It is believed that the history of the Hermitage cats started with a cat that was brought from Holland by Peter the Great. In the XVIII century there were lots of rats in the Old Winter Palace. The history of cats continued due to Empress Elizaveta Petrovna. Visiting Kazan she noticed that there were no rats and mice in the city because of the large number of cats. The Empress ordered to bring some Kazan cats to St Petersburg, to the old Winter Palace. The cats had done their job, and almost all the rats disappeared from the palace. After the construction of the Winter Palace, the cats settled down in the new building too. The founder of the Hermitage, Empress Catherine II gave the cats the status of ‘gallery guards’.
Cats in the Hermitage existed for a long time, during the war with Napoleon, and after the revolution, under the Soviet regime. In 1941, when the Great Patriotic War began, the works of art were evacuated to the Urals, in Sverdlovsk.
After the war, two cars brought new cats to the Hermitage. The rats, that had invaded the building during the war, stepped back. However, in the 1960s it was decided that the cats were not needed any more. Employees of the museum caught the cats and took them away. But, soon after, rats invaded the building. Since then, the museum has never got rid of its cats.
Today, about seventy cats live in the Hermitage to protect it from mice and rats. Each cat has its own passport and a veterinary card. They live comfortably in the basement. The place where they live is always warm and dry, and all the rooms of the basement are equipped with small holes, to let the cats move freely.
The Hermitage employees regularly buy food for cats. They try to make their meals healthy and diverse. Each cat has its own bowl, tray and basket to sleep. In summer, cats are more often outside on the lawns and courtyards than in their basement.
To control the number of cats in the Hermitage, employees sometimes give away their cats to residents of the city. The new owner has to present their passport and leave their contact details. The adopted animals are accompanied by a certificate from the Hermitage.