[TRAVEL ★★★]


Hermitage Cat

(P1) For more than a century visitors have MARVELED at the Hermitage Museum’s PRECIOUS art collections, and for just as long dozens of cats have PROWLED the Saint Petersburg palace.

(P2) The felines have one main TASK — to hunt rats and mice. The 70-ODD cats are an important part of the history of Russia’s largest museum. There is even a special group dedicated to their WELFARE.

(P3) “Our cats are as well-known as our collections,” says Irina Popovets, who runs the FELINE unit.

(P4) Every morning, art lovers from the world over arrive at the gates of the Hermitage, which houses a collection that SPANS ancient Egyptian and RENAISSANCE art to modern masters like Cezanne, Gauguin, and Degas.

(P5) Meanwhile, 45-year-old Popovets heads down below to feed the cats, a mixed group of colours, BREEDS, and TEMPERAMENTS who are always OVERJOYED to see her.

(P6) Some days, she brings along three assistants to help her VACCINATE new arrivals and treat the sick.

(P7) As with humans, love alone is not always enough.

(P8) “Most of the cats arrive here IN BAD SHAPE,” Popovets admits, adding that many have been brought in by people who can no longer take care of them.

(P9) Her office is located in the BASEMENT INHABITED by the cats, and its walls are hung with PORTRAITS of the BELOVED animals.

(P10) “People very often DISCREETLY bring us cats they cannot keep,” she said, and the museum sometimes struggles to keep the ever-expanding feline staff.

(P11) Cats first found a home at the Hermitage long before it became a museum open to the public in the 1850s.

(P12) In 1745, Peter the Great’s daughter Empress Elisabeth issued a DECREE ordering that “the finest cats should be found, the biggest and best at catching mice, so that they can be sent to Her Majesty’s court.”

(P13) By the time Catherine the Great took power in 1762, the felines had become official inhabitants. They were even named the Winter Palace cats, after the royal RESIDENCE that has now become part of the museum.

(P14) They survived SUCCESSIVE wars, invasion by Napoleon’s army, and even the revolution that OVERTHREW the Russian CZAR in 1917.

(P15) Though they are no longer allowed into any of the museum’s 1,000 halls with more than 60,000 artistic masterpieces, staff say the cats have won the fight against the RODENTS.

(P16) And they have become stars in their own right, HUGELY popular with some three million tourists who visit each year and SNAP UP SOUVENIRS and POSTCARDS with cat pictures on sale in the museum’s shops.

WORDS: 412



If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. Cats are not common residents in museums, but they are common in bookstores. Have you ever seen a cat in a bookstore?
  3. Do any FERAL cats or dogs live in the streets near your home?
  4. Have you ever ADOPTED or bought an animal?
  5. Do you think that men are “dog people” and women are “cat people,” or is that just a STEREOTYPE?


What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.

  • In bad shape
  • Snap up

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