A step to the abyss
Swallow's nest: a modern view from the sea.
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A step to the abyss

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Swallow’s Nest”, although not built by the Goths or Genoese, and not in ancient times, but in the early twentieth century, but is already an integral part of the landscape of Yalta and, of course, a kind of business card of the whole Crimea.

Is it possible to combine incompatible? Here is a vivid example of how it was and is usually done in the Crimea: a Gothic castle of a Russian baron named von Steingel, owner of the oil fields in Baku, designed by a Russian architect of English origin and built on the Aurora cliff, at Cape Ai-Todor (St. Fedor ). All in one: a Roman goddess, an Orthodox saint, and a Russian German from Baku, Azerbaijan… And it should be added that for some time – from 2002 to 2011 – in the “Swallow’s Nest” housed a restaurant serving Italian cuisine.

A step to the abyss
The building on Cape Ai-Todor in the early XX century. Photo by SM Prokudin-Gorsky.

In front of Steingel, who built this well-known Gothic castle here, there was a wooden structure on Aurora’s Rock, originally called the “Castle of Love”, and from about 1902 the new owner completely rebuilt this house, and since then he received its modern name. In 1912, Baron von Steingel bought a wooden “Swallow’s Nest” and demolished it, building a stone castle with jagged towers and loopholes. The architect of this masterpiece was Leonid Sherwood. Since a piece of land suitable for construction on this rock was only 10×10 meters, the castle turned out to be quite compact, but still for its construction poured concrete foundation, on which everything is kept. It lasts, despite all the misfortunes, wars and natural disasters.

In 1927 an earthquake struck the Crimea. Although the castle itself was not damaged, a very large piece of Aurora’s rock broke off and fell into the sea, forming a fissure that posed a threat to the entire rock.

The Swallow’s Nest remained in this state for four decades, until 1967, when restoration work finally began. A powerful crane was needed, but the access roads were not designed for such large vehicles. The work was extremely risky: the builders in the cradles suspended from the rock manually laid stones and filled the crack in the rock with mortar. A new reinforced concrete slab was brought under the building, and the seams were filled with lead. Only after that, when it was possible not to worry about the foundation of the “Swallow’s Nest”, the restoration of the palace itself began. It was after that reconstruction that conical domes appeared on the towers. Today the castle is officially recognized as an architectural monument of the twentieth century.

“Swallow’s Nest” has become an attractive tourist attraction. His image, recognizable and unique, can be found on postage stamps and postcards, calendars and coins, in movies and TV series.

A step to the abyss
Swallow’s Nest in the XIX century.

Even the Cook Islands (New Zealand’s self-governing territory in the Pacific) have ordered a one-dollar collector’s coin depicting Queen Elizabeth II of England and Ayu-Dag on the obverse and Swallow’s Nest on the reverse. Boasting of a “victory” over Ukraine in the conquest of Crimea, the Russians issued a coin of 10 rubles with the silhouette of the “Swallow’s Nest” on the obverse, and later – a banknote of one hundred rubles with the image of this palace.

In addition to Soviet, and later Ukrainian and Russian cinematographers, this full-fledged shooting site was also liked by foreigners: “My, My Mio” with Christian Bale, “Blue Bird”, and in 1996 an episode of “The First Strike” was shot here. Jackie Chan.

The palace has needed another reconstruction for a long time. Back in 2013, cracks were found in the slab laid in the foundation of the palace, due to which in the fall of that year, visitors’ access was suspended.

In 2014, “spring” came to the Crimea, the peninsula was occupied, all historical monuments were declared Russian property. Demonstrating great concern for the preservation of the captured values, the occupiers undertook the reconstruction of the “Swallow’s Nest”.

The head of the Ministry of Culture in the collaborationist government of the Crimea, Arina Novoselskaya, described the state of affairs with the “Swallow’s Nest” openly and unequivocally: “Absolutely an emergency”

However, these words can describe the situation of the entire Crimean historical and architectural heritage. And if the Ukrainian authorities can be accused of cautious inaction, they at least did not disturb the eternal sleep of the monuments of the Crimea; Russia’s construction “hyperactivity,” with millions in budget infusions and the under-distribution of government contracts, is a much worse and more dangerous thing.

“This is a gross violation of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The Convention and its First Protocol (1954) prohibit any archaeological excavations in the occupied territories, as well as any changes in cultural property, ”the UNESCO report said.

A step to the abyss
Swallow’s Nest in the XIX century.

In 2015, the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine called illegal the actions of the current authorities of the peninsula on cultural heritage sites protected by the laws of Ukraine and entered in the State Register of Immovable Monuments of Ukraine.

But the occupiers and their local allies are convinced that they have come forever, so they continue to do their part. During research work in 2017, a rock was drilled under the palace to determine the condition of the rock base. These actions caused a protest in Ukraine and concern in UNESCO.

“It has become known that the occupying authorities have begun illegal excavations and engineering geological works, namely, the drilling of a rock on which is a national monument, the Swallow’s Nest Palace,” – said in a UNESCO report for 2017.

Any drilling is a constant vibration and a continuous flow of flushing fluid under high pressure. The first causes the appearance of new cracks in the rock that makes up the rock, and the concrete foundation of the “Swallow’s Nest”; the flushing fluid penetrates into all existing cracks in the rock, which can lead to their deepening.

Fortunately, so far there have been no catastrophes. But after the research work, the actual reconstruction of the building begins, and it is still unknown what the consequences of careless and incompetent intervention may be.

“Restoration of the castle has begun – completely – the interior and exterior, to the arrangement of lawns and observation deck. Air heating, electricity and lighting systems will be fully equipped. In addition, the “Swallow’s Nest” will be illuminated, – says the same Arina Novoselska.

However, UNESCO has a different view: “The greatest concern is the fact that these restoration works are carried out under the guidance of construction personnel who have neither experience nor qualifications in the field of restoration of historic buildings.”

Meander LLC, the notorious “pocket” firm of the Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation Medinsky, received an order for the preparation of design documentation, and the tender for repair and construction works was won by Design LLC from Cheboksary. Unfortunately, this company has no experience of such complex works on such a unique object. That is, they will gain experience in the process of work. It will work out, it will work out, but it won’t work out, then Ukrainians, who brought the cultural monument of federal significance to a state of emergency, will obviously be to blame for everything.

A step to the abyss
Swallow’s Nest: modern top view.

Destruction of the protective layer of concrete and corrosion of reinforcement were found on the floor beams on the ground floor of the Swallow’s Nest. These defects are associated with the effects of precipitation and the long absence of repairs. Some sections of the floor slabs are assessed as emergency.

According to the plan of work on the restoration and repair of the “Swallow’s Nest” should last until the fall of 2020, they have allocated almost 80 million rubles.
In the balcony slab on the ground floor (and part of which hangs spectacularly over the sea), many half-centimeter cracks were found, the protective layer of concrete has “cracks” up to three centimeters, weathering occurs and the rock base of the building cracks and some cracks reach fifteen centimeters.

At the beginning of last year, the Prosecutor’s Office of the ARC initiated proceedings on the fact of illegal archeological works, deliberate destruction, destruction and damage of historical and cultural monuments on the territory of the Russian-annexed Crimea under Articles 298 and 341 of the Criminal Code. We are talking about the issuance of permits by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation for archaeological excavations, as well as restoration work on architectural monuments in the Crimea, as a result of which these objects have suffered irreparable damage. In particular, among other monuments is mentioned and “Swallow’s Nest”.

It is not known whether the architect Sherwood and his client Steingel expected their work to last a hundred years or more. But if the “Swallow’s Nest” has survived on this rock to our time, we would not want our period to remain in history as an era of loss and destruction.

A step to the abyss
Swallow’s nest: a modern view from the sea.

Any ancient architectural structure remains in danger of destruction by ill-considered or irresponsible actions of modern rebuilders, but “Swallow’s Nest” differs from all historical monuments on the territory of the occupied peninsula by its very essence – this fabulous palace is scary to look at. He rises above the vertical slope, showing a challenge to the forces of nature, and risks losing them, falling into the sea, but does not give up.

Daily struggle, momentary resistance to adverse circumstances – that’s what “Swallow’s Nest” is. That is why it is really a symbol of Crimea – enslaved but unconquered.

Valeriy VERKHOVSKY, correspondent of the Crimean Svitlytsia newspaper, Sights of Ukraine magazine, 2019

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The project was implemented with the support of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation

Valery Verkhovsky

Author of culturological articles, journalist of the newspaper "Crimean svitlytsia"

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