The Sumptuous Palaces of Yalta
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Invigorating sea air and coastal scenery first enticed the Russian aristocracy to the wild and beautiful Crimean peninsula. After Prince Vorontsov completed his resplendent palace here in the mid-1800s, his aristocratic houseguests were so impressed that they too flocked to the coast. When Russian Czar Alexander II built his magnificent Livadia Palace in 1911, this Black Sea promontory was officially the summer retreat for the Russian elite.
Then as now, the elegant Vorontsov Palace is the coast's crown jewel. Prince Vorontsov, raised and educated in England, was a true Anglophile. He hired Englishman Edward Blore, one of the 19th century's best-known architects, to design an extravagant 150-room summer residence. It took 20 years to complete and incorporated a surprising blend of Scottish and English gothic styles, plus a dash of Moorish. This architectural mash-up works for some, not others – see what you think of it.
With its English elements, Vorontsov may have felt like home to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill when he stayed here during the 1945 Yalta Conference. Convened at nearby Livadia Palace three months before the German surrender, the conference brought together Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Soviet leader Josef Stalin to decide the future of war-torn Europe. You'll see Livadia's massive White Hall, where they negotiated – and the billiards room where they signed – the agreement that effectively ceded Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union. Photos of the "Big Three" on the walls, including some never intended for public view, capture the mixed feelings of the men united by the need to defeat Hitler but divided by ideology and hidden agendas.
Upstairs, you'll see the private rooms and mementos of Nicholas II and his family. The last Russian Imperial family spent just a few summers here before they were imprisoned and executed in 1918 by Bolshevik troops. Their photographs also document a world that would never be the same.
The Lion of Britain and the lions of Vorontsov
When Churchill and the British delegation were housed in Vorontsov Palace during the Yalta Conference, the prime minister was impressed by the English-inspired architecture and gardens, especially six magnificent marble statues of Medici lions flanking the steps leading to the palace's terraces. He asked Stalin if he could take his favorite lion home, but Stalin said nyet.
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