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Hermitage is one of the most famous and largest museums of the world. With over 3 million pieces of artwork representing many times and people, the State Hermitage has captured the essence of world culture. Hermitage collections of works of art present the development of the world culture and art from the Stone Age to the 20th century. The State Hermitage occupies six magnificent buildings situated along the embankment of the River Neva, right in the heart of St Petersburg. The leading role in this unique architectural ensemble is played by the Winter Palace, the residence of the Russian tsars that was built to the design of Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli in 1754-62. This ensemble, formed in the 18th and 19th centuries, is extended by the eastern wing of the General Staff building, the Menshikov Palace and the recently constructed Repository. The Hermitage possesses over two million ancient and early medieval items, the largest and most remarkable such collection in Russia, including objects dating from the Palaeolithic to the Iron Ages, from the period of man's first development to the period when countries began to be formed. The items were discovered on Russian territory between the 18th century and the present. The antiquity department has 106,000 items representing the art and culture of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and Italy, and ancient settlements on the Northern Black Sea coast. The earliest pieces date back to 2000 BC, the latest - to the 4th century AD. The large collection of Greek and Italian painted vases (15,000 pieces) and Etruscan art are famous far outside Russia. The collection of Western European art is regarded as one of the finest in the world, and forms the nucleus of the Hermitage display. It occupies 120 rooms in the four museum buildings, and reflects all the stages in the development of art from the Middle Ages to the present day. The collection includes numerous works by outstanding masters from Italy, Spain, Holland, Flanders, France, England, Germany, and other Western European countries. Great numbers of various items of applied art are presented side by side with paintings and sculptures. Over 180,000 items including paintings, sculptures and examples of applied art (jewellery, domestic and cult objects), give an idea of a remarkable cultural heritage of the Orient from the time of the ancient civilizations emergence to the present. The exhibitions occupying 50 museum rooms contain the collections of items from Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Central Asia, Byzantium, countries of the Near and Far East. The collection of the Department of Russian Culture consists of over 300,000 items and reflects a thousand-year Russian history. Icons and articles of artistic handicraft represent the inner world and way of life of ancient Rus. It has taken over two centuries to assemble the unique collection of gold, silverware and gems fashioned into fascinating pieces of jewelry by Russian, European and Oriental artists and craftsmen. Known as the Treasure Gallery under Catherine the Great and augmented to yet greater splendor by her successors, the jewelry collection is finally back on display at the Hermitage Golden Rooms, re-opened after years of dramatic renovation.

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