Chekhov and Crimea are closely linked, not only through his famous short story The Lady with the Little Dog, set in Yalta, but by the house he built and lived in in the Yalta suburb of Autka, and his `dacha' (country cottage) at Gursuf, a few km down the coast.
Chekhov qualified in medicine at Moscow State University, with the intention of practicing as a doctor. However, he was already writing humorous magazine stories and sketches while studying, and after he realised he had tuberculosis he began to rely more and more on his writing to provide him with an income. His close collaboration with the Moscow Arts Theatre, who produced his plays, meant that even after he made his home in Yalta in 1897 he was still dividing his time between the Black Sea coast and Moscow.
Known as the White Dacha, Chekhov's house in Yalta became a magnet for other writers of his day - Ivan Bunin, Maksim Gorky, Alexander Kuprin - and for musicians such as Sergei Rachmaninov and the great singer Fyodor Chaliapin. Chekhov wrote Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard here, escaping when necessary to peace and quiet at his smaller dacha perched on the bay at Gursuf, which he had bought from a Tatar farmer for 2000 roubles.
In spite of his own poor health - or perhaps because of it - Chekhov set up a collection fund to build a health centre for poor consumptives in Yalta (now the Chekhov Sanatorium). Together with his friend Maxim Gorky he created another fund to open a town library (now Yalta's Chekhov Library, the biggest in Crimea).
The house and museum
After his death in Germany in 1904, the house passed to Anton's sister Masha who resolved to keep it as far as possible exactly as it had been when Chekhov had lived there. After the revolution it was adopted by the Soviet government as a dom-musei (house-museum) . Set in a beautiful garden laid out by Chekhov himself, the house is surprisingly modern-looking from the garden side, with a sweeping arch over the main door. Inside, the rooms still contain Chekhov's turn-of-the-century furniture, the piano which Rachmaninov played and, on the wall, an antique Ericsson telephone. Chekhov's leather coat hangs with other clothes in a cupboard, a reminder of how tall he was - all of 1.86m (6' 1"). Opposite is a newer building which houses an extensive archive of photographs, theatre programmes, first editions and also Chekhov's medical books and equipment.
The dacha at Gursuf
It's only a 15 minute ride down the coast to Gursuf, where a winding lane leads along the cliff-side to Chekhov's country retreat. It's a small house with a veranda and a mature garden. You can stand in the study where Chekhov worked on Three Sisters. Sometimes he would look up from the page and out over the rocky bay where he could see dolphins herding fish into corners where they could catch them more easily.