Catherine’s Legacy | National Geographic in Russia

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National Geographic takes you to the Catherine's the Great's Hermitage museum, the second largest art museum in the world.

[TINKLING BELLS] [ARTIFICIAL CROWING]

SERGEY GORDEEV: It was a wake up call for the development of the arts in Russia. In 1764, Catherine the Great founded what would become the Hermitage by purchasing 225 paintings including works by da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt, and others. It is now the second largest art museum in the world and the legacy of a ruler far ahead of her time.

Locked in an unhappy marriage to Peter III since age 16, Catherine spent much of her time isolated in her private bedroom educating herself tirelessly, not only in the arts, but also in the progressive ideas of the time. So when she eventually became empress, she was ready to break new ground.

Catherine's collection changed the perception of Russian culture around the world. She eventually expanded it to include 4,000 paintings, 38,000 books, 10,000 drawings, and countless other artifacts. But her interest in art wasn't her only enlightened pursuit. She also supported religious tolerance and built the first ever state-funded educational institute for women in Europe. All this by an empress who hadn't yet turned 40.

NATALIA BRODSKAYA: [SPEAKING RUSSIAN]

SERGEY GORDEEV: It takes an extraordinary leader to change the culture of an entire country, and there is no better example of Catherine's legacy than the Hermitage. It's usually impossible to visit these halls without throngs of tourists, but this is how Catherine saw her collection-- alone, undisturbed, face-to-face with history.