The Russian Museum of Ethnography is one of the largest ethnographic museums in the world. Dedicated to everyday lives and traditions of over 150 peoples and ethnic groups living in Russia, the museum showcases the rich multi-cultural heritage of Eastern Europe, Siberia, the Far East, the Caucasus and Central Asia from 18th to 20th centuries. Its half a million strong collection includes objects of everyday life, drawings, engravings, lithographs, documentary photos and other archive material.
The museum was established in 1902 by the last Emperor Nicholas II following the wish of his late father Alexander III who wanted to set up a museum to showcase treasures of national and folk culture, arts and crafts of different ethnic groups. It is housed in a purpose-built Neoclassical building right next to the Michael’s Palace which houses the Russian Museum nowadays. Following the shut-down of the Museum of the Peoples of the USSR in Moscow in 1948, its collections were transferred to the Ethnographic Museum.
The museum today is a great scientific and research center. Its collections are grouped according to the geographic origin of the various peoples and a number of common themes prevail, including agriculture, crafts and trades, traditional house and family life, costumes, feasts and rituals. The Treasure Room of the museum features gifts that over the years were presented to the Royal Family from many deputations of the peoples of the Russian Empire. Among the exhibits are silver-plated Caucasian weaponry, horse-trappings set with precious stones and gold, gifts from the Emir of Bukhara, and presentation dishes for bread and salt made by talented Russian jewelry masters.
The History and Culture of the Jewish People exhibition offers a rare display of objects that trace the cultural history of the Jewish people from the biblical Patriarchs to the period of the Pale of Settlement. The Historical Section of the exhibition narrates the history of the formation of the Jewish culture presenting the origin, migration and areas of residence of the Jewish people. Also on display are Judaica exhibits: Thora scroll, crowns and shields, religious books and manuscripts, etc. The Ethnographic Section presents the culture and everyday life of the Jewish Diasporas, such as the Ashkenazi, Mountain and Bukhara Jews. Also on display are examples of traditional Jewish clothing, festive costumes, musical instruments, Chanukah lamps, and ritual utensils and games.