Between 1860 and 1917 the Livadia estate was one of the favourite Imperial residences of the last three Russian emperors: Alexander II, Alexander III and Nicholas II, and their families.
The calm landscape of this part of the southern coast of the Crimea, spreading over the slope of Mount Moghabi, facing Yalta, fully justifies its name.
The Livadia estate was bought by the crown for Alexander II (for the climatic treatment of his wife, Empress Maria Alexandrovna) and by the Emperor’s Decree was presented to her as a gift, and was under her administration.
The first owner of the Livadia estate, Empress Maria Alexandrovna, was an intelligent woman and a highly educated person. As a child, she was simply brought up and early evinced love for music and literature. She married the Tsarevich Alexander Nicholaievich in 1841 and bore him six sons and two daughters. Up to the moment of her husband’s accession in 1855 no one ever imagined that he would be known to posterity as a great reformer. The Empress understood her husband and gave him her support in the desire to revive Russia.
In 1861 the august family came to Livadia. The Crimea fascinated the Empress, Livadia in particular. They saw the sights of Yalta and the region, took a keen interest in the mode of life of the natives, attended a wedding ceremony in a Tartar village and a divine service in a Greek Church, met and spoke with the local people. In short, they were imbued with new unusual impressions.
It was decided to replenish the estate and the task was assigned to the famous St.Petersburg architect Ippolite Monighetti.
During a period of four years (1862-1866) the architect, collaborating with the Gardener Clement Hekkel, created the magnificent palace-cum-garden ensemble, comprising various buildings serene and majestic in their radiant whiteness contrasting greenery of the park.
Time has not spared the Large (Bolshoy) and Small (Maly) Imperial Palaces, the Ladies-in-Waiting’s House. The Suite House and the Conservatory were frequently renovated and altered, losing their original appearance. There are but a few buildings that have survived untouched–the Gardener’s House, the Stables, several fountains and the Turkish Summer House, a symbol of Livadia. The Church of the Exaltation of the Cross (Ippolite Monighetti, architect) stands on an elevation, being in plan a typical Byzantine-style church, i.e., a Greek cross inscribed in a square.
Arriving in the Crimea in 1867, the Empress highly estimated the immense attraction of the palace, its sides bristling with pine-clover, an exceedingly picturesque and romantic park sloping down to the shore, the sea with its even murmur, cool breeze and endless horizon. Now Maria Alexandrovna longed to go south to stay in her “sweet Livadia” till late autumn and not only because of her doctors’ orders.
It is quite natural that when the Emperor lived in Livadia, the estate turned into a center of political and cultural life of Russia. Ministers, diplomats and highly-honored foreign guests came to meet the Emperor. Famous artists, writers, actors who were born to no titles, but achieved fame by their own energy and their own genius, were guests of the august family.
In July 1867, on a fine Crimean morning the beautiful side-wheel steamship Quaker City steamed down to the foot of the Yalta harbor and anchored.
“Among our excursionists,” as Mark Twain put it in his The Innocents Abroad, were ministers of the Gospel, doctors, military and naval officers with sound titles, “were an ample crop of ‘Professors’ of various kinds and a gentleman (Mark Twain) who had ‘Commissioner of the United States of America to Europe, Asia and Africa’ after his name.” The Americans were invited to palace at Livadia to pay the Emperor of Russia a visit.
A dinner was served on the center-tables in the Reception Room and the verandas of the Grand Palace. The Russian nobility escorted them over the grounds and the illustrious host moved from place to place and helped to keep the conversation lively.
To quote from Mark Twain’s original, “We have been in no country yet where we have been so kindly received and where we have felt that to be Americans was a sufficient visa for our passports . . . If you know Russia you know that was a wild stretch of hospitality.
The sickly Empress died in the summer of 1880 and a few weeks later Alexander II was united in the morganatic marriage with Princess Yekaterina Mikhailovna Dolgorukaya-Yuriyevskaya, with whom he had had intimate relations. The autumn months they spent in Livadia were filled with quiet happiness.
The Tsarevich Alexander Alexandrovich, the second son of Alexander II (the first son, Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich died in 1865), ascended the throne (2 March, 1881) the day after his father fell victim to an act of terrorism.
Alexander III is known to posterity as “The Emperor-Peacemaker”–during his short 13-year reign Russia waged no wars. He directed his energies to the strengthening of the economy of Russia and acceleration of the industrial development.
His elder brother, when on his deathbed, had expressed a wish that his affianced bride, Princess Dagmar of Denmark should marry his successor (Alexander III was the first Russian Emperor to marry a Danish, not a German princess). This marriage was celebrated on October 28, 1866, and the union proved a most happy one to the end. The august couple avoided sumptuousness and outward splendor and lived a quiet country life. They had six children.
The Church of the Exaltation of the Cross
Alexander III, as well as his father, took care and showed concern for the Taurida Province’s future and notably the Southern Coast of the Crimea. A result of this was the construction of a spacious artificial harbor in Yalta. The embankment, Yaltas’ main thoroughfare, with quays to which ships tied up directly on the embankment, was reconstructed. The new pier was built and this made it possible for Yalta to become a modern Black Sea port. Street planning was improved and the old shacks pulled down. Education and medical service were placed on a sound footing. Not just the appearance but also the part Yalta played in the life of the region changed with time.
In 1888, the settlements of Massandra and Ai-Danal (to the east of Yalta) were bought by the crown, and the Livadia estate spread beyond its boundaries. The first industrial vineyards planted there at the beginning of the 19th century and the winery built at the same time were concerned with primary processing. On Alexander III’s request wine cellars were built and Massandra became noted as a leading center for the manufacture of wonderful Crimean wines through the efforts of Prince Lev Golitsyn, a talented wine-grower. Work had begun and was completed on the construction of a majestic palace, in many ways resembling a Louis XIII-epoch castle.
On 28 October, 1891 the Imperial couple celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. To take part in the celebration, Maria Feodorovna’s parents (King Christian of Denmark and Queen Louise, the daughter of the Margrave William of Hesse), her eldest sister Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII of Britain, her nieces Princesses Maud and Victoria came to Livadia. On this magnificent day there was a fireworks display with thousands of colored lights shooting up into the cloudless Livadia sky.
And three years later a sad event attracted everybody’s attention: on 20 October 1894, in the bedroom of the Maly (Lesser or Small) Palace, Alexander III died at the age of 49. In the palace church the funeral service was held and the Manifesto on the accession of the successor, Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich was proclaimed, the ceremony of the acceptance of the Orthodox faith by the bride of Emperor Nicholas II, Princess Alix of Hesse, named Alexandra Feodorovna, took place. Empress Alexandra Feodorovna was of German descent on her father’s side and of English descent on the side of her mother, Princess Alice, daughter of Queen Victoria.
Their wedding took place on 14 November, 1894 in St. Petersburg. Alexandra Feodorovna bore four daughters: Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, and a son, Alexis. The boy was affected by hemophilia, a rare disease among males, inherited through the mother.
The family lived in love and harmony till the thread of the Romanov dynasty was brutally cut.
The 1905 Russo-Japanese War and the following first Russian revolution (1905-1907) stopped their annual visits to Livadia.
When the august family came to rest and take treatment in the autumn of 1909 it was decided to erect a new Imperial palace in place of the old Large Palace. The task was assigned to the gifted Yalta architect Nicholas Krasnov. On 21 January, 1910 the old palace was razed to the ground, and the foundation stone, laid on 23 April, Alexandra Feodorovna’s name-day, was sanctified.
By the autumn of 1911 the construction of the palace in Italian Renaissance style was completed. Known as the White Palace, it was constructed of white marble, the inner chambers were decorated in stucco, wood carving and marble.
The 20th September was fixed as a day of festivities on the occasion of the august family’s “house-warming” in the new Livadia palace.
“We could find no words to express our joy and delight to have this home, exactly as we wanted it to be built,” wrote Nicholas II in his diary. For this work Nicholas Krasnov was given the Title of Academician in Architecture.
The White Palace was outfitted with modern comforts. The estate was completely modernized, the technical edifices, dwelling houses for the staff were built simultaneously. Nicholas II took pride in the garage, one of the best in Europe at the time. He had a passion for driving cars along the Crimean highroads. The Emperor liked hunting, sailing in the comfortable yacht Standart, sports and photography. The family was happy in their new palace, but they spent only four seasons there–the autumns of 1911 and 1913 and the springs of 1912 and 1914.
Then the 1917 February Revolution broke out. Nicholas II abdicated . . .
He asked the Provisional Government to permit him and his family to live in Livadia as private persons. Alexander Kenensky refused . . .
Livadia Palace marked its 100th anniversary between 27-29 September, 2011. The palace-museum announced the publication of two photo albums to mark the anniversary of the palace. The first book is about the palace architect Nicholas Krasnov, and the second album, Livadia in Watercolours brings together a remarkable collection of the palace and its interiors in watercolours (some of which are depicted in the video on this page), as well as photographs of the private world of the Russian Imperial family while in residence at Livadia. The palace-museum will host numerous exhibitions over the next year as well as the launching of a new web site.
Livadia Palace as it looks today. This beautiful photograph shows the palace nestled in the snow.