March 01, 2003

The Cats Who Guard the Hermitage

If you think that St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum is famous only for its great collections and masterpieces, you are
mistaken. It is a little known fact outside St. Petersburg that this city’s most
prestigious museum has the largest feline museum staff in the world – estimated at about a hundred souls.
It is their daily duty to
protect the Hermitage’s treasures from rats and other uneducated vermin who cannot tell the difference between a 15th
century tapestry and a husk of corn. The furry custodians have done such a fine
job that they enjoy the
protection of museum
officials and especially its
director, Professor Mikhail Piotrovsky.


It is believed that the first cats appeared at the royal palace under Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great. At least first historical evidence dates to her time, when Elizabeth requisitioned 30 neutered cats from the governor-general of Kazan. Elizabeth, a beautiful woman obsessed with fashion, obviously had a need to protect her tremendous wardrobe from predators. The cats were sent to court and served the crown faithfully until the end of their days.

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