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Alexander Column, Palace Square.From the 1760s the Winter Palace was the main residence of the Russian Tzars.

Magnificently located on the bank of the Neva River, this Baroque-style palace is perhaps the major attraction of St. Petersburg.

Many visitors also know it as the main building of the Hermitage Museum (which consists of six buildings). The green-and-white three-storey palace is truly impressive: it has 1786 doors, 1945 windows and 1057 halls and rooms, many of which are open to the public.

The Baroque Winter Palace was built in 1754-62 for Empress Elisabeth, daughter of Peter the Great. By the time it was completed Elisabeth had already died, and only Catherine the Great and her successors could enjoy their new home.

Interior of the Winter Palace.
Interior of the Winter Palace.

The Shadow of the Winter Palace recounts an extraordinary century of Russian history, a politically tempestuous time that was also a Golden Age of intellectual and artistic achievement-the century of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, of Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky. During Revolution it was the scene of many demonstrations and then was used as a hospital.

Interiors of the Winter Palace. The Drawing Room in Rococo II Style, with Cupids , Watercolour, Edward Hau, 1860s.
Interiors of the Winter Palace. The Drawing Room in Rococo II Style, with Cupids , Watercolour, Edward Hau, 1860s.

It is in the old Winter Palace (1754-1764, work of Rastrelli) that the greatest artistic masterpieces are presented under the name of Museum of the Hermitage. This old palace is of style baroque, on three floors. The Museum of the Hermitage, first museum of Russia, shelters 2 700 000 works of art including 67 000 exposed in 400 rooms.

Malachite Hall in the Winter Palace.Many of the impressive interiors have been remodeled since then, particularly after 1837, when a huge fire destroyed most of the palace.

Nowdays the Winter Palace, together with four more buildings houses the extensive collections of the Hermitage. The Hermitage Museum is the largest art gallery in Russia and is among the largest and most respected art museums in the world.

Interior of the Winter Palace. The present structure, completed in 1762 and designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, was commissioned by the Empress Elizabeth. Its opulent baroque facade, stretching two hundred meters, is a veritable cornucopia of pilasters, bays, and statuary.

The palace served as the winter residence for every ruler of Russia since Peter I, who installed himself there along with his mistress, the Countess Vorontsova.

After his wife Catherine the Great seized the throne, she redecorated and appropriated her husband's old quarters. While her son Nicholas I lived in a modest apartment there, his wife Alexandra commissioned the famously luxurious Malachite Room, later to be used as the meeting place for Kerensky's Provisional Government.

Nicholas II had his quarters immediately above this room until 1904, when he moved from the increasingly discontented capital to Tsarskoe Selo. In July of 1917, the Provisional Government took up residence here, thus setting the stage for the October Revolution. After consolidating its power, the Bolshevik government transferred its capital to Moscow, and since that time the Winter Palace has been associated primarily with its role as the Hermitage Museum.

Interior of the Winter Palace.

In the middle of the Palace Square is the Alexander Column erected in 1830-1834 after a design by Auguste Montferrand. Both the Column and the General Staff Arch commemorate the Russian victory over Napoleon in the 1812-1814 war.

The Column is hewn from a cliff that was found in a bay in the Gulf of Finland. The 230-ton monolith was carved away by hand for three years and then brought to St.Petersburg in a barge built specially for that purpose. Two thousand soldiers rolled it onto a high pedestal with the help of a very intricate system. It is not attached to the pedestal but is securely held in place by its huge weight.

The figure of an angel on top symbolizes the peace that settled on Europe after the victory over Napoleon. Rising to a height of 47.5 metres the Column outshines the Trojan Column in Rome and the Vendome Column in Paris.

Palace Square has witnessed many historical events. It was the scene of the "Bloody Sunday" massacre. And it was from this place that revolutionary soldiers and sailors stormed the Winter Palace on an autumn night in 1917. The cobblestones in the middle of the square have been pre-served as they were in October 1917 as a reminder of that historic event. On national holidays, demonstrations are held in Palace Square. All through the year it is packed with tourist buses.
Winter Palace at night (from Dvortsovy Bridge).
Winter Palace at night (from Dvortsovy Bridge).

The Hermitage museum.

With the possible exception of the Louvre, there is no museum in the world that rivals the Hermitage in size and quality. Its collection is so large that it would take years to view it in its entirety - at last count, there were nearly three million works on exhibit.

Friendship, Pablo  Picasso, 1908, from The Hermitage museum.The total length of the Hermitage routes is over 20 km. It would take one over a hundred years to cast if only a cursory glance at each object of the Hermitage.

Every year 400 exhibition rooms receive three and a half million visitors. The Hermitage now possesses 15,000 paintings, 12,000 sculptures, 600,000 drawings, 600,000 archaeological finds, 224,000 objects of applied art, a million coins and medals, etc.

The museum is especially strong in Italian Renaissance and French Impressionist paintings, as well as possessing outstanding collections of works by Rembrandt, Picasso, and Matisse. Not least among the attractions of the Hermitage is the museum itself, with its fine interior decoration and architectural detail.

Church Utensils,1679, from The Hermitage museum.The collection of the Department of Russian Culture consists of over 300,000 items and reflects a thousand-year Russian history. Icons and articles of artistic handicraft represent the inner world and way of life of ancient Rus. The items of Peter the Great's time illustrate the epoch of important transformations.

Portrait of the Grand Duchess Maria Nikolayevna , Daughter of Nicholas II, Konstantin Makovsky 1905, from The Hermitage museum.The origins of the Hermitage can be traced back to the private art collection of Peter the Great, who purchased numerous works during his travels abroad and later hung them in his residence. Catherine the Great expanded the collection considerably, and she and her successors built the Hermitage collection in large part with purchases of the private collections of the Western European aristocracy and monarchy. By the time Nicholas II ascended the throne in 1894, he was heir to the greatest collection of art in Europe.

After the Revolution of 1917, the museum was opened to the public, and its collection was further augmented by the addition of modern works taken from private collections. Today, the Hermitage has embarked on a major renovation effort. Its collection is in the process of being reorganized, and many of its works have for the first time become available for travelling exhibits outside of the country.

To learn more about the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg please visit their official site. Another informational website about Hermitage Museum.

Bust of Alexander Menshikov, 17034. Anonymous (possibly Swiss, Austrian, or German artist, active in Russia or Austria). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1996.The Menshikov Palace.

In 1709, Peter I presented Vasilyevsky Island to his favourite courtier and associate, Alexander Menshikov (1673-1729). The son of the tsar's stableman, Menshikov became a distinguished courtier and the first Governor-General of St. Petersburg.

The palace of Prince Alexander Menshikov was founded on Vasilevsky Island in 1710.

The Menshikov Palace. Main Staircase.It is the first stone building in St. Petersburg and one of the oldest surviving buildings in the city.

The Menshikov Palace, had an unusually rich decor. The palace interior strikes one with its splendour, especially its carved wooden walls, the ceiling of painted leather and the marvellous Dutch tiles.

Before Peterhof was built, Peter held official functions and parties at Menshikov's place. Eventually palace became the centre of the city's social and political life where Peter's grand "assemblies" were held, Russia's military victories were celebrated and foreign guests received.

The Menshikov Palace. View from the Neva River.

leksander Menshikov was Peter I's closest pal. Catherine I, Peter's second wife, was originally a serving girl working for Menshikov. Menshikov knew how much Peter liked women, particularly other people's women, and so despite their good friendship, he was reluctant to show this particular serving girl to the tsar. However, Peter was a crafty fellow, and he managed to swoop her away from Menshikov.

he unique appearance of the building and its courtyard took shape over the course of construction, which lasted many years and involved European architects and artists. The palace combines both traditionally Russian and new, imported, methods and forms, incorporating all the latest achievements in construction and art of the era.

The Menshikov Palace. Walnut Study.
The Menshikov Palace. Walnut Study.

After more than twenty years of painstaking restoration work, the Menshikov Palace became a branch of the State Hermitage Museum in 1981, featuring permanent exhibition on "Russia's Culture of the First Third of the 18th century". As part of the Hermitage Museum, the Menshikov Palace was able to draw on the Museum's large collections incorporating not only former imperial property but also the property of the Russian nobility, including objects confiscated from Prince Menshikov.

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