Guided tours of the Hermitage’s state-of-the-art restoration and storage facility are highly recommended. This is not a formal exhibition as such, but the guides are knowledgeable and the examples chosen for display (paintings, furniture and carriages) are wonderful.
The storage facility is directly behind the big shopping centre opposite the metro station – look for the enormous golden-yellow glass facility decorated with shapes inspired by petroglyphs.
The highlight is undoubtedly the gorgeous 17-part ceremonial tent presented to Alexander III by the Emir of Bukhara in 1893. Other treasures include an embroidered Turkish tent, presented to Catherine the Great by the Sultan Selim III one century earlier. Beside it stands an equally impressive modern diplomatic gift: a massive wood carving of the mythical garuda bird, given by Indonesia to the city for its 300th anniversary. Another section contains gorgeous pieces from the imperial wardrobe, including the wedding gown worn by Alexandra Feodorovna (Nicholas II's wife) and dresses worn by their daughters Tatiana and Olga, Russia's last tsarinas.
Other notable displays are of ancient Russian icons and frescos; selections from the collection of 3500 canvases by Russian artists down the ages; a hall of imperial carriages; and a depository stacked with all kinds of furniture – a veritable imperial IKEA!
Call ahead to reserve a tour in English.