(CNN) — Whilst you’re strolling the grand halls of the State Hermitage Museum, in St. Petersburg, Russia, you would possibly hear the faint sound of a meow coming from pipes under.
Roaming the sprawling basement of what was as soon as the Winter Palace — the official residence of Russia’s ruling tsars — are almost 50 cats who’re handled like royalty. Down in the principle room (the “koshachiy dom,” or “cat’s home”) they’re fed and cared for by the workers on the Hermitage, with veterinarians on name.
The palace additionally has a particular room for the extra anti-social cats that want little contact with their fellow felines. Then there are those who meander the halls of the basement, mendacity on massive pipes and trotting freely concerning the nooks and crannies of the palace.
The Hermitage even has a devoted press secretary for the cats, Maria Haltunen. Although they aren’t allowed into the galleries and are not often seen by the general public, Haltunen says they continue to be widespread.
“Perhaps (it’s) as a result of they’re so mild, possibly as a result of of the unusual mixture of big museum and fairly cats,” says Haltunen, who occurs to be allergic to the animals.
A black cat sits in entrance of the Hermitage Museum.
Olga Maltseva/AFP through Getty Photos
‘Guardians of the galleries’
At this time, the Hermitage Museum consists of 5 buildings open to the general public — with the Winter Palace because the centerpiece. The almost three-century-old constructing has been house to cats for the reason that starting. Empress Elizabeth I ordered by decree that cats be introduced all the best way from the town of Kazan, roughly 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) southeast of St. Petersburg, to catch mice within the palace basement.
The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg at sundown.
Julian Finney/Getty Photos
Strolling by the museum is like dancing within the footsteps of Russian tsars. Guests can transfer by the crests and coat of arms room into the army gallery after which arrive on the throne room, standing in entrance of what was fairly actually the seat of energy for the Romanov dynasty.
The Throne Room on the Hermitage Museum, the seat of energy for generations of Russian tsars.
The museum by the eyes of its director
The present director of the Hermitage Museum, Mikhail Piotrovsky, is aware of each inch of the palace. His father was the director for almost 40 years; Piotrovsky grew up wandering the halls.
“It’s an encyclopedia of world artwork and tradition. It’s encyclopedia of Russian historical past,” Piotrovsky tells CNN. “No different museum has such a mixture of stunning views and delightful locations.”
Piotrovsky says his favourite spot is all the time altering. He loves that the artwork and artifacts are usually not housed in a “white dice,” just like the minimalistic backdrop of many of the world’s artwork museums, however as an alternative on show amid the grandeur of a palace.
Whereas the director insists all the things in his museum is a must-see, one of the large attracts is the well-known Peacock Clock, one of Catherine the Nice’s acquisitions. From its perch overlooking the gardens, the gilt-bronze clock consists of three life-sized, transferring mechanical birds.
Throughout a current go to to the Hermitage, CNN’s Richard Quest (left, standing) was capable of see the clock in motion.
“The peacock is the hen of paradise, gardens are the symbols of paradise in a manner,” says Piotrovsky. “It makes a sort of small paradise contained in the museum.”
The Soviet Union and the resurgence of cats to the Hermitage
The museum determined to absorb some of the stray cats, including to the few felines left within the basement on the time.
Piotrovsky says his considering was to “give (individuals) an emblem of humanity, an emblem of individuals’s like to the animals.”
However, he provides, “not all people favored it. Not all people likes the scent of cats.”
A cat prowls the basement of the museum, on the lookout for mice.
To this present day, the palace cats faithfully perform their mice-catching duties — even the eldest cat, at 22 years outdated.
“Effectively, if mice would go near our cats — they are going to catch,” says Haltunen. “They do their job very nicely.”
With cats within the basement and artwork above, the museum attracts guests from each nook of the world. In the course of the early phases of the pandemic, the Hermitage’s works had been solely accessible to view on-line. However Piotrovsky says he believes that folks now acknowledge the significance of seeing the gathering in individual, in all its majesty.
“I feel it’s a nice symbolic museum,” he provides, noting that the museum has endured wars and political upheaval all through the centuries. “No different museum, frankly, has such a historical past because the Hermitage.”
CNN’s Richard Quest and Robert Howell contributed to this story.
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