What Are The Hermitage Cats?
The Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia was established in 1754 and opened for public tours in 1852. It is one of the most famous museums in the country and one of the oldest and largest in the world. This museum is comprised of 6 separate buildings that house over 3 million pieces, including the largest collection of paintings around the globe. Perhaps one of its most interesting collections, however, is found in the long hallways of the museum’s basement. This area of the museum is filled with storage rooms, tunnels, and service areas that are almost never visited by the public. It is also home to 74 cats, known as the Hermitage Cats of Hermitage Museum.
Arrival Of The Hermitage Cats
Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia from 1762 to 1796, began collecting the art that would become part of the museum collection during her reign. Some of the famous painters from her collection included works by Rembrandt, Raphael, and Anthony van Dyck (to name a few). Soon after establishing her art collection, the Winter Palace (now one of the museum buildings) became infested by rats, which destroyed the kitchen area and food stores. Worried about protecting the expensive art collection, as well as other rooms within the palace, Catherine ordered cats to be brought in for rat control purposes. These original cats went on to have kittens and the successive generations were kept to ensure the rat population was under control.
Hermitage Cats Throughout History
The Hermitage Cats have been in the Hermitage Museum since the 18th century, with the exception of the Siege of Leningrad during World War II. During this time, the population of the city suffered widespread hunger and starvation. Historical accounts differ in terms of the cats. Some claim the cats were killed, while others say they simply didn’t survive due to a lack of food.
The Hermitage Museum remained cat-less until the mid-1950’s when the rat population had once again returned in great numbers. Cats were introduced to the museum grounds again, where they have remained without interruption. Today, rat poisons, traps, and exterminators could easily keep the unwanted rodents at bay, however, the cats have become a permanent fixture at the museum.
In the 1990’s, the museum began a special program aimed specifically at caring for the cats. This program established 3 full-time volunteer positions, which are charged with caring for these special felines. The Security Chief is in charge of overseeing the volunteers and overall cat care. The museum has established specific kitchens for preparing their meals, each with their own preferences. Additionally, a small veterinary clinic has been established for checkups and emergencies.
In 2007, the museum began obtaining cats through pet adoption programs. As of 2015, visitors may apply to adopt one of the Hermitage Cats. The application is available on a special website, established for this purpose. Several organizations work with the museum to sponsor the care of these cats by providing donations for food and medicine. Additionally, individuals donate supplies, like cat litter, to ensure that the Hermitage Cats never face any problems.