Compass

Feb. 5, 1852: Russia’s Hermitage Museum opens to the public

Compass

(Photo: Guneev Sergey/RIA Novosti via Getty Images)

The sprawling Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, is famous as one of the world’s largest museums. Catherine the Great originally founded it in 1764 as a personal collection, but it wasn’t until 1852 (when Nicholas I was the Russian emperor) that it opened to the public. The number of items was already huge then, and it’s only grown since. With the 1917 revolution, ownership transferred from the royals to the government.

The Hermitage isn’t just one building; it’s a six-building complex with the massive baroque-style Winter Palace, formerly a royal residence, is its centerpiece. Its collection includes both art and artifacts — everything from ancient Egyptian and Greek pottery to European armor to paintings by such big names as Rembrandt, Monet and Picasso. Of course, it houses plenty of Russian items, too.

Russia was a major imperial power when the museum’s collection was first assembled, and Catherine and subsequent rulers ordered additions to the palace complex to reflect the nation’s greatness. Now, both locals and tourists visit those buildings to take in vast displays that include some of the most significant discoveries and artworks of the past 250 years. It takes days to see the whole thing — even though only a small percentage of its 3 million items are on display at any given time.

The Hermitage, like many museums, recently entered the mobile-data world with a mobile app that helps visitors navigate its many rooms.

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