The majesty of beauty of this site can hardly be put into words. No library of books or collection of photographs can ever account for the magnanimous moments of history, the tragic also, the intimate conversations that took place within the halls, and the secrets that are lost for all time to history. For all the photographs I took (about 100), I would say that none can replicate the awe which overtook me.
Do not worry, it is nearly guaranteed that you will visit the Hermitage at the very least once – it is standard on all SRAS programs in St. Petersburg. Plus, with it being located fairly close to campus, before I even left the museum (after being there for nearly 4 hours), I was making plans with my fellow students to return.
Our small group of 8 was led by an excellent guide arranged by SRAS and our host university – Sasha. We went a specific route weaving back and forth between the Winter Palace and the Museum itself, as Sasha explained the significance of the art and pieces inside the room, as well as what the rooms had been used for in the past. One room stood out to me specifically, the room in which the Provincial Government was arrested by the Bolsheviks. I looked around me and tried to picture what that scene would have looked and sounded like. It really felt like I was in the presence of one of the biggest moments of the last century, and the experience encouraged me to spend some time later in the day researching the storming of the Winter Palace. I had not realized that the Provisional Government had been working out of the Palace, and how the city was not at all prepared for the Revolution.
Although you can purchase audio guides at the site itself, having a well-learned and personal guide really made my tour a step above that which might have been more self-guided. Some students did not come, as SRAS does not make attendance mandatory, but I cannot stress enough the value of being able to ask questions about the history of the site, as well as feel like you are not simply staring at beauty without understanding it.
Notes and Reflection
Some things to note, are that you cannot bring in water so make sure you are thoroughly hydrated beforehand. Also, the museum is extensive and inherently requires a lot of walking, warranting comfortable shoes and clothing. You can bring in cameras but note that you cannot use flash at any time.
I have been in St. Petersburg for about 2 weeks now, and I am unsure (though still expecting) something will surpass the experience I had at the Hermitage museum. For some including myself, I think the architecture grasps them the most. I was lucky enough to have two architects as roommates back in Ohio, and therefore was able to at least try to understand the handiwork. For example, how the plumage on top of many columns is of the Egyptian style, or how the symmetry and use of right angles in the throne room invokes Rome, and thus the equivalency to Caesar. Maybe for you, the art or simply the grandeur of it all will keep its hold on you. Maybe it is the thousands year old Greek pottery, or the medieval icons in the chapel. the Whichever your favorite, the Hermitage is beauty and majesty at its finest.