For several centuries, dozens of cats live in the cellars of the Ermitaža Museum, guarding the treasures of the largest museum of Russian art from the plague of rodents.
"Our cats are as glamorous as our collection," says Irina Popovec, in charge of the "cat unit" of Ermita, which counts 70 units, and lives in the basements of the former Emperor's palace.
The history of Cats and Hermits is from 1745. when Elizabeth I, daughter of Petar Velikos, was commissioned to "find the best cats in Kazan, the largest, ready to hunt mice and send them to her Majesty's Court".
At the time of Catherine II, the cats, which were then called "cats of the Winter Castle," were official tenants. But they have completely disappeared during the siege of August by 1941. by January 1944 ,. when the hungry population surrounded by the German army was forced to eat all the domestic animals in the city.
According to the legend, the cat population was rebuilt after the end of the war when a city full of cats picked up somewhat from all over Russia was brought to town.
But the cats in the XMUMIX years of Hermitage were so much complicated that the administration decided to solve them, but a few years later, when their place in the cellars was occupied by rats, they had to call for help again.
The cat guard has no access to the 1000 museum hall where more than 60.000 art works are exposed, but the administration maintains that their presence is sufficient to keep the rodents away from the artwork.
Although invisible, the "Ermitaža cats" are well-known to tourists, with around 3 million a year visiting the museum. That's why museum shops offer magnets, notebooks and postcards with cat characters, and once a year the museum organizes "celebratory cats" that have their own web site through which Sankt-Peterburg can adopt a cat from the former Imperial city.