Hermitage cats of St. Petersburg
Officially kept in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, cats have lived here since its foundation. In particular, they prevent intensive breeding of rats and mice in the State Hermitage Museum. Meanwhile, in April 2012, there were 70 cats in the museum. According to the director of the Hermitage Mikhail Piotrovsky, cats have become a very important part of the Hermitage and the significant part of Hermitage Legends. Noteworthy, the history of the Hermitage cats reckoned with imported from Holland by Peter the Great cat, who lived in a wooden Winter Palace. However, in the XVIII century in the Old Winter Palace badly bred rats spoiled the building, gnawing holes in the walls. According to the most popular version, the cats appeared in the Hermitage thanks to the founder of the Hermitage, the Empress Catherine II. She, 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).
Of course, the decree was fulfilled immediately. So, 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.
Also, the cats got the status of “galleries guards”, 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, after the revolution, and during the Soviet regime. However, during the siege of Leningrad, almost all cats had died. This was the only period when the Hermitage was without rat-catchers, and the palace was literally occupied by rats.
In 1941, the museum workers brought works of to Sverdlovsk, the Urals. The museum basement was equipped with 12 air-raid shelters. After the war, two cars with cats arrived in Leningrad, and the cats began living in the Hermitage again.
Meanwhile, in the 1960s the museum faced a new problem: the palace had too many cats. It was due to the fact that 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 would no longer get rid of cats.
Traditionally, the Winter Palace Hermitage cats perform the task of cleaning the premises of rodents. Noteworthy, each cat has its own passport and a veterinary card.
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. Besides, all rooms – equipped with small holes, to make the free movement of cats. Hermitage employees who call the cats “Hermiks”, regularly buy food for cats.
Of course, each cat has its own bowl, tray and basket to sleep. Unfortunately, not all cats live to old age, as some of them die under the wheels of cars. Now, in the yard area are special signs “Beware of the cat!”. Cats can move freely in the Hermitage, and in summer, cats prefer to spend more time on the lawns and courtyards.
To control the number of cats in the Hermitage, employees sometimes hand out their cats to residents of the city. And the new owner must present a passport and leave the coordinates for communication. Interestingly, the owners of Hermitage cats have life-long free admission to the exhibition halls.
In the museum there is a club of the Hermitage cats’ friends.
Hermitage cats of St. Petersburg