Showplace of the Tsars

I’ve always been fascinated with Russia: its history, its architecture, its tsars, and its size.  Holy mammoth, its size alone is enough to blow a person’s imagination.  I still can’t figure out how it ended up so large.  Then I am totally blindsided that any despot, ruler, or meglomaniac would be so stupid as to invade this giant.  Why not make war on the stars, the air, or infinity?

John and I recently had the opportunity to visit Livadia Palace, historically the most impressive palace in Yalta.  Most of us know it as the site in 1945 of the Yalta Conference when Churchill, Roosevelt, and sadistic Stalin met to carve up Europe after Hitler’s and Japan’s debacles. 

Statues of the lions out front symbolized hardships. Photograph: John McCutcheon

Because of its size and many large rooms, it was the perfect location for all the delegations.  With Roosevelt’s handicap he was housed at Livadia while Churchill was hosted at Alupka, and Stalin stayed at Massandra, his summer dacha.  The rumor is that Churchill loathed Stalin so keeping them as far apart as possible was a keen plan.  Its ground floor concentrates on the arrangement of furniture and tables and on pictures and texts of the Conference.

An Asian palace at this site was acquired for Tsar Alexander II in 1861.  Later it was razed for the construction of a new one.  Yalta architect Nikolai Krasnov designed the present day white palace made of Inkerman stone.  A magnificent blend of Western Gothic, Arabic East, and Byzantine design, it was the summer residence of the last Russian Tsar Nikolai II.

This white pearl palace is perched masterfully above the bay of Yalta on the Black Sea with breath-taking views in every direction.  The grounds are meticulously landscaped with bright red geraniums, short shrubbery and tall palm trees.  The main entrance is a protruded portico, parts of which are decorated with Carrara marble.  

At one entrance two emaciated, sad-faced, stone lions lie in feeble attempts to guard the palace.  Many of the serfs were starved and ill-treated as they were overworked to complete the palace in seventeen months.  The lions refect the hardships they endured and the blind ignorance of Nikolai II concerning the plight of his subjects.  Doesn’t take much thought to understand the reasons for the revolution.

Inside for viewing are beautiful paintings, fireplaces, furnishings, chandeliers, ceilings and wall decor.  On the second  floor a classroom, Nikolai’s study, bedrooms, and the library are open to the public and still hold some of the Romanoffs’ personal possessions.  The palace was so constructed to take advantage of as much light as possible.  Livadia has 116 rooms.

Most palaces I’ve visited may have had adequate lighting and opulent decor, but have still seemed a bit dreary.  But this one has a remarkable amount of light.   Almost seems ironic that such sad destinies awaited the Tsar who lived in mental darkness about his own inability to rule.

Livadia has one huge inner courtyard and three small ones.  The largest courtyard is where the famous picture of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin was taken.  It is Italian designed, perfectly balanced with limestone columns, balconies, many vaulted arched arcades, and a fountain ringed with tropical flowers, trees, and shrubbery.  One of the small courtyards has an Arabic motif garden surrounding a Tatar style fountain.  Tatar mosaics elaborately decorate the walls,   

Nikolai II, Alexandra, their four daughters Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and young son  Alexei spent the springs of 1912 and 1914 and the falls of 1911 and 1913 at Livadia but never returned after WWI started.  When the revolutionaries overthrew the Tsar, he asked to be allowed to live at Livadia.  He was refused.  Most historians I’ve read agree that Nikolai II was a good man but a bad Tsar.

After the end of WWII, an exiled member of the family found an exquisite tapestry of Nikolai II, Alexandra, and Alexei.  He purchased the tapestry in Paris and sent it to Livadia.  There it hangs, a reminder of the hubris of the right to reign by divine power.  Nevertheless, the workmanship of the tapestry is art.

Because of the frequent visits of royalty, this whole shoreline of Yalta became known as the “Russian Riviera.”  During communistic rule the palace served as a workers’ sanatorium, but nowadays the area has become again a playground for rich Russians and Europeans.  Cranes dot the coastline as more five star hotels are under construction.  

It’s a difficult task to visit Livadia and not be swept into its history.  In its own right, though, it is lovely. 

Tip: One must pay an extra fee to use a camera inside the palace: around $2. 


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