Cats Guard Art Treasures at the
Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg

A lesser known fact about the Hermitage's astonishing history is that felines
have inhabited the cosy cellars for centuries - surviving both Tsars and Communists

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St Petersburg's famous museum, known for the world's most admired art collection, is also home to some surprising residents.

The splendid and revered Hermitage Gallery is a must-see for any tourist visiting St Petersburg.

Once the home of Catherine the Great the mueum has always been home to a great number of cats.

A lesser known fact about the museum's astonishing history is that felines have inhabited the cosy cellars for centuries - surviving Tsars and Communists.

Initially they were brought in to protect the masterpieces from being ravaged by vermin.

But now with poison to do that job the cats have a rather more relaxed lifestyle, safely removed from the cold and often hazardous city life.

If it was not for the Hermitage the 50 cats would be on the street and in consistently sub-zero temperatures, inhabiting your own palace is certainly the preferred choice.

One cat was found by builders, badly injured and starving in the freezing cold.

He now sits majestically in his throne-like bed, answering to the name Viscount.

Tatiana Danilova leads a group of devotees whose job it is to ensure the moggies are kept in the lap of luxury.

She insists they have no favourites: "When a cat gets sick, especially seriously sick, it becomes the most loved by us.

"I think this is in our Russian nature - we love those who are unhappy more."

In a country not necessarily renowned for its animal welfare the feline's fates are entirely reliant on charitable donations.

The cats may be forbidden from the actual gallery but there is a clear sense that their histories and futures will always intertwine.

Sources: SkyNews
3 January, 2011