It is a widely advertised museum in Moscow, Russia and even abroad. And anyone you ask keeps preaching about its uniqueness and irreplaceable value as if someone pays them for saying it. But despite that, every once in a while I see tourists that don't seem to be completely sold on that and need either more proof of its awesomeness or, instead, a firm argument in favor of skipping it.
This article tries to help you to make up your mind by focusing on the not-so-appealing aspects of the museum. Because someone has to show you the other side of the story, right? And while I end up sort of recommending you to visit it despite anything written there, reading it is still a good way to support all your doubts or sooth your consciousness in case you've already decided to skip it.
To be completely honest with you, I need to tell you that I have some very deep and very personal reasons to wish that this building one day burns to the ground with all of its exhibits and, most importantly, personnel. But believe when I say that the following text is absolutely unbiased and based only on what you're going to see inside. Here's everything that is wrong withe the Armory Chamber.
It is tiny. There's barely enough space for 20-25 people to stay in the same room together. And in some rooms it's even worse. Yes, the ceilings are unnecessary high. But unless you ready to start walking on top of other people, they are of not much use. Imagine, summertime, giant Chinese groups all around you, you get constantly pushed and asked to step aside because of some guided tours that want to see the same exhibit as you, guides are constantly bickering with each other for the right to shove their own group first everywhere and ultra-patriotic babushka-employees eyeballing you every step of the way anywhere you go lest you take any pictures - it can get real tense real fast. They do limit the number of people to 500 every 2-hour time slot, but it still feels overwhelming sometimes.
The museum obviously tries to be Jack of all trades. And it leads to very predictable results. It has jewelry, crowns and dresses, it has guns, body armor and dead horses, it has coffins, icons, books, eggs and dishes, dishes, dishes... lots of dishes, all crammed into a relatively tight space. And while each of the themes that they touch upon might be interesting on its own, there's not always enough exhibits to develop either of them to some kind of memorable conclusion or to tell a profound story that would make the topic really interesting. Instead there's a sense of constantly jumping from one theme to another without a particular connection between them. And a very keen feeling of a missing through line that would glue all the individual facts into one cohesive narrative. They've definitely tried to categorize the items together in each room according to a certain attribute and even arrange them chronologically. But by and large, the only thing that unites them is the fact that they all at some point have been in the royal treasury or directly owned or used by a certain royal member. And eventually, instead of a grand, thrilling tale of Russian Tsars you're more likely to simply get a thought, "Oh yeah, those guys used to own a lot of random stuff indeed!"
Plus, if you imagine the most high-tech museum you've ever been to and then you try to imagine the opposite of that, this will basically be the Armory Museum. It's 21st century: OLED touch-screens everywhere, 3D-projectors, holograms, virtual reality. If there's a royal coat on display, there should be a screen next to it with the 3D model that you can rotate. With the help of a camera you should be able to see how this coat would have looked on you. And then a separate screen with videos, historical reenactments, drone footage, cool CGI, slow motion and lots of lens flare. There's literally none of that, nada, zilch. If it's a coat in the Armory, it's just that. A coat... on a stick.
And on top of all that, you can't take pictures anywhere inside for absolutely no practical reason. There are indeed potential exhibits in other museums that can be vulnerable to intense light from cameras' flashes. Those mostly include all kinds of clothes and paintings. And though this museum certainly has some dresses and cloth-made articles, there's absolutely no, and neither can be, any human explanation of why can't you take a picture of a silver dish. I mean... it's a freaking dish. I'm pretty sure we can even take it out of the showcase and eat from it with no damage to its main quality of being a dish whatsoever. The flash certainly shouldn't hurt. Unless they know something no one else does. Then they should immediately warn every fancy restaurant and tell them to replace their silver cutlery with sticks lest it evaporates next time someone's trying to take a picture of their food for their Instagram account.
Just to polish it all up, let's see how the museum stacks up against other most renowned museums in the world by looking at this 2012 National Geographic article. Yes, it's from 2012, but I assure you, I visited the Armory many times that year, and literally nothing has changed since then. Other than the fact that they've canceled all the student discounts and hiked up the price of a private guided tour there from around 4000 RUB to 11000 RUB. Where's the Armory on the list? No one has any idea. But the fact that it's nowhere near even its compatriot - the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg sounds like a pretty fair judgement on behalf of the magazine that you can take into account. Entrance tickets to the Hermitage, meanwhile, continue to sell at 300 RUB a piece.
Now, what's the verdict in this case?.. It might sound very counter-intuitive on my part, but the final conclusion is that of course you should visit it. I mean, you traveled God knows how many miles to get here and have already spent a ton of money on everything. You might as well sacrifice another $12. At the end of the day, it might not even mean much what's inside. Everyone talks about it, everyone goes there - and so should you. Normally, following the herd instinct is a bad thing to do. But if everyone else has been there, what are going to talk to them about? I always visit such places, no mater where I go. And if I were you and were travelling to Russia for the first time, I would've visited it even if it was just an empty room with a message on a wall thanking me for spending $12. Now think about it. If you compare that to the Armory, then the Armory clearly beats an empty room on every possible front. There you get the same sense of accomplishment and you see all the royal stuff as an added benefit. Which, in my opinion, already makes it an absolute must place to visit. Though the final decision remains on you anyway.
So, here you have it - my thoughts on the museum's shortcomings that I hope will help you to properly weigh in all the pros and cons of whether you should visit it. Leave me your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below and click the following advertisement if you liked the article. Cheers!