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
Soviets made it a recreation
area for the proletariat who couldn't travel outside the
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
Marble Lions watch over
the sea entrance to Vorontsov's Summer
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
The somewhat ponderous land
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Garden Party: We've learned our lesson
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
The dining room: curtains are not iron --
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
If this is the end of history,
then which is the arch villain?