Located on the Universitetskya Embankment, right opposite the Dvortsovaya Embankment and the Winter Palace, the Peter the Great Museum of Antropology and Ethnography is among St. Petersburg’s most vivid sights. The museum is a no-miss attraction for both city residents and travelers.
Founded by Peter the Great in 1714 and completed in 1727, the Museum presents an incredibly diverse collection of items. It is housed in the turreted Petrine Baroque-style Kunstkamera building by Georg Johann Mattarnovy, and presents stunning anthropologic and archaeological collections reflecting the diversity of cultures, customs and traditions.
The Museum’s collection is the largest in the world, and it comprises nearly 2,000,000 items. It houses one of the world’s most extensive anthropologic collections, which originated as Peter’s personal cabinet of curiosities. The collection included human and animal fetuses with anatomic deformities. The goal was to dispel myths about freaks and monsters and make a step forward in anatomical and anthropological research. One of the tsar’s orders was to deliver still-born infants to St. Petersburg from around the country and thus replenish the collection.
The history of the formation of the Museum’s collection began with Peter’s purchase of a collection of fetuses from Frederic Ruish, a renowned Dutch anatomist. Today, the Kunstkamera presents 24 anatomic collections featuring 1388 exhibits, with the Ruish Collection comprising 937 items, and the Russian Anthropologic Collection presenting 144 items.
The idea to create the collection dawned upon Peter the Great when he saw an unusual double-trunk birch tree on the Vasilievsky Island with one trunk growing out of the base of the other one. Allegedly, the scene perplexed Peter so much that he decided to establish a museum of ‘accidents of nature’.