Russia – Discover the Unknown

The cats of the Hermitage

This summer, the world cup comes to Russia and the spotlight will be – unusually – on a cat named Achilles. He’s no ordinary cat, of course, and he’ll also be the only animal in the country to receive a fan identification card. The reason for this special treatment? During the confederations cup in 2017, Achilles proved very accurate in his predictions for the matches played in his home city of St Petersburg. Despite being deaf, he’s expected to have a similar success when this summer’s matches kick off.

Achilles lives with another seventy or so feline companions in the Hermitage. In the 18th century, mice and rats plagued the Hermitage, then an imperial palace. They troubled Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great. In 1745, she ordered that cats should be fetched from Kazan – at the time, that was where the best rat catchers were to be found – to deal with the rodent problem. They and their descendants have been there ever since, although Achilles is the first to have a sixth sense when it comes to football.

The cats of the Hermitage have become a tourist attraction in their own right, hanging out in the museum basement and also in the square outside. Their welfare is closely monitored.  A team of assistants feed them and see to any veterinary needs, funded by generous donations from cat lovers. The pampered pussies have door flaps so they can come and go at will, plus plenty of beds and bedding to find a cosy sleeping spot out of the cruel weather associated with a harsh St Petersburg winter. Numbers are regulated to avoid any unpleasant territorial disputes. Those that can’t stay find new homes with residents of the city. In fact, Achilles himself was due to leave before his special skills led to a change of plans.

Every May, the museum holds a Day of the Hermitage Cat event, which has become a popular tradition following its inception in 1999. The famous felines even star in a British book. Earlier this year, Clever Fox Press published a book for children called “The Cats of the Hermitage” about the adventures of a British cat who heads to St Petersburg for a year. The museum staff members have enthusiastically embraced the idea of a book about their precious moggies. They realise that it’s probably a much more effective way to entice youngsters to visit than being “forced” to go on a school trip or on an outing with their parents.

As for Achilles, he’s looking forward to his summer job. He’ll be presented with two identical bowls of cat food, each bearing the flag of a national team. Alongside the world’s media, we’ll be watching as he makes his first prediction.

One thought on “The cats of the Hermitage

  1. Terri

    This unique sight of the Hermitage surprises every visitor. The cats have become a special addition to this cultural heritage.

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