Winter Palace is the former winter residence of the Russian tzars. Now it is part of the largest museum in Russia, the State Hermitage. There are more than 2,5 mln. items among the expositions and in the storerooms of this museum: paintings, sculptures, applied art, numismatic and so on. If you look at each item exhibited in this museum for half a minute, you will have to spend there 9 years, working 7 hours a day without week-ends and vacations. Most of these treasures were collected by the Russian tzars in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The museum originated more than 200 years ago with a private art collection of the Russian tzarina Katherine the Second, who came into the Russian history as Katherine the Great. This lady was a great art lover. She was especially fond of paintings and antique sculptures. The first collection was purchased in Prussia in 1764. It was a large collection of 225 canvases by West-European painters. That was the beginning of the Hermitage. Later on more paintings were purchased, but Katherine was extremely selfish and she didn't allow anybody to visit her private museum. She called it Hermitage. From French it means isolated place, secluded place, the dwelling of a hermit. The admission to the museum was strictly limited. In one of the letters Katherine wrote: "Only mice and me enjoy my treasures". The Hermitage as a public museum was opened in 1852. After the Revolution in 1917 the museum became available to all people. Today it is the most visited museum in the world. In 1988 the Guinness Book of Records marked the Hermitage as the largest picture Gallery.
At present the Hermitage occupies 5 buildings, which are all connected. The largest of the Hermitage buildings is the Winter Palace. It was designed by Rostrelli in 1762, and Katherine the Second was the first empress to live in this Palace.