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The First Museums in Russia

The first museums in Russia were opened in 1714, when Tsar Peter the Great displayed his first collection of amazing items, among which were machines, engineering tools, tooling, pharmaceutical tools of that period, rare minerals, stuffed wild animals and birds, sample of coins, books and weapons.

All these valuable objects were on display in the first Russian museum, the famous Kunskamera, which in the 18th century was called the Cabinet of Curiosities.

In 1721, Russian Explorers in Siberia discovered a incredible treasure: they found a collection of jewelleries dating back from the 7th century to the 2nd century BC. Naturally, these amazing pieces of ancient art immediately found their place in the collection of the new museum.

For the residents of St. Petersburg of the 18th century, the Cabinet of Curiosities was a rare wonder, not only because they could see so much amazing things, the achievement of human art and science at that time, but the work of the given institution was organised in accordance with an entire new order. The museum had become a truly public institution, the admission was unrestricted and free for absolutely everyone. And each visitor was entitled to a personal guided tour explaining the history and the purpose of the present exhibits.

Later, in 1878, the collection of the Cabinet of Rarities expanded to the point that a new museum was needed. This is how the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography named after Peter the Great was built. The main collections of the museum were collected by Russian scientists and travellers (P. Semenov-Tyan-Shansky, N. Przhevalsky, V. Junker, N. Miklouho-Maclay and others) who first discovered completely unexplored corners of our planet.

However among the exhibits of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, there are specimens with unusual history. This is the case with the collection of household items from the Hawaiian Islands collected by the expedition of the legendary Captain James Cook. The story of its appearance on the bank of the Neva is unusual.

We are in April 1779, two months after the death of Cook, the ships of the English navigator were on their way back to London from the coast of Kamchatka. Locals greeted the sailors welcome and supplied them with all the necessary help to repair the damaged vessels. In gratitude for the assistance given, the British offered the Hawaiian collection to the Russians. Among the items were a large fan, gowns, cloaks, weapons, clothes (for example, there was a gown of feathers which belonged to the ruler of the Island). The collection was shipped from Kamchatka through Yakutia to St. Petersburg and arrived in the Russian capital before Cook’s expedition to London.

In addition to the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, the Cabinet of Curiosities became the place for the mineralogical, zoological and botanical museums of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Moscow also has a network of natural-science museum: the National Museum of biology K. Timiryazev, the State Museum of Geology V. Vernadskovo, the Paleontological Museum Y. Orlova, the Mineralogical Museum of A. Fersman and many others.

You can find more information about most of the Russian museums on the site of the official list of museums in Russia.

Юлия Соколова

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