Black Sea Cruise -- Yalta

Yalta, Crimea, Ukraine
Visited August 9, 2008

Steppe Child 

Yalta is pretty much a beach at the foot of the Crimean Mountains which hold back the Pontic Steppe. Russian Czars built their summer estates here and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Yalta Soviets made it a recreation area for the proletariat who couldn't travel outside the USSR. 

Yalta's skyline suggests some of the complexities and contradictions of the Modern Ukraine. Here a resurgent Greek Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral raises its gilded onion domes only to compete for vertical hegemony with building cranes and rising apartments.  Modern history was made here at the 1945 Yalta Conference where Stalin housed English and American delegations in the nobles' lavish summer palaces.

Vorontsov's Summer Palace 

Vorontsovsky PalaceMarble Lions watch over the sea entrance to Vorontsov's Summer Palace 
We started our Yalta morning by visiting the residence of Anton Chekhov, one of Russia's greatest writers who started out as Woody Allen but ended up being Arthur Miller.  He built here to slow down the tuberculosis that took him at age 44.  (Pictures available on the site linked  below).

Afterward, we ventured to a town about 11 miles from Yalta called Alupka. It's famous for the building pictured above, the summer palace of prince Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov, the governor when this area was known as "New Russia." This is an Arabian inspired entrance which would greet you as you walked up from your yacht anchored on the Black Sea at the foot of the stairs. However, if you had the misfortune to come in by land, you'd enjoy your ride through the castle gardens, but then be confronted with this quasi-military entrance:

Vorontsovsky Palace Land Entrance
The somewhat ponderous land entrance area
Supposedly this is in the "Scottish Baronial Style" by the English architect Edward Blore. Prince Vorontsov grew up in England and was somewhat of an Anglophile which probably made Winston Churchill at home when he stayed here a century later during the Yalta Conference). Blore used local stone (which resembles the Crimean mountains which here crawl down to the northern edge of the Black Sea. Perhaps Architect Blore had too much Scotch as his treatment of this area is Moslem Gothic: Chimneys mimic minarets and crenelations suggest Arab tents. However, it does provide some consistency with the much more colorful and lighter sea entrance.
  sculpture garden at Vorontsovsky Palace
Inside, the palace retains its Scotch heaviness with lots of wood paneling. However, after the Russian Revolution, this site was often used as a museum. The statue shown at left is in a much lighter covered atrium filled with lovely marbles.

The noble who built this place (and another beautiful winter palace in Odessa) served his country well in both war and peace but is remembered today for being a victim.  Moscow authorities sent Vorontsov an uncooperative civil servant, hoping to exile him as well as control him under the heavy thumb of one of their most capable administrators.  Prince Vorontsov did just that.  Unfortunately the civil servant spent his idle time writing poetry and having affairs with married women including Vorontsov's wife.  Out of all of this, Vorontsov goes down in literary history as a cuckold, and his wife bears him a daughter of dubious origin.  But the Russians get some of the most beautiful love poetry Alexander Pushkin (and perhaps anyone else) ever wrote.  

Swallow's Nest

Swallow's nest
The Swallow's Nest Restaurant probably has a well-known kitsch-en 
We ate lunch in another Crimean spa town called Gaspra across from the Disneyesque-Gothic 1911 construction called the Swallow's Nest shown in the picture above. It's near Charax, the largest Roman military site excavated in the Crimea. Russian architect Leonid Sherwood designed this for a Baron made rich by Azerbaijani oil wells. Unfortunately, it survived a Richter scale 6-7 earthquake, but the cliff below was so damaged that the castle closed for many years. It's a restaurant now.

Livadia Palace

After lunch, we visited the granddaddy of summer palaces -- Livadia, built for the Tsars just before their world came to an end. Unlike the Scottish-Moorish  Vorontsovsky Palace that we had seen that morning, this was built much faster (17 months) and with an Italian touch. Each side of the palace has a different facade per the instructions of the Tsar's family who micromanaged its planning.  The Tsar already had a summer palace in Yalta, but since his father had died there, he no longer wished to stay there.  He liked this so well that when the Revolution began, he offered to resign if he could live out his days at Livadia.  So many palaces, so little time!

Yalta Conference

Garden Party: We've learned our lesson well
Obviously the Livadia Palace is best known for week-long Yalta Conference in February 1945 where Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill dealt with post-German defeat issues.  The famous picture above was taken in the Italian garden.

Yalta Livadia Palace Dining Room
The dining room: curtains are not iron -- yet
The Yalta Conference Plenary sessions were held in the Italianate dining room shown above.  It was the largest space in this palace of 116 rooms. Conference topics included the composition of the security council of the soon-to-be United Nations and the free elections in eastern European countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. Daylight through the high-arched windows illuminates this space well; at night 280 light bulbs  hidden in the cornice take over.

The tour included many of the Tsar's private family quarters on the second floor. These are much more intimate and human sized, not unlike American suburban McMansions.  Many have photos of the royal family displayed and can be quite poignant.  

Our last stop here was for an concert in an organ hall created out of the building which was built as the power plant for the Livadia Palace.


Our photo overflow page linked below has many shots of Yalta's newly refurbished sea promenade bustling day and night with tall and tanned Ukrainian bodies in various states of undress.  But I couldn't not include this  shot of Lenin watching over his now-freed (we hope) subjects...over the umbrella of McDonald's.  Did we replace history with the Golden Arches theory of conflict prevention?  Food for thought--and maybe indigestion.

Yalta Lenin Statue
If this is the end of history, then which is the arch villain? 

Click here to see many more Yalta Pictures from this trip

Click here to see our next stop: Sevastopol, Ukraine

Click here to see our previous stop: Trabzon Turkey

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