The bulk of the Hermitage collection is housed in the Winter Palace, formerly the official residence of the Romanov Tsars, and its several annexes. However, there are a number of other sites that constitute part of the Hermitage, including the recently opened Storage Facility in the north of St. Petersburg, which offers guided tours through some of the museum’s vast stocks. Our guide to visiting the Hermitage is designed to help you find your way around this enormous collection, with a detailed tour of the main site and individual information on each of the affiliated museums.
In 1754 Empress Elizabeth Petrovna approved the design for a new winter residence in Baroque style by the architect Bartolommeo Francesco Rastrelli. Construction of the new palace took over eight years, covering the last years of Elizabeth’s reign and the short rule of Peter III. In autumn1763, Empress Catherine II returned to St Petersburg after her coronation in Moscow and became the royal mistress of the Winter Palace.
Empress Elizabeth wished the beauty of her sumptuous new palace to eclipse that of the leading European royal palaces. Construction required an enormous sum of money and involved vast numbers of labourers. Over 4,000 people, including Russia’s greatest specialists, worked on the creation of the Winter Palace. Contemporaries describe the luxurious decoration of the state and other rooms (over 460 in all). But the architect was unable to complete the work as originally intended, for the new monarch, Catherine the Great, was an admirer of the new architectural fashion, Neoclassicism. She was to seek new designers and architects to carry out her plans.
On the order of Empress Catherine II the architect Yuri Velten erected a two-storey building next to the Winter Palace between 1765 and 1766. He combined features of the fading Baroque style and elements of the new fashion known as Neoclassicism.
Between 1767 and 1769, the architect Vallin de la Mothe constructed a pavilion for Catherine to relax on her own or with her most intimate friends. This contained a state room, several drawing-rooms and a hothouse. Now the Neoclassical style was truly coming into its own, but the austere proportions of the building are still finely balanced with the Baroque architecture of the Winter Palace. The rhythm of the colonnade of Corinthian columns in the second tier emphasizes the architectural unity of two buildings very different in style. The two southern and northern pavilions were then connected by construction of a Hanging Garden (raised above ground level, on the next floor) with galleries running along both sides. The whole architectural ensemble took its name from the northern pavilion and is to this day known as the Small Hermitage. Here Catherine II gave entertainments with games and plays, her so-called “small hermitages” and here she initially housed her first art purchases.