St Petersburg: 28th November 2012.
It would be tempting to think Catherine the Great was the wife of Peter the Great … but actually, she was married to Peter III, his grandson. Only for a short time, though. Shortly after his accession, he was deposed and then murdered, some say at the orders of Catherine herself. Whatever, she took over as Empress and Autocrat of All the Russias.
She lived mainly in the Winter Palace, built by Peter the Great, and soon had an extension built, where she could ‘entertain her friends’. This was nicknamed ‘The Hermitage’, because she spent much time here, and saw so few people that it was said that she lived like a hermit. And here, she housed her extensive art collection, gifts from lovers and visiting Heads of State; often, it is said, the two were interchangeable!
But, even this wasn’t big enough to house the ever-growing collection, so, next door, she built the Old Hermitage. Then came the New Hermitage, built on the orders of her grandson, Tsar Nicholas I; this building was never used as a palace, and has always been purely a museum.
All are linked by raised corridors, so there’s no need to go outside to pass between the buildings … and, that, considering the coldness of the weather, seemed an excellent idea!
There’s much to see here; our guide seemed to concentrate mainly on paintings. We would like to have seen more; but I don’t think we were allowed to wander round on our own … since we were part of an organised tour group, the visa requirement had been waived, so I think ‘free time’ is forbidden!
You’ll need a considerable time to see around … and even then, there’s no way you’ll see it all. Someone once calculated that, if you spent a minute inspecting each and every artefact … to see everything would take eleven years.