The One Thing At a Russian Museum That’s Talked About More Than Art

The Hermitage, a museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, has rooms full of magnificent paintings by Rembrandt, as well as three million other objects in a collection started by Catherine the Great in 1764. It also has 70 semi-wild cats that live year-round in its labyrinth of basement tunnels. Like much of the art, the cats have been an integral part of Hermitage legend since before the building was first opened to the public in 1852. They were first transported to the Winter Palace palace complex — which the Hermitage is now a part of — in 1745 by royal decree. The idea was to keep the rats down, but today modern pest management has taken care of that. Still, visitors to St Petersburg today can glimpse the Hermitage cats strolling about the museum’s courtyards or sunning themselves on the Neva embankment at the rear of the palace. There are volunteers who keep the basement clean and feed the cats. There’s even a tiny hospital area for sick cats. With names like Sascha and Muff, the Hermitage cats come in all colors and sizes. Though cats have made their home at the Hermitage for centuries, today’s felines have it better than any of the cats before them.