MUSEUMS IN ST. PETERSBURG
St. Petersburg has about 40 major museums, a many more minor ones, covering a broad range of topics, from art to guns. The world-famous Hermitage, with its Rembrandts, French Impressionists, and Scythian gold, needs no introduction. The Russian Museum boats a superb collection of Russian art with everything from Rublev icons to abastract expressionist art. Several large cathedrals and churches were turned into museum during the Soviet period and have remained museums. Others such as St. Isaac's Cathedral and the Kazanskiy Cathedral have returned to functioning as churches again. The Peter and Paul Cathedral contains graves of Russian tsars since Peter the Great. [Source: Cities of the World, Gale Group Inc., 2002, from a 2000 Department of State report]
Among the museums in St. Petersburg are the Museum of Musical Instruments, Museum of Bread Making and Central Naval Museum. The Soviets had turned many of the city’s palaces to museums. By one count there are over 3000 museums in St. Petersburg.
Museum of Decorative Glass ( on Yelagin Island, in the Orangery of the Yelagin Palace) houses the Collection of Leningrad Decorative Glass Factory museum, which operated from 1940 until its closure in 1997. The collection shows off the technical and decorative achievements of Soviet glass-making. There are more than 8,000 pieces.
Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory (pr Obukhovsky Oborony 151, eight kilometers southeast of central St. Petersburg) is run by the Hermitage. According to Lonely Planet: “This superb museum has a stellar display of the various designs the factory has produced over the centuries and will appeal to anyone interested in this very Russian handicraft. Among the collection you'll find everything from bespoke dinner services used by the tsars to unique constructivist tea sets created in the 1920s, indicative of the factory's versatility in serving its various political masters. Don't miss the exquisite collection of porcelain statuettes depicting the various peoples of Russia and beyond, with clothing so beautifully rendered it looks like fabric. There's also a porcelain shop here where prices are slightly lower compared to the factory's city-centre outlets. To get here, turn left out of the metro station and walk under the bridge. Turn left on the embankment and you’ll see the factory ahead.” Admission is 300 rubles.
One person posted on Trip Advisor: “The museum is part of the Hermitage and consists of three exhibition halls. In fact the combo ticket that they sold us at the Hermitage grants access to this museum. The exposition is not very extensive; the museum is housed in the factory building on the 4th floor. The first hall demonstrates the predecessors of Russian porcelain: Chinese, Meissen, Sevres and others. The second hall is dedicated to the Russian porcelain, here we saw the first bowl made by Vinogradov, the initiator of the porcelain manufacture in Russia. The third hall has an exhibit of Soviet porcelain. I enjoyed much more the craftsmanship of pieces exhibited at Hermitage and Faberge museums.”
Museum of the Defense and the Siege of Leningrad (Solyanoy pereulok, 9, east of the Summer Garden, across the Fontanka River) is the only cultural and educational establishment devoted to history of the Leningrad fight during World War II. Opened in 1946 and drawn from an the 1944-45 “Heroic Defense of Leningrad” which was visited by Marshal G. K. Zhukov and the General Dwight Eisenhower, it contains documents, personal belongings and other items related to World War II and the 900-day Siege and Blockade of Leningrad. Among the things on display are the lectern used by the conductor to play the Seventh (Leningrad) symphony of Shostakovich in Philharmonic hall in during the of Blockade, microphone used Olga Berggolts to steel the will of residents on Leningrad radio, hardened bread divided out with ration cards to Leningrad residents, and many other exhibits.
See Separate Articles on THE HERMITAGE and LITERARY ST. PETERSBURG
Russian Museum(on Ploschchad Iskusstv, a block away from Nevsky Prospekt) contains the largest collection of Russian art in the world. Situated in the Mikhailovsky Palace and designed by Rastrelli, it was originally the Stroganov Palace built for a grand duke between 1819 and 1829. The museum is dedicated to works by Russia artist or artists that worked in Russia and is especially strong in icons, 18th and 19th century Russian art and paintings by 20th century avante garde artists.
Among the Russian Museum’s greatest treasures are the famous 12th-century “Archangel Gabriel With the Golden Hair” icon, “Apostle Peter and Paul” by Andrey Rublyov, the figure of “Doubting Thomas” (circa 1500), and “The Battle Between Novgorod and Suzdal.” The only museum that has works that rival these is the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow,
Works by the 19th century painters that are outstanding for their historical content sas much their artistic achivement include paintings by Valentin Serov, massive paintings like “Barge Haulers on the Volga” and “The Zapoorozhian Cossacks Write a Letter to the Turkish Sultan” and portrait of a barefoot Tolstoy by Ilya Repin, “Yermak's Conquest of Siberia by Vasily Surikov, and “The Last Day of Pompeii” by Karl Briulluv.
In the 20th century art section check out “Banquet of Kings” and “Peasant Family” by Pavel Filinov, and “A Peasant's Head,” a cubist work by Kazimir Malevich. There also 20th century paintings by Chagall, Kandinsky, Rodchenko, Popova and Tatlin as well as by Timor Novokov, Sergei Africa, Vladim Voronin and Dimitri Shgdin, all of who are currently living and working in St. Petersburg.
An entire wing is devoted to folk crafts from the former Soviet Union, with splendid examples of woodcarving, embroidery, lacquerware, lace, and scrimshaw. It is worthwhile to make notes about what makes proper quality for shopping at souvenir shops. The museum has a few branches within the city, each with a different theme.
The Russian Museum underwent a US$75 million face lift in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It is not nearly as well known as the Hermitage, but unlike the Hermitage it has plenty of English captions, proper lighting, excellent presentation and features you'd expect form a modern museum. The Russian Museum is also known as the Russian State Museum and the State Russian Museum. Arts Square is a complex that includes the St. Petersburg Philharmonia and the Russian Museum.
Museum of the History of Religion (formerly the Museum of Religion and Atheism)
Museum of the History of Religion (near the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan) has exhibits ranging from hand painted icons to instruments of torture used in the Spanish Inquisition. It contains many exhibits that used to be in the Museum of Religion and Atheism, the museum’s Soviet-era predecessor .
The State Museum of the History of Religion — its official name — is the only one of its kind in Russia and one of the few museums in the world, which represent exposure history and development of religion. The museum's collection includes more than 180,000 items, the oldest of which date back to the 6th millennium B.C..
The State Museum of the History of Religion was established in the USSR Academy of Sciences system in 1930 using materials used in anti-religious exhibition, created by members of the Academy of Sciences in the halls of the Winter Palace in Leningrad in April 1930 from the collections of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, Peter the Great (Kunstkamera) State Hermitage Museum, the Library of the Academy of Sciences and the State Russian Museum. In 1932, The museum was opened in the building of the Kazan Cathedral .
Unlike other so-called anti-religious museums (Leningrad had an anti-religious museum from from 1929 to 1932), the Museum of the History of Religion was created as part of the Academy of Sciences as a research and scientific-educational institution designed to comprehensively study religion as a complex social -cultural phenomenon, including the consideration of the evolution of religious beliefs and cults, religion and spiritual culture of different epochs, psychological aspects of religious belief, religious and social Vision, the processes of secularization, religious art, etc. For decades, the museum staff, not only to create displays and exhibitions, not only stored (often saving them from destruction) many monuments of religious culture, but also waged a systematic research on the study of them.
Among the items in the museum’s collection are Orthodox icons from the 17th-20th centuries, objectsfrom Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and traditional beliefs of the peoples of the Caucasus, Siberia, the Volga region, the religions of China and Japan. The Museum opened a unique library, which has become the largest collection of books on the history of religion and religious studies in Russia.
After World War II exhibits and research department were organized around themes sych as "Religion of Ancient Egypt", "Religion and Atheism Ancient Greece", "Origins of Christianity", "History of Orthodoxy and Russian Atheism", "The History of the Papacy and the Inquisition", "Religions of China", "Natural Science and Religion" and many mobile photo exhibition. In 1954, the Museum was named National Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism USSR.
In 1990, the Museum returned the original name - The State Museum of the History of Religion. In 2000 the museum moved to a new building and is now located near the building of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg and St. Isaac's Cathedral.
Museum of Decorative and Applied Arts
Museum of Decorative and Applied Arts (near the Summer Garden) is housed in an elaborate and extreme structure commissioned in 1896 by the millionaire industrialist Aleksandr Stieglitz. Modeled after Venice's St. Marks, with influences of the Muslim Alhambra and Orthodox churches, it contains a first rate collection of Venetian glass, Byzantine ornaments, Renaissance platers, Chinese vases, antique tools, elaborately-carved European furniture, brightly-colored ceramic stoves and strange carpentry tools.
The Museum of Applied Arts at A.t.stiglitz Academy of Arts and Crafts and The Museum of Applied Arts of the St. Petersburg Academy of Art and Design are two other names the museum is known by. The building was designed by M.Messmacher and took 11 years. Its grand opening was attended by the Imperial family.
Today the Museum’s collections contains over 30.000 works of applied art from ancient times to the present. An extensive collection of Western European porcelain, Far Eastern ceramics, 16-18th century furniture are featured along with collections of glassware, and the best of students” work. These works reflect trends in Russian applied art over the years.
Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography
Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography(Inzhenernaya Ulitsa 4/1, on Vasilevsky Island, across the Neva River from the Hermitage) is the oldest museum in Russia. Founded by Peter the Great not long after St. Petersburg was established, the museum contains exhibits of cultures from outside the forrmer Soviet Union, including ones in Japan, North and South America, Africa and Australia. The museum is musty and eery and doesn't have many English captions. Particularly interesting are fish-skin garments from the Russian Far East, Samurai costumes, canoes from the Amazon, Benin sculptures and masks from the Iroquois and Tlingi Indians.
Steve Dougherty wrote in the New York Times: “The museum's Siberian exhibit is a must-see: tableaus depicting indigenous people in far eastern Russia who live in teepees, wear beaded buckskin clothing, hunt with bows and arrows, ply rivers in canoes and ride reindeer rather than horses.” [Source: Steve Dougherty, New York Times, December 31, 2006]
Kunstkamera and Peter the Great's Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography contain nearly one million artifacts and reflect the diversity of traditional cultures in the Old and New World. The Museum has always been one of the world's largest centers where human cultural heritage is studied, continuing the traditions of the great Russian cultural and physical anthropologists of the 18 — 20th centuries.
Russian Museum of Ethnography
Russian Museum of Ethnography (part of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography) originated in the early 20th century as one of the departments of the Russian Museum and for all intents and purposes is the part of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography focused on the cultures of Russia and the fromer Soviet Union. Major historians, folklorists and ethnographers in Russia established the museum to study the folk life and art of Russian nations and tribes with the aim to give an objective picture "of the national organism in the totality of their daily needs."
The Russian neoclassicism building housing the museum designed by the architect V.F.Svinina. was constructed in 1903-1913. In its center is a huge marble hall, lined with pink Karelian marble. The perimeter of the room surrounds a high relief depicting the peoples of Russia. The first ethnographic exhibition was opened in 1923 and the Ethnographic Museum opened as an independent institution in 1931.
The Russian Ethnographic Museum is one of the largest ethnographic museums in the world, containing items from 158 nations and ethnic groups in Russia, neighboring countries and places around the world, showing the group’s economic activities, arts and crafts, folk architecture, home life, contemporary folk art and ritual practices. There are materials of the traditional ethnography of the East Slavic peoples and Moldavians, peoples of the Caucasus and Central Asia, the Volga region and the North-West, Siberia and the Far East. For children there are specialized training program like "School of Crafts," "Little ethnographer" and Etnostudiya. Tel: (7-812) 313-4320.
Kunstkamera (within the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography) contains pickled body parts, siamese twins, two-faced babies, giant skeletons, a two-headed calf, extracted teeth, pickled lizards and frogs, old dental instruments, fetuses and other oddities that Peter the Great himself collected. In the 2000s a deformed human fetus were taken out and used in a ”scare tactic” campaign to show children the danger of drug and alcohol abuse. Website: www.kunstkamera.ru/english/index.htm.
Located on the banks of the Neva in the center of St.Petersburg, the Kunstkamera has been the symbol of the Russian Academy of Sciences since the early 18th century. Founded after Peter the Great's Decree, the Museum was opened to the public in 1714. Its purpose was to collect and examine natural and human curiosities and rarities.
This museum of curiosities is mostly famous for its anatomical collection, which was started by Peter the Great. Kunstkamera's outlandish anatomic anomalies preserved in alcohol still attract crowds of tourists. Also displayed here are collections of household items of different cultures — from Japan to Latin America. Additionally, Kunstkamera houses one of the oldest Russian observatories and a three-meter globe brought to Russia by Peter the Great.
Museums on Vasilevsky Island and around Peter and Paul Fortress
Vasilevsky Island museums include the Central Naval Museum, with model ships, maps and an 18th-century, two-set submarine; the Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkin House), with exhibits on Tolstoy, Gogol, Turgenev, Gorky and others; the Museum of Zoology, with hundreds of stuffed animals and a complete wooly mammoth taken frozen out of the tundra in 1902; and the Academy of Arts Museum, with a couple of 3,500-year-old Egyptian sphinxes.
Artillery Museum contains a dazzling array of weaponry, one of Lenin’s armored cars and a stuffed dog with a backpack. They dog had been trained to climb under Nazi tanks and blow them up. History of St. Petersburg Museum (in Peter and Paul Fortress) has documents that relate to the terrible hardships that took place during the Leningrad Blockade. Everyday at noon a booming cannon at the Naryshkin is fired off.
Museum of Political History (near the Peter and Paul Fortress) is the former Museum of the Great October Revolution. Housed in Kshesinkoi, the Art Nouveau palace of a ballerina who was a lover of Nicholas II, it has some interesting displays related to the Soviet period. The house itself is beautiful. Lenin' gave speeches from the balcony. Nearby are two pretty parks facing the Neva River.
Aurora (500 meters east the Peter and Paul Fortress, where the Bolshaya Nevka River breaks off from the Neva River) is a legendary cruiser that has been preserved as a ship a museum for its role in the Bolshevik Revolution. The ship fired the shot (a blank) that signaled the storming of the Winter Palace in the October 1917 putsch that toppled the provisional government and put the Bolsheviks in power.
The legendary first rank cruiser was founded May 23, 1897 in St. Petersburg at the New Admiralty shipyard. In 1903, it was commissioned as a warship of the Russian Navy. Aurora took its baptism by fire on May 14-15, 1905 in the Battle of Tsushima during the Russo-Japanese War. After returning to the Baltic Sea, Aurora became a training ship.
On October 25, 1917, a single shot of the ship was a signal to capture the Winter Palace. During the Leningrad blockade of 1941-1944, the crew of the Aurora rose to defend the city, subject to systematic shootings and bombardments. The hull of the ship got a lot of holes and settled on the ground. After the repair in 1948, the cruiser was moored at the Petrograd embankment and was used as the Leningrad Nakhimov school training base until 1956. The Ship Museum, a branch of the Central Naval Museum, was opened on the cruiser in 1956.
The Aurora has been featured in art works, songs, poems and movies. In addition, the ship itself appears in the cinema — for example, when they began to shoot a film about the legendary cruiser Varyag in 1945, the role of Varyag went to Aurora. The crew even installed a fourth, fake pipe to film on the cruiser.
Offbeat Museums in St. Petersburg
Russia Vodka Museum (Konnogvardeyskiy Bul'var, 4, near St. Isaacs Cathedral and the History of Religion Museum) opened in 2001. It contains an exhibit on the history of vodka and exhibits showing a moonshine distillery operated by monks, pistols used in vodka-fueled duels, old handwritten recipes and poster's from Gorbachev's ill-fated anti-alcohol campaign. One display shows a 15th century monastery, with monks brewing up early Russian alcohol. Tours offer information on Russian eating and drinking habits and curious facts about bread wine consumption. The main exhibition occupies two large rooms. Here you will find rare historical data, old bottles and glasses. You can taste several varieties of vodka with traditional Russian appetizers such as crispy pickles and sandwiches made with of Borodino bread and sprat or with lard.
Horrors of Petersburg Interactive Museum ( ul. Marata, 86 | Neptun Shopping and Enternaining Center, near Vitebsky railway station) is an interactive performance with shows, professional actors, mannequins, robots, recreated streets of old St. Petersburg, water and flames. There are ghosts and wandering shadows, a trembling elevator, video projections, and ingenious holographic media stunts. The stories are inspired by legends, myths, tragic stories of life of the emperors and their courtiers, and heroes and villains of Russian history and classical Russian literature. The show lasts 50 minutes, and is suitable for children over the age of 10. Shows begins every 15-20 minutes.
Icebreaker “Krasin” (moored on Lieutenant Schmidt Embankment) is the only museum-icebreaker in Russia. It was built in 1916-1917 based on a design by Vice Admiral S.O.Makarov. Originally the icebreaker was named by “Svjatogor” after the ancient epic hero. The “Krasin” participated in the rescue of the Umberto Nobile expedition to the North Pole in 1928. During World War II it participated in many Russian convoys. Later it served as a floating power plant on the island of Spitsbergen. In 1990 the “Krasin” made its last voyage to European ports. It opened in 1995 as a museum. The Icebreaker “Krasin” is an active ship, and the equipment you see here can operate normally.
Petrovskaya Akvatoria Scale Model of St. Petersburg (Malaya Morskaya Ulitsa, 4/1, about 350 meters from the Admiralty) is massive scale model of Petersburg in 18th century, with miniature — 1:87 scale — reconstructions of the most significant sights of Saint Petersburg and its suburbs at that time. There is a water filled space, in the center of the exhibit which iis officially known as the Historical Theatrical Scale Model “Petrovskaya Akvatoria” Some of the objects — figures of people, carriages and ships — move. There are light, sound and visual effects, which among other things reproduce change between day and night, and also changing weather’s conditions. Among the places you can see that no longer exist are the Spit of Vasilyevsky Island without Rostral Columns, Menshikov’s homestead instead SPBGU, the first port of St. Petersburg, the Masquerade in Peterhof and the old fortress in Oranienbaum.
Fabergé Museum (Fontanka river embankment, 21, near the Fontanka River north of Nevesky Prospect) is the first privately owned Fabergé Museum. Located in Shuvalov Palace, it opened in November, 2013 and is owned by Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian businessman with US11.4 billion in 2019, according to Forbes magazine, whose aim is repatriating items of cultural significance to Russia.
In 2004, Vekselberg purchased a one-of-a-kind collection of Fabergé works which had been collected by Malcolm Forbes. Since then, the foundation has been collecting Russian works of decorative and fine art and has amassed more than 4,000 items. In terms of its size, diversity, and the quality of its pieces, many of which belonged to the royal family and other members of the royal courts of Europe, the collection is regarded as one of the best of its kind in the world.
The Forbes collection was the largest private collection of Faberge eggs. It contained the Lily of the Valley egg, encrusted with gold, enamel, diamonds, rubies, pearls and rock crystal. The goal of the Forbes family — the owners of Forbes magazine — was to create a collection larger than the Kremlins. In 2004, the Forbes collection of nine Faberge eggs and 180 other Faberge pieces was put on the market. Their total value was listed at $90 million to $120 million, with the eggs alone set to fetch between $65 million and $95 million. The sale was a major event. Only seven eggs had been auctioned in the previous 65 years. One sold by Christies in April 2002 went for $9.57 million,. The Soviets only allowed their sale in 1930.
Vekselberg’s Link of Times foundation began restoring the Shuvalov Palace in 2006 and spent seven years to reconstruct the historic building — the first comprehensive restoration of the palace in its 200-year history — adapting it for use as a museum. Today, the Shuvalov Palace covers an area of about 4,700 square meters and is regarded as one of the most beautiful palaces in St. Petersburg,
The most valuable items in the Museum's collection are the nine Imperial Easter Eggs created by Fabergé for the last two Russian emperors. Each of them is a masterpiece of jewelry and art, as well as a unique historical monument to the reign and personal life of Alexander III and Nicholas II. In addition to the eggs, the museum contains other objects created by the House of Faberge such as jewelry, small goods, silverware, and interior and religious objects. In addition to works by Fabergé, the collection also includes works by his contemporaries, including famous Russian jewelers and silversmiths such as Sazikov, Ovchinnikov, Khlebnikov, Rückert, and many others.
Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet Museum
Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet Museum (near the Alexandrisky Theater) opened in September 1957. The exposition traces the history of one of Russia’s most famous ballet school, the one that produced many of the Kirov’s and Russia’s greatest ballet stars. Items on display including personal items, memoirs and diaries.
Among the most treasured objects are V. Nijinsky’s costume from the play "Specter de la Rose"; paintings by L. Bakst; personal things belonging to ballerina O. Preobrazhenskaya, given to the museum by her student T. Tumanov, images of Zinaida Serebryakova, donated by M. Baryshnikov in 1995; pictures of choreographer Mikhail Fokin; original posters posters of "Russian Seasons"; slipper belonging to Anna Pavlova; and costumes worn by G. Ulanova, AN Dudinka, Konstantin Sergeyev, M. Liepa, Natalia Makarova and Rudolf Nureyev worn on stage for performances at the Kirov (Mariinsky) and Bolshoi Theaters.
In 1988, in connection with the 250th anniversary of the School, the Museum were given new rooms on the ground floor of the Academy building where the unique collection is housed. The collection is constantly replenished by with gifts of ballet dancers and lovers of the art. The museum is officially known as the Museum in Leningrad Choreographic School named AJ Vaganova was
Yusupov Palace: Where Rasputin Was Killed
Yusupov Palace (Moika Embankment 94, on the Moika River about 500 meters from St. Isaac's Cathedral) is where Prince Felix Yusupov attempted to kill Grigory Rasputin, the Siberian peasant who became the spiritual mentor and friend of the family of Emperor Nicholas II at the beginning of the 20th century. Even after the monk was poisoned and shot he managed to make it outside the palace where his assassins chased him into a canal, where he finally drowned..The palace itself was built in the 18th century, and contains a private theater decorated with sumptuous fabrics, drawing rooms decorated with sculptures and bronzes. Wax figures in the museum recall the events involving Rasputin. Tel: (7-812) 314-8893.
Steve Dougherty wrote in the New York Times: , December 31, 2006] Yusupov Palace, More wealthy than the royal Romanovs, the Yusupov family lived in equal splendor in this colonnaded palace on the banks of the Moyka River. After you've toured the 180-seat rococo private theater and the tiled Moorish Room, visit the cellars where the scene of Rasputin's murder is preserved and mannequins in period dress are posed in a re-enactment.” [Source: Steve Dougherty, New York Times, December 31, 2006]
On the day Rasputin was killed an Prince Yusupov hosted a midnight party. Rasputin drank several glasses of poisoned wine and cakes filled with potassium cyanide. When Rasputin didn't keel over from the poison he was shot in the palace. When Yusupov kneeled over him, Rasputin grabbed him by the throat. At this point Yusupov ran off to get reinforcements. In the meantime Rasputin dragged himself outside. Yusupov's group found him and shot him a few more times and beat him with sticks. After Rasputin was stabbed several times he fell into in the Moyka Canal of the icy Neva River where he died of drowning at the age of 44. His death was mourned by peasants and women who loved him.
The history of the palace and surrounding estate dates back to the era of Peter the Great and the early days of the Northern Capital. From 1830 until 1917, the palace belonged to five generations of the elite aristocratic Yusupov dynasty.Today visitors can explore much of Yusupov Palace: the ceremonial suites, art galleries, a miniature private theatre and the luxurious private rooms of the Yusupov family, whose astonishingly beautiful interiors have been restored by some of St. Petersburg's most talented restoration artists. Among the tours are “The Murder of Grigory Rasputin” and “Through the Prince's Chambers.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website russiatourism.ru ), Russian government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in September 2020