies 4 buildings: the Winter Palace, former official residence of the imperial family; the Small Hermitage, the only custom-built museum which served as Catherine's retreat from court; the Old Hermitage and the new Hermitage, which opened to the public in 1852. The name refers to "a place to be alone," because Catherine stated she enjoyed being alone with the paintings.
We no longer are able to see the Impressionist paintings because they are now housed in a new, separate building which requires another ticket. The Hermitage has the largest collection of Impressionists outside of France.
One interesting item of note - rodents apparently are a threat to the canvases, so, since the early days the museum has kept a stable of about 50 cats in the basement with 3 caretakers to address the problem.
Reaching the upper landing, we walked through the Fieldmarshal's Hall, then the small throne room meant to commemorate Peter the Great and his deeds,
Then we proceeded to the Small Hermitage and saw the Pavilion Hall with its slender marble columns and 28 chandeliers.
Also his famous "Return of the Produgal Son".
Unterberger in 1780 to replicate the frescoes in the Apostolic Palace in Rome created by the Italian artist.
This was in one of the small Italian skylight rooms.
We also saw works by Gerard ter Borch II, who was one of the first to paint realistic images of fabric.
Finally we walked through some of the opulent rooms of the imperial family. Here I am in the Boudoir of Empress Maria Alexandra (1861) and then her living quarters.
We spent over 3 hours at the museum half of which was before the crowds, thanks to Regent. Only way to do it. We saw many more things, too numerous to mention, but this is a great sample.
I am splitting this day into 2 parts - Catherine's Palace at night is worthy of her own entry.