Ain't Nobody Dyin' in Bed Here

Many of the royals considered these palaces, especially Massandra, to have bad ju-ju as the circumstances of death at a young age or in bed or by assassination plagued Russian royalty with superstitions.  Often owners would die before the completion of their palaces.  For that reason Massandra was constructed to have no bedrooms.  No dying in bed here!


Massandra. Photography: John McCutcheon

Stalin changed that.  He limped in with his scoliosis riddled spine, slept there during the Yalta Conference, and made it his summer dacha.  After the revolution other high ranking Russian officials of the Politburo took holidays there.  Both Khrushchev and Brezhnev enjoyed their visits. 

Why not?  Like other Yalta palaces – Black Sea views, mature and manicured grounds, spectacular architecture, art, and furnishings would lure any one.  Common workers?  No, of course not. 

The south side of the palace is graced with two Victorian lady sphinxes.  Facing each other, they are posed as sentries to a grand stairway that leads to a large pool and walkways further on to the sea.  Designed in the Louis XIII style to look like some of the castles in the Loire Valley, Massandra is a yellow brick structure, highlighted in light gray stonework.  The roofs are many angled and certainly reveal a French style exterior.

Prince Vorontsov had French architect Bouchart design the hunting lodge, but, if I understood correctly, Vorontsov died before he saw its completion.  In 1889 Alexander III acquired it for his summer palace and he too died before construction was finished.  But may I remind you, no one slept there until Stalin.

The rooms are smaller, stairways more narrow, and something of a dim or somber or evil nature seems to be instilled in the air.  True we were there later in the afternoon of a rather dreary day.  Maybe I should just mark it off to that.

Mosaic tiles line the foyer. Photography: John McCutcheon

The foyer’s walls are railed and graced with the most beautiful blue mosaic tiles possible.  Again one thing these architects knew how to do was to embellish the rooms with exceptional fireplaces.  I’m amazed that they aren’t larger, but, nonetheless, they are unique.  I did not see a duplication in any other palaces.

I seriously doubt the wood used in all three palaces can be acquired these days.   The wood leaves a supreme texture and about the only shine in the rooms.  Impressive intricate patterned wood panelings, fireplaces, and ceilings abound in every room we saw.  Much of the furnishings are empire style and add grace to the interiors.

I’ve long wanted a Russian postcard.  One of the most beautiful ones I’ve seen is on display in Massandra.  These postcards often religious in nature are housed in elaborately wood carved, double doored cabinets.  Wood framed glass panels open up like ambulance doors to fancy calligraphy.  Of course, with my two-word Russian vocabulary I don’t have a clue to the message.

One thing that amazed me is that cats are everywhere in all three palaces.  In chairs napping, fat and lazy, or sauntering down hallways, they move around as if they own these luxurious surroundings.  And this is the other thing that really stuns me:  I didn’t see any of these priceless chairs, sofas, or chaises shredded by cat claws.   And they have claws too.   I watched one cat take a good yawning stretch right in my path and while it yawned, it extended its claws.    

What is it about these Ukrainian cats?  And how do they get them out at night?   I can warble “kitty kitty kitty” until I’m about to pass out and my cats won’t even deign to open one eye unless it suits them.  And if I hadn’t had them declawed, we’d be sitting on shredded wheat sofas.  Even with front clawless paws Sabra and Sam delight in jumping in a chair before my very eyes and scratching  the daylights out of that piece of furniture.  I just smirk under my breath, “Scratch away, you little thugs. Won’t hurt a thing.”

Next time I’m in Russia maybe I should lift one of these cats.  I bet it would show my little heathens a thing or two. On the other hand, maybe Ukrainian cats have better mien and exceptional aplomb since they’ve been surrounded by more palace grandeur  than my two scrappers from the local shelter have.


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