In 1703 Peter I laid down the city on the Neva River, and almost at once the capital was moved to the building city. Of course, the imperial palace (called the Winter Palace), became the primary building on the main square of the city. However, today palace was built by the architect Francesco Rastrelli only in 1754-1762, fifty years after the city was founded.
For several centuries the palace was the main grand residence of Russian emperors, and now it is the largest museum in Russia and one of the largest and best museums in the world. Later there appeared the second name - Hermitage (from the French word ‘ermitage’ meaning ‘retreat’), which was originally given to several secluded chambers of Catherine II. And today the name ‘Hermitage’ is much more wide-spread than the old name – Winter Palace.
The Hermitage, as museum, was founded in 1764, when Catherine II purchased a collection of 225 canvases from the merchant Gotskovskiy in Berlin. Later, there were purchased another 600 pictures from Count Bruhl, as well as the collection of baron Crozat. All these pictures were laid in the foundation of the painting collection of the Hermitage. Many curious exhibits belonging to Scythian, Egyptian, Sumerian and the other periods were being sent from the archaeological expeditions.
As the collection grew, it was decided to add several buildings to the main building of the Winter Palace, which were located along Millionnaya Street (Millionaires Street) and referred to as Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage and New Hermitage. So, the palace complex took up the entire Palace Square and part of Millionnaya Street up to Zimnaya Konavka (Winter Channel).
The art collections are exhibited at the residence of Russian emperors, therefore it will be interesting to visit the Hermitage not only because of its pictures or sculptures. It will also be very interesting to see the interiors of the palace. In this respect the Hermitage is similar to the Louvre in Paris, which is also located at the royal palace, and differs from the Prado in Madrid or the British Museum, where art collections are kept at special buildings.
You will enter the Hermitage through the Jordan Staircase. It is very beautiful and magnificent. Actually, it has never been rebuilt since the time of its construction, although after one of the fires its gilt wood sculptures were substituted for marble ones, and columns made from artificial marble were replaced by the granite ones. The name ‘Jordan Staircase’ is related to the ceremony of water consecration that took place on the Neva River on the Epiphany. The ceremony began at the staircase and finished near the ice hole on the Neva River. In Russia the ice holes that were cut on the Epiphany have always been called «iordan».
From the staircase you get in the enfilade of front rooms of the imperial residence, located at the main building of the Winter Palace. These rooms, as well as the most interesting exhibits, are on the first floor. You should see the St. George Hall also known as the Large Throne Hall, the Golden Drawing-Room, the 1812 War Gallery, the Field Marshal`s Room, and the White Room. The tomb of Alexander Nevskiy made of silver is kept at the Concert Hall. The Malachite Room is also very impressive, where many interior components are made of the Ural malachite. Since July 1917 the meetings of the Provisional Government were held at this room, and on November 7th workers and soldiers who burst in the palace arrested the members of Provisional Government at the adjoining room, where they were sitting at the white table.
Art treasures of the museum are also impressive. The Hermitage has two pictures of Leo-nardo da Vinci: Madonna and Child with Flowers, otherwise known as the Benois Madonna and Madonna Litta (Madonna and Child), as well as two pictures of Raphael: Holy Family and Madonna Connestabile (Madonna and Child).
The Hermitage has much more pictures of Dutch painters. There are more than ten pic-tures of Rembrandt including very famous ones - «Return of the Prodigal Son» and «Danaë». The collection of Rembrandt`s engravings is considered to be the best in the world. Apart from these masters, there are also many works of some other famous painters of the Holland, Spain, France, Italy and other European countries.