The Livadia Palace

The summer home of the last of the Russian Tsars, Nikolai II, and in 1945 home to the Yalta Conference, where Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin met to re-draw the map of europe at the end of the war - the Livadia Palace breathes the history of the last 150 years.

The palace buildings and extensive gardens overlooking the sea and the bay of Yalta reflect the influence of the original architect, Ippolito Antonovich Monighetti, who was sent from Moscow to Livadia after the estate was bought for Tsar Alexander II in 1861.

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Alexander II

Alexander II became Tsar during the Crimean War and in 1856 signed the Treaty of Paris which brought the war to an end, although not on favorable terms as far as Russia was concerned. After this he busied himself with domestic affairs, introducing a series of far-reaching reforms, establishing a system of local government, improving the educational system, introducing universal military service and abolishing serfdom. The latter was a bold move but only partially successful. While the serfs got their personal freedom immediately, they could only get land by purchasing it as a village or a peasant commune, effectively at prices fixed by the existing owners. The result was that peasants had to find work in the towns in winter, because their agricultural work was not enough to repay the debts for the land they had bought. Alexander's reign saw the rise of a more mobile and alienated peasant class - not what the Tsar had intended.

Alexander had married Maria, German daughter of Count Ludovik II of Hessen, and he became increasingly concerned about her health. She became severely depressed as her body was weakened by a series of lung infections, and doctors advised that it would do her good to get away from St Petersburg to somewhere with a mild seaside climate. The first palace at Livadia was built for her and she came here for the first time in 1867, returning often to her `sweet` Livadia' where her health improved and her spirits lifted.

There were frequent visitors to Livadia when the imperial family were in residence, among them the Crimean painter I.K.Aivasovsky, and American writer Mark Twain, who met the Tsar and Tsaritsa there in 1867, the year Alexander authorised the sale of the Russian territories in North America - later called Alaska - to the United States.

Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 when a bomb was thrown into his carriage by a member of the revolutionary Peoples Will group (Narodnaya Volya).

Alexander III

Tsar Alexander III and Tsaritsa Maria Fyodorovna first came to Livadia in autumn 1884, travelling by train to Sevastopol and then by steamship to Yalta. Travelling by the same route in 1886, the imperial family were caught in a storm outside Yalta. The sea became so rough that boats could not put out to bring them ashore and they had to spend an uncomfortable night weathering the storm. As a result, the Tsar ordered the first breakwater to be built across the harbour mouth at Yalta.

The frequent presence of the imperial family at Livadia made Yalta made a very fashionable place to be, and the number of shops, theatres, sanatoria and hotels in the town increased rapidly. Alexander's acquisition and development of the vineyards at Massandra and Ai-Danil, and his purchase of the Massandra Palace as a second residence on the opposite side of Yalta from Livadia accentuated this effect still further.

In 1891 the imperial couple celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary with a grand reception and firework display. The Tsaritsa's parents, King Christian and Queen Louise of Denmark came to Livadia for the occasion, and among the guests were the future King Edward VII of England and his wife Alexandra, sister of the Tsaritsa.

Alexander III died quietly in his bed in the first Livadia Palace in 1894. He was 49 years old.

Nikolai II

The present-day building, made of white Inkerman stone, is the creation of Yalta architect Nikolai Krasnov, but both the palace and gardens incorporate features of Monighetti's original design - notably the small Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which was preserved during re-construction ordered by Nikolai II in 1904. On his first visit to his new palace, the Tsar wrote to his mother, the widowed Tsaritsa Maria Fyodorovna: "We can't find words to express our joy and satisfaction at having such a home, built exactly as we had wished. The architect Krasnov is an amazingly fine chap - just imagine, in a mere 16 months he's built the palace, the big suite and the new kitchens. What's more, together with our excellent gardener, he's laid out delightful gardens all around the new buildings so that this part of Livadia has gained much. The views in all directions are so beautiful, especially of Yalta and the sea. And there's so much light in the rooms now - you remember how dark it was in the old house..."

The imperial family spent the autumns of 1911 and 1913 and the springs of 1912 and 1914 in the palace, but did not return after the outbreak of the 1st World War. Their beautiful private apartments on the first floor of the palace are open to the public - Nikolai's private study including photos taken by the Tsar, a keen amateur photographer, the dining room, bedrooms and boudoir, the library - with a 1913 copy of the local society newspaper "Russkaya Riviera" - and poignantly, the classroom with a number of sketches by the Tsar's daughters, Tatiana, Olga, Maria and Anastasia.

The ground floor contains the more formal parts of the palace - the White Hall, 218 sq.m, where a full dress ball was held to mark the 16th birthday of the Tsar's eldest daughter Olga, the state reception room, the English billiard-room in Tudor style, and Nikolai's state study. It also includes two particularly remarkable architectural achievements. The Italian courtyard is a wonderfully symetrical combination of white limestone columns and balconies, enclosing a fountain ringed with palm trees and flowers. The smaller Arabian courtyard centres on a fountain in Tatar style, very similar to those in the Khan's Palace at Bakhchisarai, and the walls are decorated with intricate mosaics, also in Tatar style.

Less of a reformer than his predecessors, Nikolai maintained a firm belief in his divine right to rule as Tsar. His support for Russian expansion in the Far East led to the disastrous Russo-Japanese war in 1904-5, and the suffering caused by the 1st World war of 1914-18 left Russia ripe for revolution. Nikolai was forced to abdicate in March 1917. He asked the Provisional Government to allow him and his family to continue to live in Livadia as private individuals, but this was refused. The family were held by the Bolsheviks until the night of July 16th 1918, when they were executed at Yekaterinburg.

The Yalta Conference

After the October Revolution the Livadia palace led an unremarkable existence as a workers' sanatorium until the last year of the war placed it once again in the spotlight of international affairs.

In 1945 British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Russian Secretary-General Joseph Stalin chose the Livadia Palace as the venue for what became known as the Yalta Conference. The "Big Three" met for a week in Livadia's imposing White Hall, and Tsar Nikolai's state study became Roosevelt's bedroom.

The Yalta Declaration, issued on February 11th 1945, set the stage for the division of Germany into zones of occupation, for the possession of Eastern Poland by the USSR, and the award of German territory in the north and west to Poland in compensation. Many historians regard the Yalta conference as the place where Churchill and Roosevelt accepted the Soviet Union's future domination of eastern europe in return for Stalin's pledge to keep out of the Mediterranean, withholding support for the Italian and Greek communist parties, in spite of their loyalty to Moscow.

The Declaration also announced that a "conference of United Nations" would be held in San Francisco in April.

You can see the table where the Big Three and their staffs sat, and the English billiard room where the crucial documents were signed. Photographs taken in the palace at the time are displayed on the walls, and in the White Hall under glass there are original copies of Pravda dated 13th February 1945 reporting the outcome of the conference.

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