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An astonishing architectural blend of Mughal and Tudor, standing in lovely grounds overlooking the Black Sea. Alupka was the private home of Count Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov, the governor-general of New Russia (all of southern Ukraine, Crimea and Bessarabia) from 1823 to 1844.
Two architects who never visited were responsible: Thomas Harrison of Chester, and Edward Blore (1787–1879), who built no fewer than 34 country houses from scratch between 1824 and 1849, famed for his work at Walter Scott’s Abbotsford, in Scotland. It took the builder William Hunt two decades to finish, and according to the count’s own calculations cost a phenomenal £1,360,000. Even 160 years later, wind and rain have failed to weather the crisp carving of the hard diabase, or greenstone.
Alupka was much talked of at the time. As the traveller Karl Koch writes of the newly completed palace in 1844: ‘I had heard so much about Aloupka, the Alhambra of Prince Woronzoff in the Crimea, that I was delighted to be able personally to solve the contraditions of various travellers. One writes full of delight of what he has seen; another is thoroughly disappointed. That which seems magnificent and attractive to the former is rough and clumsy to the latter. The one only sees grey rock, while the other beholds the most enchanting picture.’
Koch gives a detailed account of the task Vorontsof faced when he started planting his woods – as many as 300 men were employed to level and arrange the park in anticipation of Nicholas I’s visit in 1837.: ‘The nearer I approached the Prince’s estate, the ground became still more precipitous, and masses of loose stones, scattered in all directions formed an obstacle even to the scantiest vegetation. The pleasant verdure, and rocks overgrown with plants, which feasted my eyes in the neighbourhood… gradually disappeared in the vicinity of Aloupka. Everything seemed dead; naked rocks rose before us in all directions.’ Most of the trees would have been supplied by the Nikita Nursery.
Churchill made the palace his base during the Yalta Conference. He asked if he could take one of the lions home. Stalin said no.
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