In "Trip Adviser's 2013 Travellers' Choice" the State Hermitage Museum was ranked the first among the top world museums in terms of visitor satisfaction. On the eve of its 250th anniversary the Hermitage is a very complex and rapidly developing museum-encyclopedia welcoming more than 2 million visitors a year. The outstanding collections started as a private one by the Russian empress Catherine the Great in 1764. The ensemble of museum buildings and the strong present-day necessity of attracting attention to real human values revealed through pieces of art prompts the museum to develop its own special approach to the museum idea. Citing the director of the State Hermitage Museum Prof. M. Piotrovsky its mission is "to be extremely conservative and at the same time extremely innovative".
For about a quarter of a millennium the Hermitage collections, numbering now about 3 million exhibits and representing the art and culture of different peoples, regions and times - from the ancient East and the known ancient world to Western European painting and contemporary art with masterpieces by Leonardo and Rembrandt, ancient goldsmiths and Matisse - have been housed in a complex of five buildings erected during the 18th and 19th centuries by different architects but as an ensemble and situated around the Palace Square in the very centre of Saint-Petersburg. This combination that makes the museum unique is perceived and appreciated by people and its preservation and development is one of the main tasks of the museum today. To fulfill its task the Hermitage has been realising a number of projects. One of them is the creation of a special museum zone around the Palace Square which will integrate the museum collections with educational, leisure and entertainment facilities and permit everyone an easier access to the different museum activities and make the very heart of the city its cultural and public forum. This museum activity is the most important component in the Museum Development Concept named "The Great Hermitage" which was formulated fifteen years ago.. Consequently in 2003 the main entrance to the museum was organised directly from the Palace Square through the Grand yard of the Winter Palace while since 1999 a number of permanent and temporary exhibitions were organised in the rooms of the Left Wing of the General Staff Building situated on the opposite side of the Square. The building was created between 1820-27 by an outstanding architect C. Rossy especially to accommodate the main governmental bodies of the Russian Empire and in 1989 it was transferred to the Hermitage by the city authorities. By the current jubilee year this space has been almost entirely renovated for modern museum purposes and has met the demands made by the consortium of "Intarsia Group" and "Vozrozhdeniye" according to the design concept worked out by the architect's workshop "Studio 44" with the financial support of The Government of the Russian Federation and the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development. This initiative towards creating a new museum space involving changes to the permanent museum exhibitions could also help solve the problem of visitor accommodation in the museum complex.
Due to the Hermitage jubilee the Left Wing of the General Staff building has become the main arena for another current project involving the whole city - the 10th European Biennial of Contemporary Art "Manifesta-10" featuring more than 50 artists from all over the world. The "Manifesta" activities - exhibitions, educational programmes and special projects - in the Hermitage were organised in collaboration with the members of the museum staff engaged in the local museum project "The Hermitage 20/21". Its goal is to collect, exhibit and study art of the 20th-21st centuries. "Manifesta" critically responds to the current sociopolitical situation and stimulates reflection about the place of art within it.
Response and reflection are the focal philosophical points of almost every Hermitage exhibition which makes the museum interesting to discover. Annually the Hermitage organizes about 30 temporary exhibitions on different topics and spheres of art in its rooms (for instance "Corporate unity. Dutch Group portraits of the Golden Age from the Amsterdam museums collections", "Utopia and Reality. El Lissitzky, Ilya and Emilia Kobakovs" in 2013) and regularly shows its collections in other Russian cities and abroad. Some of them become special exhibitions/events which sometimes accompany ceremonies taking place in the museum rooms. One another variant of this museum activity is the organization of Hermitage exhibition and scientific centres like those in Amsterdam, Ferrara, Kazan etc. providing people in different parts of the world with the opportunity of seeing the Hermitage collections.
Of special importance is the creation or renovation of the museum''s permanent exhibitions that allow visitors to see the museum collections acquired by means of acquisitions, donations, archaeological expeditions as well as the results of museum restoration work and its scientific work Among the latest are for example "Culture and Art of Central Asia" and "Art and Culture in the ancient towns of the Northern Black Sea Coast". Temporary and permanent exhibitions are the sphere for museum educational activity such as different types of excursions and lectures for both adult and children.
The achievements of the Hermitage''s restoration work can be vividly represented with a good number of museum objects for example with the newly restored picture "The Annunciation" by Cima da Conegliano.
The great part of the museum collections is housed and curated in a specially constructed modern Restoration and Storage Centre "Staraya Derevnya" that consists of eight buildings and so is the world''s greatest complex of its kind that can be visited via guided tours. This opportunity makes this another museum project which is unique. The museum collections are also displayed in two other parts of the Hermitage complex -the Menshikov Palace and Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory.
Information about the Hermitage, its collections and events is available via different kinds of books, albums, catalogues, a newspaper "The Hermitage News", a magazine "The Hermitage" and also mobile apps. People visiting Saint-Petersburg can stay in the State Hermitage official luxury hotel.
All these museum activities demand highly professional work from the various categories of the museum stuff and certainly different types of support from the museum''s sponsors, partners and friends in Russia and abroad.