The museum in St Petersburg is one of Europe’s most important maritime museums. It can trace its origins from 1709 when Peter the Great (1672-1725) began a collection of models. Perhaps the most celebrated item in the collection is the Botik, a scaled-down warship built for Peter the Great and used on ceremonial occasions. The collecton was formally recognised as a museum in 1805. Its collection now totals some 700,000 objects, of which 2,000 are models. It was called the Central Naval Museum from 1924, and was re-located to the former Stock Exchange building from 1939, although almost immediately exhibits had to be moved to distant places of safety as St Petersburg (then Leningrad) fell under siege. The museum was re-established after the Second World War but in 2013 was moved from the former Stock Exchange building to the Kryukov, Marine Barracks, in the Admiralteysky district of the city.
The Central Museum has several branches concerned with the history of the Russian and Soviet navies. The cruiser Aurora, displayed in St Petersburg, was completed in 1903 and immediately took part in the Russo-Japanese War. Its crew mutinied and supported the Bolsheviks during the revolution of 1917, and, after serving as a training ship in the 1930s and being sunk in the harbour in 1941, it was anchored in the River Neva and recognised as a monument to the Great October Soviet Revolution. Aurora was recognised as a museum ship from 1956. Quite apart from her significance in the history of the Russian and Soviet navies, and her role in the 1917 revolution, Aurora is one of the very few large ships of her era to survive anywhere in Europe. The museum is also responsible for the submarine Narodovolets, dating from 1931, which has been displayed to the public since 1994, and describes the lives of submariners. A third vessel preserved by the museum is the Mikhail Kutuzov, completed in 1951 and displayed at Novorossiysk since 2012. She is a member of the Sverdlov class of cruisers, the last conventional gun-carrying cruisers to be built for the Soviet Navy.
A branch of the Central Museum at Osinovets on Lake Ladoga was established in 1972. Visitors can discover there the story of ‘The Road of Life’, the means by which Leningrad was supplied during its siege in the Second World War. Another branch opened in 1980 at Kronstadt, the sea port of St Petersburg, tells the story of the fortress which guards the approaches to the city. A museum of the Baltic Fleet was established in 1957 in the city of Baltiysk, and has been part of the Central Museum since 2012.