The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia

The Hermitage is an unforgettable place to visit and one of the best, largest and, oldest museums in the World, founded by Catherine the Great in 1764 and has been open to the public since 1852. Many tourists come to St. Petersburg simply to visit The Hermitage which houses 350 exhibition rooms and over 3 million works of art and treasures representing the development of World culture and art from the Stone Age to the 20th century. To visit all the rooms would entail walking for 10 km (6.2 miles) and it was calculated that merely to glance at each one would take 9 years. Four hours is probably an absolute minimum of time to spend there if you want to see the main state rooms and some of the most popular artworks.

The museum owns more than 12,500 sculptures, 16,700 paintings, 624,000 drawings and prints, and 298,000 works of applied art, plus 784,000 archeological exhibits and a million coins and medals, and although only a small percentage of these is on show, it's still more than enough to keep you captivated. The director of The Hermitage once said, "I can't say that The Hermitage is the number one museum in the World, but it's certainly not number two".

The museum's art collection covers all of the greatest European movements. Lovers of the renaissance shouldn't miss the Da Vincis, Canalettos, Michaelangelos and Raphaels of the Italian rooms. The Rembrandt room filled with works by the old master is another must see as are the nearby El Grecos. The ground floor houses the museum's treasures of ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and Persia as well as antiquities from the near and central east. The great impressionists like Gaugin, Van Gogh, Degas, Matisse, Picasso and the gang are all up on the top floor where there is also a very large selection of Oriental and Middle Eastern art.

Winter Palace

Magnificently located on the bank of the Neva River, this Baroque-style palace, which is the main building of the Hermitage Museum, was the main residence of the Russian Tsars from the 1760s onwards. The green-and-white 3-storey palace is a marvel of architecture and boasts 1786 doors, 1945 windows and 1057 elegantly and lavishly decorated halls and rooms, many of which are open to the public. The building forms a square with an interior courtyard accessed via 3 archways facing Palace Square. The richly decorated facades feature 2 levels of richly decorated ionic columns, and the parapets of the building are decorated with statues and vases.

Alexander Column

Alexander Column the central point of Palace Square, was designed by the French-born architect Auguste de Montferrand and built between 1830 and 1834. The monument is 47.4 meters (155.6 feet) tall and is topped with a statue of an angel holding a cross (the face of the angel is said to be modeled on the face of Emperor Alexander I). The body of the column is made of a single monolith of red granite, which stands 25.4 meters (83.5 feet) high and about 3.4 meters (11.4 feet) in diameter. It is a terrific feat of engineering that this enormous column, weighing an incredible 1,322,760 pounds (600 tons), was erected in under 2 hours without the aid of modern cranes and engineering machines.

General Staff Building

The General Staff Building is one of the most famous architectural monuments in St. Petersburg which was designed by the architect K. I. Rossi and was built between 1820 and 1830. The project revolved around the architect's idea to unite two separate buildings with a triumphal arch, a monument to Russia's victory in the war of 1812. This majestic arch is a symbol Russia's glory and military triumph; it forms a symmetrical axe with the central part of the Winter Palace.

The appearance of the General Staff Building possesses a certain strictness and laconicism. The lower level is interpreted as a rustic basement, while the walls of the upper two floors are smooth. Modest cornices and architraves surround the windows of the third floor (the Parade floor). The smooth walls clearly emphasize the raised frieze, and three Corinthian porticos break up the 580m length of the building.