When it comes to Russia's most beautiful and historic city, it is a pretty even split between Moscow and St. Petersburg. For those that lean in favour of St. Petersburg, they are rewarded with sprawling cathedrals and the many palaces of the Tsars. Nestled in between these beautiful architectural landmarks are some of the most fascinating museums in all of Russia. Some focus on the storied history of the country or its eclectic art movements while others focus on deserving, yet often ill-focused eras throughout the world.
State Hermitage Museum
The State Hermitage Museum is hailed as one of the most famous and superb art museums in the world. With over 2.7 million exhibits, including some of the world's most famous works of art, visitors are treated to a visual history of mankind. As one of the biggest museums in St. Petersburg, the State Hermitage Museum needs not only a large building to house its beautiful collection, but a stunning building in which to do it justice. As such, the decision was made to put the Tsar's Winter Palace to work housing the collection, not surprising considering many fine works of art had once been quite at home there before the Bolshevik Revolution. The baroque-style building with its 1,057 lavishly decorated rooms, ornate chandeliers, and gilded high ceilings is one of the most intimidating and beautiful buildings in St. Petersburg.
Inside, visitors can browse the exhibits and the building itself. The Hermitage's collections include works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian. They also have a stunning collection of French Impressionist paintings including work by Renoir, Cezanne, Manet, Monet and Pissarro. Canvasses by Van Gogh, Matisse and Gaugin take up massive halls while sculptures by Rodin line the hallways. One of the prize jewels of the museum are several rare pieces by Rembrandt and Ruben. The art historians of the museum say that to fully appreciate every exhibit featured in this museum, visitors would need 11 long years inside. However, many opt to choose the guided tour instead.
Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Peoples of the World
As the first museum in Russia and one of the first museums in the world, The Kunstkammer is nothing short of stunning. Founded by Peter the Great, The Kunstkammer originally began its collection with a series of curiosities such as stuffed animals, model ships, tools and astronomical instruments in 1718. Each year, The Kunstkammer was enriched further with more than just toys and tools, but with treasures from Peter the Great's own ventures around the world, most of which are still on display today.
As The Kunstkammer was once the home of the Academy of Sciences, one of its most beloved exhibits is dedicated to Mikhail Lomonosov, the great Russian polymath and key figure in the Enlightenment. Visitors can track his work through his own notes and learn of his history as a scholar, poet and historian of the era.
Elsewhere throughout the museum, visitors can tour over a million ethnographic, anthropological and archeological artifacts from cultures ranging from Siberia to Oceania to South America, all of which broadly represented.
Unfortunately, at a certain point, The Kunstkammer takes a rather macabre turn as it goes through some of Peter the Great's collected "treasures." During Peter's lifetime, he became enthralled with anatomical specimens and human oddities leading to the exhibit of preserved human remains and so-called "freaks" that were prepared by the Dutch anatomist Fredrick Ruysch. It is, at the same time, both a fascinating and terrifying exhibit and certainly not for everyone.
Museum of Arctic and Antarctic Exploration
The Museum of Arctic and Antarctic Exploration serves as the biggest and one of only a few museums in the world that present the history of exploration in the planet's coldest zones. The dramatic history of the world's exploration of the Arctic and Antarctic zones unfolds before visitors to the museum through the course of its 75,000 artifacts. From the first days of polar exploration in Russia's Far North to the modern-day research stations in Antarctica are all represented in great detail. One of the most emotional exhibits in the Museum of Arctic and Antarctic Exploration is the Chelyuskin Rescue Operation that captivated audiences in 1933 when a ship was crushed by icepacks and sunk in the Chukchi Sea. The original small plane that the crew of the ship used to escape is even featured on display.
This monument to the breath-taking achievements of scientists and explorers is only accented by the building it is housed in. The museum sits in the oldest neoclassical-style church in St. Petersburg, previously named the church of St. Nicholas. Although it was badly damaged during Soviet reign, the building had been repaired to its former glory and staunchly represents the determination and preservation of those in the exhibits it now holds.