There are museums and then there is the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Even the names of its rooms make magic, like The Twenty-Column Hall, The Raphael Loggias, and The Blackamoor Dining-Room. The galleries are so opulent that the collections of artwork they house, which are superb, might be beside the point. This museum is an immense, multi-courtyarded complex that overlooks Plaza Square on one side and the Neva River on the other. On the outside, it’s formidable, with an endless facade that’s been restored to a delicate tint of blue-green that evokes both sea and sky.
On the inside, particularly in those rooms that were originally part of the Romanovs’ Winter Palace, it’s decorated with fairytale splendor. To visit the Hermitage is to move from one astoundingly furnished gallery to the next. They are dressed with gilded and coffered and vaulted ceilings, tapestries and bas-reliefs, wood parquetry and tile mosaics, and chandeliers exploding with crystals. There doesn’t seem to be any architecture present — every surface dissolves into ornament. And the ornament is executed with such fineness that it’s never over-sweet; it all seems, somehow, entirely appropriate. (The ornament seems, also, more Asian in spirit than European.) The highlight might be St. George Hall, the room where the Romanovs held their coronations. It’s finished in a frosted palette of blue and white, with gold accents that shimmer in the white daylight. The museum’s astonishing interior design that offers a seamless dream of royal Russia.