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The Furry Guards Of The Hermitage Museum

1917 words - 8 pages

The Hermitage, also known as the Winter Palace, is an extravagantly decorated museum of monumental size that possesses numerous impressive features; ¨1,786 doors, 1,945 windows and 1,057 elegantly and lavishly decorated halls and rooms, many of which are open to the public¨ (St. Petersburg Online). It is home to millions of priceless works of art from the prehistoric Paleolithic Era and Iron Ages to modern pieces created by current artists (The State Hermitage Museum). The museum was founded by Catherine the Great in 1764 when she acquired a couple hundred German pieces from Berlin. Since then, the collection has grown tremendously to almost three million pieces from all around the globe, making the Hermitage, quite possibly, St. Petersburg’s most remarkable landmark (St. Petersburg Online). ¨The experts say that if you were to spend a minute looking at each exhibit on display in the Hermitage, you would need 11 years before you’d seen them all¨, St. Petersburg Online Explains. However, art was not the first inhabitant of the Palace. Before it became a museum, the Winter Palace was home to the Russian Tsars. In 1762 the palace’s eight year construction was completed. It was built for Empress Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great. However she died, along with the her son, Peter III, the heir to the throne, before the building was finished. Instead Peter’s wife, Catherine the Great, made use of the sumptuous palace (St. Petersburg Online). Immediately, the new tsaritza ordered that the largest, strongest cats, most suited for catching mice and rats be sent to the Winter Palace from Kazan (McGrane). The cats have been a constant presence in the palace ever since, guarding precious works of art and artifacts from destructive rodents. Even through devastating wars and obliterating fires, the cats have remained protectors of the Hermitage. (Rodgers). Today, the cats still have purpose. They continue their original function as mousers, but they also hold a much celebrated traditional value and are carefully cared for by the staff of the museum.
Rodents were, and still are, of great abundance in St. Petersburg, so without the many resident cats, the Hermitage’s valuable artwork would be in constant danger. “Rodents can do more harm to the museum’s holdings than even the most determined human vandal”, according to Olga Kalashnikova of the St. Petersburg Times. “The team of tailed guards consists mainly of alley cats, and like in the imperial times, the cat community hinges on strict hierarchy. The cats fall into aristocrats, the middle caste, and the low caste. Each group operates within a certain designated part of the building” (Lutz). They are quite effective because today, rats and mice are not a big problem for the Hermitage, but that is only because the cats are there, if they were to leave, the rodents would take over the building again (Kalashnikova). Just the scent and presence of the cats in the museum is enough to intimidate the rodents...

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