We all know the Hermitage.
But few people are aware that the Hermitage is unique due to the fact that not only artworks, but also cats have found their dwelling within its walls.
Not far from the place where Millionnaya Street takes its start, outside the cast-iron gate, a dozen cats in collars sunbathe on the pavement. They are the most important and cool cats in Russia. They guard the country’s cultural heritage.
The Hermitage is unthinkable without cats, just like the Tower without its domesticated ravens.
Find the best and the biggest cats in Kazan which are good at catching mice and send them to St. Petersburg to the court of her Imperial Majesty.
This document was signed by Empress Elizaveta Petrovna. This unique pattern of lawmaking is called the “Decree on sending the cats to the court”. 1745
People started to call the empress four-legged inner court as «winterpalaced” . Those of the cats who managed to pass the casting were transferred to the category of the «indoor» ones, the rest were not allowed to the imperial body and were given the name of «backyard». The indoor cats served as living decorations — they were fed well, slept in baskets for carrying firewood. The backyard ones lived in the inner yards and basements of the palace, guiding the empire against rodents, and also felt pretty well.
Hermitage animals survived the revolution, but the Siege wiped them almost completely. At that time, a huge number of rats spread around Leningrad, because all the cats in the city were eaten. The price of a cat in the market was equal to the price of a loaf of bread – a great amount of money!
A well-known historical fact is that immediately after the Siege liquidation, two trains with cats came to the city from the central regions of the country There was a huge line of people eager to take a cat. Many lacked the opportunity, but, naturally, the Hermitage was supplied with rat catchers in priority order.
After a couple of decades, “the Hermics”, as museum workers call their darlings, got the nerve to lie on the royal throne, from which they were driven, and a certain Muska once spoiled some very important document belonged to the Hermitage Director.
In a fit of rage, he ordered to expel the tailed creatures from the palace. But in a few years, having realized a significant difference between cats and rats, the Hermitage authorities had to recruit a cat livestock again for the struggle for cultural heritage. It happened in the sixties. The cats of the new recruitment had to start an argument with rodents for the full ride. And it was a clash of the titans. The staff with experience still tells legends about it.
For example, there was such a titan – Vaska- the-Lawyer. The second half of the name the cat received for the fact that he liked to visit the legal advisers in their office from time to time. But the period had already come, when there was nothing for the cat to catch in the basements of the Hermitage, and Lawyer suffered torments of creativity crisis. He could not find a place to use his abilities for a long time, but finally found a decent job. Vaska chose the main entrance as a place of his service; he became a real cat-doorkeeper.
Every morning, about twenty minutes before the opening, our Lawyer came to “work” and cried out loud with indignation, that the doors were still locked. When the first visitors were allowed in, he used to lie on the stairs and demand attention from people. He managed to find a common language with everybody. He especially loved children, foreigners, and cleaners. He played with a mop to old age.
The history of the Hermitage cats is one of thousands of unusual facts related to the Main Museum of Russia. You can learn more during our tour of the Hermitage with an English-speaking guide.