The two-hundred-metre-long Baroque Winter Palace along the banks of the Neva River is the city’s largest, most opulent palace, and was the official residence of the tsars, their court and 1500 servants until the revolution of 1917. Today the building houses one of the world’s greatest museums, the Hermitage (Tues–Sat 10.30am–6pm, Sun 10.30am–5pm; R400, free to students, free admission first Thurs of every month), launched as Russia’s first public art museum in 1852. The Hermitage collection embraces over three million treasures and works of art, from ancient Scythian gold and giant malachite urns to Cubist pieces. After the elaborately decorated staterooms and the Gold Collection, the most popular section covers modern European art from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with an array of works by Picasso, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Rodin, Monet and Renoir.

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