It is very hard to imagine that Imperial architect Mykola Krasnov spent only one-and-a-half years on the design of the splendid <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />White Palace. It is even more difficult to believe that this large building was erected in a mere 17 months. 2500 construction workers laboured even at night, under the light of torches to make the impossible possible. The foundation was laid in April 1910 and the construction was completed in September 1911…
Back in those times, architectural fashion was dictated by Modern Style with its eclecticism and ability to borrow the best elements from the world treasury and then mix them up in arbitrary proportions. The same happened to the Livadia Palace: sometimes you think you are standing in front of an oriental harem, sometimes in a Byzantine cathedral, and sometimes in a splendid Italian mansion of Renaissance times. Snow-white stone quarried in Inkerman near Sevastopol was coated with a special solution to preserve its colour and protect it against weathering. Any flaws were unacceptable: this place not far from Yalta was chosen by Tsar Nicholas ІІ himself who also controlled the construction of his new summer residence.
After 1911, the Russian Emperors would spend vacation here with their family. The so-called Tsar’s Path, winding among the coastal rocks between Livadia and the Gaspra resort reminds us of that period. Russian Tsars always favoured this place: back in 1861 Alexander ІІ gave a manor to his wife Maria who suffered from tuberculosis. Doctors highly recommended the healing Crimean climate for the Empress.
In 1925, (oh, irony of fate!) the former royal quarters saw 220 peasants and cattle-breeders moving in, as this palace was turned into a farmers’ sanatorium, the first such institution in the world. This is when the splendid furniture disappeared from the palace and the interior of the neo-Renaissance palazzo dimmed.
Noble guests returned to the palace in 1945 between February 4th and 11th when Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided the fate of post-war Europe and the entry of the USSR into the war against Japan. World War II was nearing its end, so the leaders of the three superpowers had lots of things to discuss. And even though the Yalta Conference is mentioned in every history textbook, Livadia would still have been famous for its marvellous architecture and nature. But the power of History is great: not many tourists can resist the temptation to sit at the round table of negotiations where, 60 years ago, the mighty of the world were slicing Europe as a fresh loaf of bread.
It was at this table that the concept of the UN was born and where it was decided that Ukraine and Belarus, then republics of the Soviet Union, should be admitted in this organisation. Many documents signed here in the winter of 1945 remain relevant today. For example, the Declaration of Liberation of Europe enabled the nations freed from Nazi occupation to choose their own form of government.
There was a reason why policymakers choose the Yalta vicinity. Not far from here, the Yusupov Palace hosted the Soviet headquarters from where Stalin directed the Red Army. Back in January 1945, Churchill wrote to Roosevelt:
“I am forwarding you the report of the Admiralty about Yalta. If they will choose this place it would be good to have a few destroyers here where we could live should the need in it arise. However, I think Stalin will provide us excellent conditions on the shore. Let us try to make our group as small as possible. Do you already have an idea how we should call this operation? If not, I propose The Argonaut.”
Churchill was right: warm Crimea offered its highly-distinguished guests truly royal quarters. The reserved splendour of the interior provided an excellent background and reflected the importance of the conference. And the U.S. President fell in love with the local cuisine so much that he even sent his two personal chefs away from Livadia as their services were no longer needed. On February 5th, 1945 there were 23 persons at the negotiations table: the leaders of three countries, ministers, the senior military, and three interpreters. Churchill wrote in his memoirs that during the whole war he had never felt such a huge responsibility weighing on his shoulders as at the Yalta Conference.
Visitors to Crimea rightly love this palace which today hosts a museum devoted to the life of the royal family in Crimea. Visit the large dining room decorated with stucco, the respectable vestibule, the English billiard room, the Jacobean-style study, and the surrounding 40-hectare landscaped park.
The magic of this place makes Livadia not just a respectable place where policymakers can meet but also provides beautiful settings for many films shot here in Soviet times. Here are the stairs where characters from The Dog in the Manger, the 1977 movie based on Lope de Vega’s play, exchanged stinging remarks; and over there is the place where scenes from The Twelfth Night, Anna Karenina, and Othello were shot. It is so easy to feel like a character from some medieval play, a noble guest or an important politician in the splendid atmosphere of the Livadia Palace…