Alupka Palace: A Yalta Treasure

Surrounded by a lush park, the Alupka Palace is situated with the Black Sea on the south and the Crimea mountains to the north.  The town of Alupka is a Yalta seaside resort very popular with Russians for the warm weather, beautiful shorelines, and verdant forests.  In the Ukraine, the Russians refer to this as the ” Vorontsov Palace. ”  Whatever the name, this palace is a must-see for any visitor lucky enough to be in the area.

The Scottish facade of Alupka Palace. Photography: John McCutcheon

In 1828, Count Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov commissioned a famous English architect, Edward Blore, to design a unique structure, a combination Scottish castle on the north side with a Moorish facade on the south.  The palace was  completed in 1846.  Six large marble lions by the Italian sculptor Bonani keep watch as the palace’s grand outdoor staircase cascades all the way down to the Black Sea.  Why an English architect?  Vorontsov was educated in England as his father was a Russian Ambassador to England for twenty years.  Ironically, though, the architect never visited his design. 

Visitors enter the palace from a little cobblestone lane into a totally Scottish looking castle and exit from a Moorish facade.  This sounds a bit off the wall, but it works.  A free restroom is located on the left hand side of the castle before you enter.  Good opportunity because water closets are not available inside.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure bathrooms are inside.  After all, during the Yalta Conference when Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin met to decide how to divide up Europe, Churchill and his delegation stayed at Alupka Palace and I’d bet Winston wasn’t shown how to backtrack outside to the facilities.

The Moorish Facade of Alupka Palace. Photography: John McCutcheon

It’s a toss up whether I was more impressed with the dining room where Churchill hosted a dinner one evening of the Conference or the size of a begonia tree in the conservatory or the wall decor in the music room.  Or all the cats that appear to live inside the public rooms.  One cat lay languidly in a dining room chair while another rubbed legs with a docent.  

Painted a pale baby blue, the walls of the music room look as if a wedding cake decorator skillfully sculpted flowers and vines from marzipan and delicately placed a whole garden riot on them.   Among all this grandeur, the docents dress in traditional peasant attire complete with the headscarf tied snuggly under their chins.  

The pattern of the wood floors creates a three-dimensional effect, constantly forcing me to peer over my bi-focals to keep from missing a step.  I didn’t see one repeat in the designs of the fireplaces.  Each different, each charming, each small.  I’m not sure about the type of wood, but the moldings, doors, cabinetry are elaborately carved.  I remarked about the intricate patterns of wood on the ceilings, but our guide said this wasn’t wood, but plaster.  Great imitation.

On the seamy side of life in the palace, the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin stirred up a scandal with his involved affair with Count Vorontsov’s wife.  While the Count was off heavily engaged in civic duties in Odessa, Pushkin carried on quite an infamous liaison.  Vorontsov was beleaguered.  He used every bit of his power to dissuade Pushkin, going so far as to get Pushkin sent to the Dniester region to assess locust damage.  Finally he was able to thwart the tryst; he leaned on enough of his friends to get Pushkin dismissed from the Foreign Service.   But it’s rumored that Pushkin wore a ring given to him by Vorontsov’s wife until his death.   Pushkin himself was  involved in some twenty duels.   At the age of thirty-seven he was fatally wounded and died two days later after a duel over his own wife’s affair with another man.

The Count, however, lived to age seventy-two and achieved an illustrious career in service to his Tsar.  His palace at Alupka is a unique manifestation of his taste and savoir faire.  

Tip: Only the public rooms are available for viewing.

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