Jul 05

The State Hermitage (Muzeul de Arta)

The State Hermitage, also known as the Federal Cultural Institution “State Hermitage,” is one of the greatest museam complex in Russia. The institution took form back in the 18th century (1764) when the Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great, purchased from Berlin an impressive number of paintings from Eastern Europe (225 paintings of Flemish and Dutch origin).

In time, the musem expanded and increased the number of works of arts it possessed. At present, the complex consists of various buildings spread throughout Sankt Petersburg. From the 10 edifices which form the State Hermitage, 7 date from the 18th and 19th century and are cultural monuments. The Winter Palace, the Menshikov Palace, the Small Hermitage, the Old Hermitage, the New Hermitage, the Restoration and Storage Center, The Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory are but a few of the edifices under the patronage of the State Hermitage.

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The Main Museum Complex, as it is obvious from the name it bears, consists of the most important and largest collections of art works. The exhibitions are held in 6 different buildings, all located in the historical center of Sankt Petersburg. The pieces on display belong to the following categories: archeology, numismatics, and various works of art (scluptures, paintings, monuments) from Western Europe, countries in the Orient, Russia, as well as pieces dating from Antiquity.

In order to comprehed the magnitute of the collections, you should know that the museum complex holds within its walls approximately 3 million items. With such a collection it is no wonder that more than 2.5 million visitors, both from Russia and from abroad had come to the State Hermitage.

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Paintings

If you are not yet convinced whether or not you should visit the museum, maybe a short presentation of some of the works of art that exist here might help you make the right decision. The State Hermitage has a Military Gallery, which dates from 1826, and which Carlo Rossi (the man behind the project) had dedicated to the acts of bravery of the Russian soldiers that had fought in the Napoleonic Wars (1812). The Gallery contains 332 portraits of the generals who took part in the aforementioned wars, painted by George Dawe, of British origin, in collaboration with the Russian painters Alexander Polyakov and Wilhelm Golike.

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The gallery was inaugurated on the 25th of October 1826, the exact same date (but different year, naturally) when the Napoleon’s army was expulsed from Russia.

A valuable painting found here is Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna and Child, which was purchased in 1865 from Count Litta, owner of a gallery in Milan. The Count wanted to sell a considerable collection of paintings, 44 in number, but the director of the State Hermitage selected just four from the list presented to him. The total price for the works of art reached 100,000 francs and while all of the paintings are valuable, the Litta Madonna, as it became known, was the most important of them all.

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The Madonna and Child (Conestabile Madonna), painted by Raphael, was added to the museum collection in 1870. The Madonna with a Flower, by Leonardo da Vinci, is on display since 1914, when the Russian population engaged in a fund-raising to gather enough money to buy the masterpiece from Maria Benois. The painting was finally acquired for the sum of 150,000 roubles – the owner, having been moved by the Russians’ detemination to add the painting to the Collection of the State Hermitage, decided to sell it at a smaller price.

But the works of art on display are numerous and all of them carry an immense value. Not only connoisseurs, but also novices in the field of fine arts will recognize their worth.

May 10

The Winter Palace (Palatul de Iarna, Kremlin)

The Winter Palace was constructed between 1754 and 1762 and served the purpose of winter residence for the Russian Tsars – this is the reason for which the edifice bears this name.

The architect behind the project was Bartolomeo Rastrelli who designed the edifice in a Baroque style. The vividly colored palace (in green and white) has a total of 1.786 doors and 1.945 windows, 1.500 chambers and 117 staircases, so you can only imagine the immensity of the Winter Palace.

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Structure

The Winter Palace has a quadrilateral structure, measuring 30 m in height and 250 m in length (the main façade). The exterior is still reflexive of the palace which was originally constructed, but the interior design has suffered modifications – nowadays different styles can be noticed within the chambers. Because of this, Budberg defined the edifice as a “19th-century palace inspired by a model in Rococo style.”

History

The edifice was the property of the Russian monarchs until 1917, when the population sieged the Winter Palace during the Russian Revolution. At this point, the edifice became the site for the Russian Temporary Government. But the palace once more changes hands as the Bolshevik forces begin their assault on the edifice, this action marking the beginning of the Socialist Revolution which took place in October, 1917.

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Nowadays, the palace is part of the Hermitage Museum Complex which contains one of the largest collections of art from all over the world.

The palace underwent several renovation works throughout time. In fact, the edifice which presents itself in front of our eyes at present, is the forth “version” of the original Winter Palace.  In the later part of the 1730s, a fire of massive proportions took hold of the construction causing severe damages.

The Russian Tsar immediately gave order for the edifice to be “resurrected”, but the work was not complete until 1837, as constant transformations were inflicted. The palace was mean to accurately represent the strength and authority of Imperial Russia and it is precisely because of this that the palace has been designed at an epic scale.

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Another event of high importance occurred in 1905 when a mass of protesters headed towards the Winter Palace with one purpose in mind – to shed the blood of the royal family. But the monarchs were no longer using the palace as dwelling, seeking retreat in a safer place where they could not fall to the angry hands of the demonstrators. But nevertheless, history recorded a bloodbath in that day – an event which has ever since been known as the Bloody Sunday Massacre.

Architecture

The exterior of the Winter Palace consists of artistically crafted statues and stuccos which adorn the façades. The public had always been allowed to visit the main façades; it was the lateral ones which were not visible to the eye. These were veiled by massive stone walls and contained a beautiful garden in between them.

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The main reception ballroom is the Nicholas Hall, named after Tsar Nicholas II. The interior design is distinguishable thought the tall windows which are separated one from the other by means of pillars. In fact, the palace has a multitude of porches, these being the only architectural designs that interfere with the otherwise symmetrical décor of the tall windows.

One thing that has changed constantly throughout time is the color in which the edifice was painted. The dual coloration mentioned previously (white and green) was conveyed during the improvement work conducted after WWII. The edifice was painted in green, while white was used to bring out the sculptural pieces and other objects of décor. Previously, the Winter Palace was painted in a paler shade of red.

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As it has been said, the interior design combines a mixture of styles, manly Baroque and Neoclassical, with a hint of Rococo (as much as it was preserved during the constant renovations). There are only two elements in the entire place which have been preserved in their original form: the Jordan Staircase and the Grand Church.

The alterations conducted can be explained through the fact that Empress Catherine the Great (also known as Catherine II) was always following the latest trends and wanted to dwell in a modern palace which was accurately depicting the newest and most fashionable architectural styles. It is because of this that traces of Western Europe have managed to find their way to Sankt Petersburg.

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Whether or not these modifications were to the detriment of the palace is debatable as each work has contributed to a certain extend to the rename conveyed at present to the Winter Palace. The “monument” palace has reached this status precisely due to the architectural and decorative transformations underwent by the edifice under different Russian monarchs.

May 04

The Moscow Metro (Metroul din Moscova)

While the subway train is generally perceived as a means of public transportation, you might be surprised to learn that in a particular part of the world, more precisely in Moscow, the metro is also a tourist attraction.

This occurs due to the impressive architecture of the construction and the works of art that decorate the metro stations: such as paintings, sculptures, mosaics, marble domes and even chandeliers. This is definitely not your average subway station where a damp and desolate atmosphere prevails due to the poor lighting, crowdedness, and lack of décor (the design is mainly created having practicality in mind, not for the purpose of pleasing the eye).

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General facts

The Moscow Metro is used on a daily basis by more than 9 million people (tourists or locals). Just to understand the massive agglomeration of the metro, you should know that the New York metro is used at half of the capacity of the one based in Moscow. This later one consists of 12 lines and more than 170 stations, each more beautiful than the next.

The architectural design is specific for the Soviet style, but it is impressive nonetheless. While we are generally reluctant to regard any accomplishments of the former dictator Joseph Stalin as glorious in itself, we do have to bow ourselves to him when it comes to the beautiful construction he developed in his time.

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It is precisely the design that has transformed the Moscow Metro into a cultural emblem of Russia and into a tourist attraction which draws visitors from all over the world to Moscow.

 

History

The metro lines were constructed over an extended period of time, but dedication was definitely not lacking. When it came to this project, Stalin was adamant in his decision to continue the work even if the Soviet Union was traversing a difficult time. Thus, neither World War II, nor the Cold War was an impediment in the construction of the Moscow Metro. In fact, some of the stations were constructed as shelters against nuclear attacks.

According to a popular legend, when the developers of the project presented themselves in front of Stalin to show their plans, the dictator was drinking coffee and spilled a drop on the mug. Displeased with what he saw, the dictator said nothing, but his actions were enough to express his opinion: he placed the mug right in the center of the plans, thus leaving a ring circle.

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It seems that it was this circle that gave the planners the idea to incorporate a ring line into the design of the metro lines which would connect all of them. Whether or not this happened in reality, it cannot be said, but it does make an interesting story.

There is another aspect that attracts the attention of visitors: the Metro II line which was initially kept secret as it served communist purposes of transportation for the political leaders. However, there is no actual evidence that this line is or has been part of the Moscow Metro as the authorities have made no declarations in this regard, keeping the whole matter shrouded in mystery.

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The impressive architecture is explained in an easy manner: the Soviet leaders envisaged an ideal urban society which would be guided by the communist principles. And it is precisely this ideal that it is represented in the decorative elements encountered all over the Metro: the grand staircases, the frescoes, the murals, the beautiful paintings and sculptures (located both at the interior and at the exterior).

Just to give an example, the Mayakovskaya train stop presents the “happy worker”, thus making propaganda for the good life experienced under the communist government. There is a series of values presented in the paintings illustrated here, but the tour de force of the station is the ceiling which is reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel, the difference lies in the socialist values depicted.

So if you are ever in Moscow, you should definitely check out the Metro because, leaving aside its practical function, it is a true work of art, representative for the socialist era.