Last year, I journeyed to Crimea to visit the palaces of Imperial Russia. This was when I encountered the home of the Vorontsov family, which I reckon is the most beautiful palace in this area.
As Russian history buffs know very well, Crimea was a favourite holiday destination for Nicholas II and his family. Nicholas II was the last czar of Russia, as far as many historians are concerned.
THE ABDICATION OF NICHOLAS II
In truth, when he abdicated for himself and his son Alexei in Pskov in 1917, he transferred his power to his brother Michael. But Michael refused to take the crown and never took his oath as czar. This is why many historians consider Nicholas II the real last czar.
Anyhow, Crimea was also a favorite of previous generations of Romanovs. In fact, the father of Nicholas II died in his palace in Yalta. This was a wooden palace on the Livadia estate which I understand has not survived intact.
LIVADIA PALACE IN YALTA
Then Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra built the white palace of Livadia. Through this connection and the fact that the Yalta Summit of 1945 was held here, Livadia Palace became the most famous building in the Crimea.
I visited Livadia Palace twice. On this recent visit last year, the caretakers told me that sometimes they can hear the laughter of children on the second floor at night. This was quite a sad moment for me, and even now I feel a sense of heaviness when I think of Livadia Palace just outside the city Yalta.
THE BEAUTIFUL PALACES OF CRIMEA
Many Russian aristocrats and nobility also built their homes here. At that time, I personally think the Yusupov home was perhaps the most beautiful palace in Crimea. After all, the Yusupov family was among the wealthiest families in Russia. Also, Zenaida Yusupova was famous for her good taste and intelligence.
However, today the Yusupov home in Crimea is a government holiday facility that is not open to the public. I managed to visit it and very little remains of the grandeur of the Yusupov family.
THE INTERIORS OF VORONTSOV PALACE
In contrast, the public rooms of the Vorontsov Palace have been kept almost completely intact. This was a delight and a surprise for me, as we all know what the Bolsheviks did to many other Imperial Russia palaces.
Almost every piece of decor and furniture in the main rooms is original. The original wallpaper, carvings and statues have been preserved. Also the piano Sergei Rachmaninov reportedly played on is still in the sitting room, as is a wooden cabinet where letters from Pushkin were kept.
CRIMEA AND THE 1917 REVOLUTION
“How is it possible that the Vorontsov Palace is intact?” I asked my guides. It’s actually a very interesting story. The Vorontsov family owned this palace for generations.
Then, even after the 1917 Russian Revolution, Countess Elisaveta Vorontsova-Dashkova and the other members of the Vorontsov family who had managed to flee to Crimea continued to live in elegance and style in their home for about two years. This was due to the fact that the Bolsheviks did not reach Crimea immediately. It took two years for the Russian revolutionaries to make their way to Crimea.
ESCAPE OF THE ROMANOVS FROM RUSSIA
In 1919, the family members escaped Russia together with the Empress Dowager Marie Feodorovna and her retinue. The British government had sent a warship to rescue her and bring her to England. Almost all remaining aristocrats in the Crimea region sailed out on this ship into an unknown future.
In 1925, the Vorontsov Palace was made into a museum by the government in power. This was why it is the only palace that escaped the Russian Revolution intact. Every other palace, except for Massandra Palace, was turned into a government facility and the grandeur was lost.
PRIVATE VISIT TO VORONTSOV PALACE
The palace administrators were kind enough to give me access to the palace after regular hours. So I had the luxury of walking around the palace without anyone around. It gave me a feel of what it was like in the old days of Imperial Russia.
Several details especially impressed me. I loved the wood-panelled dining room with a marble fountain. Apparently, the Vorontsov family would have ice taken down from the Ai Petri mountain and then they would use the marble fountain as a giant champagne bucket.
The palace also has a beautiful greenhouse filled with plants and the most exquisite white marble statues. Many visitors to this palace especially love these statues.
THE FAMOUS VORONTSOV LIBRARY
The sitting room is also well preserved. The wall coverings are absolutely beautiful. However, the piece de resistance here is a room not usually open to the public. The Vorontsov family were not only wealthy but also very learned, so they kept an impressive library that remains intact to this date.
Many ancient books about the world and about strategies for war were on the shelves when I visited. The shelves are installed from floor to ceiling and completely covered with books. Unfortunately I was not allowed to take photos of the library, but even today, I can still remember how beautiful it was, with the sun shining at exactly the right point through the window.
Read more about our travels around Russia in Travelife Magazine.