Hermitage cats of St. Petersburg
Hermitage cats have been officially kept in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, since its foundation, in order to prevent intensive breeding of rats and mice in the State Hermitage Museum. In April 2012, in the museum lived 70 cats. The director of the Hermitage Mikhail Piotrovsky said – “cats have become a very important part of our Hermitage lives and the significant part of Hermitage Legends”. It is believed that the history of the Hermitage cats reckoned with imported from Holland by Peter the Great cat, who lived in a wooden Winter Palace. In the XVIII century in the Old Winter Palace badly bred rats and spoiled the building, gnawing holes in the walls. According to the most popular version of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna after visiting Kazan noticed that there were no rodents because of the large number of cats.
Later, she published in 1745 “The decree of expulsion of the cats to the court” which reads as follows:
“To find in Kazan the best and biggest cats, convenient for catching mice … and if anyone has such lay out cats, to announce an early departure to the provincial office”. (The word “lay out” means “castrated”; dogs and cats are sterilized in the service of the museum to this day).
The decree was fulfilled immediately, cats had done their job, and almost all the rats in the palace disappeared. After the erection of the Winter Palace, the cats had run into the new building, where they quickly settled down.
Founder of the Hermitage, the Empress Catherine II gave the cats the status of “galleries guards” and divided into 2 classes of cats – outbuildings and house. Among the latter dominated Russian blue cats.
Cats in the Hermitage existed for a long time, during the war with Napoleon, and after the revolution, under the Soviet regime. Only during the siege of Leningrad, almost all cats had died (this was the only period when the Hermitage was left without a rat-catchers, and the palace was literally swarming with rats. In 1941, the works of art were evacuated to the Urals in Sverdlovsk. The museum basement was equipped with 12 air-raid shelters. After the war, two cars with cats arrived in Leningrad, they were placed in the Hermitage. In the 1960s there was a new problem: the palace had too many cats, as some residents of the city who wanted to get rid of their pets, threw them to the Hermitage. Employees caught all the cats and took them away. However, soon after the rats flooded the storage. Since then, employees wiould no longer get rid of cats.
Since the settlement in the Winter Palace Hermitage cats perform the task of cleaning the premises of rodents. Each cat has its own passport, a veterinary card, formally qualified technician to clean the museum basement of rats.
Today, about seventy cats live in the Hermitage and hunt for mice and rats. They live comfortably, for example, in the basement, where they live, is always warm and dry, and all rooms are equipped with small holes, to make the free movement of cats. Hermitage employees regularly buy food for cats. Museum staff call the cats “Hermiks”.
Each cat has its own bowl, tray and basket to sleep. But not all cats live to old age, many of them die under the wheels of cars, most often occurs when the Hermitage is being renovated, so in the yard area are special signs “Beware of the cat!”. All cats are vaccinated, for them there is a veterinary surveillance. Cats can move freely in the Hermitage. In summer, cats are more often outside on the lawns and courtyards.
The food for Hermitage cats is bought with donations of visitors, employees, sponsors (including money sent from abroad). To control the number of cats in the Hermitage, employees sometimes hand out their cats to residents of the city – from the new owner is required to present a passport and leave the coordinates for communication. The animals are accompanied by a certificate of the Hermitage, enabling them to life-long free admission to the exhibition halls.
Chief curator of the Hermitage cats is Galina Krylova, controls them Tatiana Danilova and studies history a spokesperson Assistant Director Maria Haltunen. In the museum there is a club of the Hermitage cats’ friends.
Hermitage cats of St. Petersburg