This is how the “career” of the most famous castle of Crimea, the Swallow’s Nest, began in 1877. Its absolutely anonymous beginning totally fulfilled its first owner’s wishes of calm and solitude. How surprised would be the owner if he knew that, over a century, the venue of his retirement would turn into a tourists’ Mecca, replicated on thousands of calendars and postcards! This despite the fact that finding the path to the palace is not obvious: the castle is not visible from the road and only following the crowds of tourists will show the way.
The names of the owner and architect of the original modest house over the abyss are unknown. Then this solitary retreat passed on to court doctor A. Tobin, then to the wife of a Moscow businessman, Mrs. Rakhmanova. She started settling on Ai-Todor Cape on an imperial scale: she pulled down the old building and built a more eminent one which she renamed “Swallow’s Nest”.
It is a very appropriate name: the small gray house is perched high on a 40-metre rock and exposed to the elements. At the same time, it is cozy and calm.
The feeling of quiet is such here that it seems it can be boxed and sold to tourists as a souvenir. Ancient Romans, who founded their settlements on the cape, understood this. Medieval monks, who built a monastery dedicated to Saint Fedor (Todor, from whom the Turkic name of the cape is derived) on the rock also acknowledged this fact. When the Turks conquered Crimea in 1475, the monastery was closed and this place became deserted. In 1835, a lighthouse was erected here, and then it saw the building of its romantic neighbor, the hero of our story.
How did a wooden summer residence turn into a beautiful, if diminutive, castle? The new owner of the rock, oil magnate baron von Steingel decided to build a more refined structure. In 1910 architect Vsevolod Sherwood came to Crimea on his honeymoon. The baron, who dreamed about a nook of the Rhine by the Black Sea, asked the architect for a concept suitable for a romantic castle. Sherwood was captivated by this work and, as soon as 1912, the castle was ready and waiting for baron von Steingel. However, the baron did not enjoy his stone fairytale very long: in 1914, the building was bought by Moscow businessman P. Shelaputin, who opened a restaurant on the premises.
The architect managed the impossible: Swallow’s Nest is monumental and at the same time elegant, majestic and weightless. It is beloved by tourists, enjoys an incredible “stardom” and has even achieved the status of icon of Crimean peninsula.
Having reached the castle, you realise that it is actually very small as palaces go: it is 12 metres high, the base is 10 by 20 metres, there are only two floors, just a few rooms (hall, living-room, two bedrooms, now converted into an Italian restaurant.) It is hard to believe that the palace once was surrounded by a garden: during the great earthquake of 1927, the part of the rock where trees were planted fell into the sea. Since this disaster 80 years ago, part of the balustrade of Swallow’s Nest has been hanging over the sea without a foundation. It is both a scary and exciting sight!
Though the palace itself was damaged very little, it became necessary to save it from sliding into the sea. There were several rescue projects. One of them would have had the castle dismantled and all its stones numbered and then re-assembled again as far as possible from cliffs and abysses. Fortunately, this idea was not implemented. Repairs were performed in 1967-68 by employees of a construction company from Yalta. The balustrade that hung over the sea received a concrete support block, and the palace itself got “suspended” in anti-seismic belts.
Tradesman Shelaputin’s vision turned out to be a pot of gold: in 1970, the castle became a restaurant again. And now by the souvenir shops, among numerous knick-knacks, mementos, and trinkets, a swallow’s song hangs like a leitmotif, hymn to the romantic castle of love on the high rock.