The Hermitage was created in 1764 as the private collection of Empress Catherine the Great. She commanded Russian ambassadors around the world to purchase the best pieces of art they could find. Through their work, she grew her collection, which went on public display (to the “respectable set”) in 1852. Today, the Hermitage is one of world's most important collections of art.
Naturally, only a small portion of the collection can be displayed at any given time. Today, tours of the Hermitage are usually longer than 3 hours and incredibly popular. Visitors might see exhibitions in any of several buildings that are mostly lined up along the Palace Embankment of the Neva River. Firstly the Small Hermitage, the original home of the collection; the Great or Old Hermitage, its first great extension; the New Hermitage, opened along with the Old one in 1852; and the many exhibition halls in the Winter Palace, including the Malachite and Great Nicholas rooms (the latter a former ballroom).
The Renaissance collection with its Raphaels, the Impressionists (including works by Cezanne and Monet), and the 20th century painters (such as Picasso, Matisse, and Kandinsky) are among the highlights of the collection.
The adjacent Palace Square is just as rich in history. The Alexander Column - a great monolithic red granite monument to Tsar Alexander’s role in crushing Napoleon Bonaparte’s army during its invasion of Russia, overlooks the square.