Livadia Palace marks 100th anniversary as a museum

PHOTO: facade, main entrance and garden of Livadia Palace

July marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of Livadia Palace Museum. The former residence of Emperor Nicholas II and his family in Crimea, was opened to the public as a museum in 1922, however, it closed 5 years later due to a lack of visitors.

Today, the “White Pearl of Crimea”, is framed by gardens filled with the aroma of roses… classical melodies unobtrusively pour from the speakers… a queue of visitors wait patiently at the ticket booth to purchase tickets, all eager to see how the last Russian emperor and his family lived, with their own eyes. According to staff estimates, the palace today receives an average of 500 guests daily.

A similar scenario played out 100 years ago, only instead of tourists, it was students and Red Guards who roamed the halls and rooms of the palace. Thanks to archival documents, we know that in 1923 the Livadia Palace was visited by 30 thousand people, while nearby Alupka Palace, for example, received only half that number.

A hundred years ago, there were actually two Livadia palaces available for visiting – the Maly or Small wooden palace, which belonged to Alexander III (it was demolished after the Great Patriotic War), and the new Grand White Palace (built on the site of the Bolshoi or Large wooden palace). In the Small Livadia Palace only 3 rooms were open to visitors, while in the new Grand White Palace 10 rooms were open to visitors: 2 downstairs and 8 upstairs. It should be noted, that at this time, the palace-museum would have still been left intact, although it is known that some items were stolen during the Revolution and Civil War.

The museum then was only open to receive visitors four times a week, from 3 pm to 6 pm. And although visitors paid an entrance fee, sometimes the money received was not even enough to cover the salaries of the museum’s few employees.

On 30th April 1918, German troops entered Livadia, and immediately proceeded to plunder the palace.

In 1922, the Museum of the Life of the Romanov Royal Family, opened in Livadia Palace. During the 1920s, the Soviets used Livadia Palace solely for propaganda purposes: the people could see what luxurious interiors the Imperial family lived in, the expensive materials the furniture were made of, thus causing indignation among many.

On 21st December, 1920, Lenin signed a decree according to which “the palaces of the former tsars and grand dukes should be used as sanatoriums and health resorts for workers and peasants.” In 1925, the first sanatorium was opened in Livadia Palace, offering free treatment of peasants.

The Soviet poet Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky (1893-1930), who visited here in 1927, wrote the poem “Miracles”, in which a key line reads: “In the royal palace, now live sanatorium men.”

It was in the same year, that the museum was closed with a sign on the main entrance “closed due to lack of interest among visitors”.

After that, the question arose about the distribution of the contents ​​of the Livadia Palace: they were simply transferred to other Crimean museums. For example, a number of carpets were given to the Palace of the Emir of Bukhara (1880-1914) in Yalta, while other items of decorative, applied and fine arts – to the Alupka Palace and the Kroshitsky Art Museum in Sevastopol. The dolls and toys of the Imperial children were given to orphans, while the curtains which adorned the imperial bedchambers and other rooms of the palace were made into clothes for the poor. Sadly, most of the historical furnishings have been lost, and it was only in the 1990s, that some pieces of the furniture were returned to the palace, and are now part of the museum.

During the Second World War, a ceremony marking the successful completion of the German Crimean Campaign (1941–1942), with the capture of Sevastopol by the German 11th Army under the command of General Erich von Manstein, and Manstein’s promotion to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall (field marshal), was held in the garden of Livadia Palace on 6th July 1942. Participants included officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers who were awarded the German “Ritterkreuz” (Knight’s Cross) and the “Deutsches Kreuz in Gold” (German Cross in Gold).

Some 70 years later, Livadia Palace underwent an extensive restoration and received the status of a state museum. In November 1993, Livadia Palace received the status of a museum. On 16th July 1994, the exposition The Romanovs in Livadia was opened in the former private rooms of the Imperial family on the second floor of the palace.

Today, Livadia Palace is the most popular museum in Crimea. The first floor of the palace-museum is dedicated to the famous Yalta Conference, attended by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, on 4th–11th February 1945.

The permanent exposition dedicated to Nicholas II and his family in Livadia is located on the 2nd floor of the palace, in 16 rooms, each of them featuring original elements and details.

PHOTO: the Emperor’s favourite room – his study

PHOTO: handmade wall carpet gifted to Nicholas II by the Shah of Persia in 1913

PHOTO: very few items from the Tsar’s Study have survived to the present

Visitors can now see the Emperor’s favourite room – his study, the main highlight of which is a handmade wall carpet depicting Nicholas II, Alexandra Feodorovna and Tsesarevich Alexei, a gift to the family in 1913 by Ahmad Shah Qajar of Persia (1898-1930) – in honour of the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty. After the 1917 Revolution, many items from the palace were stolen, including this carpet, which ended up abroad. In 1983, a collector bought it at an auction in Germany and donated it to the palace 10 years later.

PHOTO: Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s study

Visitors to the study of the Empress, will find a cozy, homely atmosphere as opposed to a work place: for example, family photographs are displayed on the table in frames, a sewing machine is silent in the corner, and Easter decorations with imperial engraving are hung behind the glass of the sideboard.

PHOTO: music room in Livadia Palace

In the music room there is a Becker grand piano, in which the Empress often played with her daughters. Today, performances of the Tauride Blagovest Chamber Choir are held in this room.

In addition, is a small family dining room with authentic dishes and utensils of the Imperial family, a classroom for the grand duchesses, the imperial bedroom, the children’s rooms, a library, among others.

PHOTO: Small Family Dining Room

PHOTO: the former bedroom of the grand duchesses

Museum staff like to draw the attention of visitors to the original pieces which have been preserved to this day, emphasizing their own disbelief at how some of the exhibits managed to survive to this day. For example, the Murano glass chandelier in the waiting room on the 1st floor, which has been hanging there since 1912. Just like the chandelier in the reception room, made of bronze and glass. And also fireplaces, mirrors and pieces of furniture.

PHOTO: an original Murano glass chandelier, 1912

The palace also features a solarium on the roof, where the Imperial family enjoyed the sun and breathtaking views of the Black Sea. A narrow staircase leads to the roof, and in the time of Nicholas II it was possible to reach it by a tiny lift (elevator), which was restored several years ago.

PHOTO: the solarium on the roof of the palace offers views of the Black Sea

Interesting facts about Livadia Palace

It is known that the Imperial family arrived in Livadia with their children on 5th September 1909. It was during this visit, starting from 27th October, that Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna met with the architect Nikolai Petrovich Krasnov (1864-1939), Yalta’s most fashionable architect, on numerous occasions, to discuss in detail the design of their new white palace, and the decoration of its halls and other rooms. The August couple approved the design on 12th December, just 4 days before leaving Livadia for St. Petersburg.

The old wooden Bolshoi or Grand Palace, the residence built in the 1860s for Emperor Alexander II, was demolished in 1910, to make way for a new stone palace, which would serve as the residence of Russia’s last emperor and his family during their visits to Crimea.

The palace was built in a remarkably short time span of 17 months, at a cost of about 4 million gold rubles, paid for by Nicholas II. The palace was inaugurated on 11th September 1911. Some 2,500 workers worked around the clock. At night, the large-scale construction site was illuminated by many torches. After the construction was completed, the walls of the palace were covered with a special chemical composition that protected the stone from weathering and pollution.

A power station was built nearby, generating electricity for the entire estate. The palace also featured two types of heating: fireplaces and central water heating. The palace was also equipped with telephones and a lift for the Empress. It is interesting to note, that it was thanks to a modern system of reinforced concrete ceilings, which prevented the destruction of the palace from a strong earthquake in 1927.

PHOTO: Italian Courtyard

PHOTO: Arab Courtyard

Krasnov had constructed a comfortable, spacious palace. The palace was built in the Italian Renaissance style – the style was personally chosen by Nicholas II. None of the four façades of the palace resembles the other. The new Imperial residence featured 116 rooms, one large courtyard [the Italian Courtyard, where Nicholas II and his family were often photographed] and three small courtyards, as well as a number of outbuildings.

While the palace was built as a summer residence for Nicholas II and his family, they only stayed here four times: twice in the fall – in 1911 and 1913, and twice in the spring – in 1912 and 1914, each time staying for several months at a time. On 12th June 1914, the Imperial family left Livadia, not suspecting that they were saying goodbye to her forever. On 1st August, Germany declared war on Russia.

The Imperial family would arrive on the Imperial Train at Sevastopol, where they boarded the Imperial Yacht Shtandart/Standart, and sailed along the southern coast of Crimea to Yalta, and from there by *motorcar to Livadia. [*The Emperor maintained His Imperial Majesty’s Own Garage at Livadia, one of four in Russia, which housed his collection of motorcars].

Click HERE to VIEW 2 vintage newsreels The Holy Tsar in Russia. Livadia, 1902-1914 – duration: 18 minutes each.

Today, the Livadia Palace and Park ensemble occupies more than 36 hectares, in addition to the Grand White Palace, it includes the Svitsky building, the house of the Minister of the Imperial Court Count Vladimir Frederiks (1838-1927), the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross, and a picturesque park with preserved structures (arbors, fountains) from the tsarist period.

PHOTO: view of the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross (left)

On 2nd November [O.S. 20 October] 1894 – Emperor Alexander III died in the Small Palace. His early death at the age of 49, was the result of terminal kidney disease (nephritis). A requiem was held for the Emperor in the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross.

It was also on this day, that Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandraovich Romanov ascended the throne as Russia’s last emperor and tsar, pledging his oath of allegiance to Russia in the palace church. In addition, the holy righteous John of Kronstadt anointed Princess Alice of Hesse in this church, and thus became the Orthodox faithful Grand Duchess and future Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

During his stay in Livadia, in the autumn of 1900, Nicholas II became gravely ill, with what proved to be a rather serious form of typhoid. Despite being pregnant for the fourth time and in a lot of pain, Alexandra nursed him back to health, six months later, in the Spring of 1901.

PHOTO: view of the garden, main facade and entrance to Livadia Palace

The entrance to the summer imperial residence is guarded by two marble lions – although they do not have the traditional lush mane and look more like Egyptian sphinxes. At the main entrance to the palace and in the famous Italian Courtyard, there are white marble benches with winged lions on the armrests. These benches were brought here from Venice. Also, the Istria fireplace was brought from Venice, which is located in the Main lobby of the palace.

Two original sculptures can also be seen in the White Hall. The first is Penelope, the symbol of marital fidelity, the wife of Odysseus. Penelope was purchased by the inhabitants of Odessa as a gift to Empress Maria Alexandrovna (grandmother of Nicholas II), on her first visit to the Livadia estate in 1863. The second figure is a chimera, or satyr, a collective image from antiquity.

The historical park has preserved trees planted more than a century ago. It is decorated with Turkish gazebo, Ruschuk column, marble fountains and benches.

PHOTO: bust-monument of Emperor Nicholas II

PHOTO: monument to Emperor Alexander III, installed on the site of the old Bolshoi Palace

On 19th May 2015, a bust-monument of Emperor Nicholas II was installed at the main entrance to the Livadia Palace. It is made according to the model of the sculptor A. A. Appolonov from artificial stone and bronzed. The pedestal is made of marble.

On 18th November 2017, in the presence of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, a monument to Emperor Alexander III was unveiled in the park of the Livadia Palace – on the site where the Bolshoi or Large wooden palace once stood.

PHOTO: Chapel of the Holy Royal Martyrs

On 22nd September 2013, as part of the celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty, the Chapel of the Holy Royal Martyrs was consecrated. The chapel which is situated at the entrance to Livadia Palace was erected in honour of the 150th anniversary of the Exaltation of the Cross Church of the Imperial family at Livadia and in memory of the Holy Royal Martyrs. A magnificent mosaic tile icon depicting the Holy Royal Martyrs dominates the tiny chapel interior. The chapel is open to all comers, liturgies are held on major Orthodox holidays.

PHOTO: Nicholas II Conference in the White Hall at Livadia Palace, 20-22 October 2019

Between 20-22 October 2019, the international conferenceCrimea and the Fate of the Romanov Dynasty. The Beginning and End of the Reign of Emperor Nicholas II,’ opened in the White Hall of Livadia Palace. The conference was attended by leading Russian historians, publicists, archivists and writers. The objective of the conference was to discuss the truth about the Tsar’s family and the and the achievements that Russia made during the reign of Nicholas II. The international conference was timed to the 125th anniversary of the accession to Orthodoxy of Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt – the future Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and the 100th anniversary of the escape of members of the Russian Imperial House from Crimea. In addition, this year marks 125 years since the death of Emperor Alexander III in Livadia. Crimea played a crucial role in the fate of the Romanovs, who played an important role in the development of the peninsula.

© 25 July 2022. Paul Gilbert