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The seaside palace of Livadia was the holiday retreat of the last Russian tsar, Nicholas II, and more famously the setting for the Yalta Conference, held between February 4 and 11, 1945, where Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill redrew the map of Europe. The present palace, now a museum, was begun in 1910 and completed in time for the 16th birthday grand ball of the Tsar’s eldest daughter, Olga, in November 1911: 2500 workmen spent 17 months working day and night on the White Hall, Tudor billiard room and Moorish courtyard.
Nicholas II wrote to his mother that he was delighted by the gardens and light-filled rooms: “You remember how dark it was in the old house.” The Tsar and his wife, ‘Sunny’, a daughter of Queen Victoria, were insipired by a visit to Italy the previous year. They only visited four times and never returned after the outbreak of the First World War.
The private apartments of full of poignant memorabilia.
A curious Ottoman memento is the nişantaşı (commemoration stele) close to the chapel. According to Tim Stanley, who kindly read the stone for Cornucopia, it records the visit of the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II to the Danube, and mentions the city of Rusçuk, now in Bulgaria. The chronogram dates it to AH 1251 (AD1835), and reads ‘Geçdi bu yoldan cenâb-ı Hân-ı mahmûdü’s-siyer’ (‘Mahmud Khan passed along this road’). The sultan’s visit to the province, Stanley writes, was ‘the trigger for Shumen to become a centre of Koran production’. Presumably the Russians brought the stele here as booty after their invasion of what is today Bulgaria.
The architect of the palace is NP Krasnov, who built many of the palaces of Yalta, including the Yusupov Palace, in the centre of the city, where Stalin stayed during the Yalta Conference. 60 hectares of gardens and woods surround the palace – again many of the trees would have been supplied by the Nikita Botanic Garden. Although it does not have the intimate charm of Alupka, they are just as impressive botanically.
After the revolution, the Tsar asked for permission to retire to Livadia. He and his family were shot instead.
The palace is now a museum and the private rooms of the Tsar are full of poignant photographs. The Neo-Byzantine chapel a place of pilgrimage.
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