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A generous French philanthropist has left a sum of money to some unusual beneficiaries in his will: a lot of cats living in the basement of the State Hermitage Museum in Russia.

About 50 cats live in the famous museum in St. Petersburg, or should it be mewseum? – which houses three million works of art, artifacts and sculptures spread over buildings, including the Winter Palace.

The site has been home to cats since the time of Empress Elizabeth, who reigned from 1741 to 1761, according to the museum.

A cat rests in the basement of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg on October 14, 2015. Hermitage cats protect the museum's artwork from mice.
A cat rests in the basement of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg on October 14, 2015. Hermitage cats protect the museum’s artwork from mice. (OLGA MALTSEVA / AFP / Getty Images)

Catherine the Great, the founder of the Hermitage, granted the cats the status of guardians of art galleries, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported, noting that the cats were housed to keep rodents off the premises.

Now, they are cared for by volunteers and museum staff, and supported with donations, according to the museum, which notes that the animals have their own washing machine and the services of a local vet.

The museum’s director general, Mikhail Piotrovsky, told a news conference earlier this month that the unidentified French philanthropist was so enthralled with the animals that he left them a “small sum” in his will.

“Our French friend did a very good thing; this is brilliant public relations for both cats and charity. The sum is not very big, but it is very important when the person writes a will, when French lawyers communicate with (us ) and not everything is a simple (process) but this is all very interesting, isn’t it? “he said.

“What a nice gesture that came from France,” he added.

The cats live in the basement of the museum.
The cats live in the basement of the museum. (OLGA MALTSEVA / AFP / Getty Images)

The funds are likely to be used to repair the museum’s basements, where the cats live, Piotrovsky said.

“I believe cats will express their will, our colleagues are well versed in communicating with them and understanding their language,” he added.

The anonymous benefactor was certainly not the only person who fell in love with the charms of cats; According to Piotrovsky, the former president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladimir Fortov, was a “constant friend” of the Hermitage cats. Fortov, who died last month, sometimes stopped by the museum to drop off money for the animals, Piotrovsky said.

This year, more than 800 people photos sent and photos of the cats for the museum’s Hermitage Cat Day.


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