Our first day in St. Petersburg, and our first stop is the Hermitage, the principle reason we’re in Russia. Peter the Great lived and died in a relatively modest palace here, on the banks of the Neva, and it was his his extravagant daughter, Empress Elizabeth, who in 1754, ordered the creation of a Winter Palace. Her son Peter III died there under suspicious circumstances, with the connivance of his wife, Catherine the Great, who succeeded him. Catherine had several insatiable appetites, but it was her lust for masterpieces that was responsible for the birth of one of the world’s great art collections. What a home it has!
In the summer of 1941 Hermitage staff and many volunteers packed up all these treasures. Two trains carried 1,118,000 works of art to the safety of the Ural mountains to save them from the approaching Nazis.
We pass through the royal reception rooms to get to the vast collection (there are 23 Rembrandts alone) displayed in 120 rooms. Here is a tiny sample. You owe it to yourself to see Alexander Sokurov’s “The Russian Ark”, a film shot in one continuous take, a tour of the Hermitage narrated by a resident ghost.