The moment I passed underneath the Triumphal Arch into the Palace Square, I knew I was no longer in the modern, bustling city of Saint Petersburg.
I glanced behind me at the Arch, built to celebrate Russia’s victory in the Patriotic War of 1812 against Napoleon. I could definitely see how it was a symbol of Russia’s glory and military triumph, with its grand width, detailed gildings, and a Roman quadriga at the top.
The crowds of mainly Chinese and Russian tourists blurred by me as I walked in a trance, staring at the majestic palace in front of me which was, with its light blue walls and white columns, fittingly called the Winter Palace.
Greek and Roman statues lined the rim of the roof, if it could be called such a commonplace name, and on the top was a flag of Russia and a shining, golden crown, practically ablaze against the darkened skies.
We passed through beautifully wrought gates on which the double-headed eagle of Russia was perched, and entered the courtyard. The gates had opened at ten, but as I was a bit puzzled to learn, the entrance into the actual palace was to open in thirty more minutes.
– Thirty minutes later –
The people in line swarmed inside, and I widened my eyes in delight. Such gorgeous gilding along the ceiling! Beautiful peach color! Oh my, look at the marble! And this was only the ticket entrance!
After we acquired those tickets, we hurried to the cloak room, a convenient, free place to hang up your coat and store your backpack. Squirming through the crowds was a bit interfering with my personal space, but we made it, and shortly thereafter we glided into the first hall.
I asked Mama, “What’s the difference between the Hermitage Museum and the Winter Palace?”
Mama shrugged. “They’re basically the same thing. The Hermitage is inside the palace, with a massive collection of paintings and sculptures that Empress Catherine the Great acquired.”
Through the hall, there was a few of these sculptures, but I was hardly paying attention to them. My eyes were fixed on the grand staircase lingering before me, a majestic mixture of burgundy red, white marble, and gold.
The staircase broke off into two separate ones from a landing, and all the steps were covered with a red carpet. The ceilings were gilded with golden twirls, while the walls were accented with columns and statues of various Greek gods and goddesses.
As I stood on the landing, I gazed up and gasped. A huge painting of Mount Olympus was on the ceiling, edged in gold, staring down at me.
The detail of the grand staircases was amazing, complete with mirror carvings and marble railings, and the view from the top pleased everyone’s eyes with the sparkling symmetry in everything.
From this point on, the palace glided into a museum, the Hermitage, where Catherine’s art collection was on display. Hundreds of paintings, tapestries, and sculptures that the collection was considered one of the greatest in Europe. I will show you my favorite works and a few special ballrooms.
This room was interesting, though I have no idea what its purpose is for. The emerald columns were beautiful, and the ceiling was exquisite. Emerald is my birthstone…hmm.
All throughout the palace are many types of chandeliers, all of them shining and ornate and grand. Like this one.
And this one…
And this one…
And this one!
Though I kept on thinking…poor servants who had to light all those candles before the age of the electric light bulb!
Next, to my utter delight, was a hallway with intricately woven tapestries lining both walls. I love the warmth and coziness tapestries bring to a room in which they are hung! This one, depicting a royal hunting scene, is my favorite.
This is the hall, with a view of a small garden, where Catherine the Great used to read by herself or privately entertain her closest friends. Notice the luxury, and emphasize private. No wonder the Russian people revolted!
A cute seating nook, made girlish by the light pink. I do love the flowery table top!
The mosaic floor, copying the pattern from a floor in the Sistine Chapel.
The hall was full of neat, little details, like this clock.
And this portrait of Catherine the Great.
And a golden peacock clock! It’s an automaton with three birds that, when turned on, twirl and flap their feathers!
Here is a close-up of the owl, which happens to be my favorite animal!
This is a beautiful hall displaying paintings by, mostly, Leonardo da Vinci. Below is one of my favorites.
After touring dozens of rooms displaying a vast collection of paintings, we took a quick lunch break…
… and explored the statues section of the Hermitage.
Behold Zeus, Lord of the Skies, atop his not-so-very-grand throne of marble!
Three of the Nine Muses…
After the statues, we took a staircase…
…to the second floor, with more statues and paintings! By this point, I was beginning to grow faint from exhaustion. Visitors to the Hermitage are recommended to take at least two days to see everything, but we only had one day. I was dizzy with walking and, though it seems shocking, gazing at a vast multitude of art. Yes, even beautiful paintings can wear one out!
Though there was a cool room with life size horses and knights towards the end, which perked me up.
We finally circled back to the entrance staircase where I was in for one last surprise: Peter the Great’s private throne room! Quite grand for a private one!
Over all, though I didn’t want to look at another painting or sculpture that day, I enjoyed my tour through the Hermitage, and getting a glimpse into the royal era of Russian monarchs. I emerged into St. Petersburg, and glanced back fondly at the Winter Palace. Perhaps one day I would explore its charming halls once more…