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he Russian Empire grew not only with Siberian possessions and the North Ocean. A piece of the Mediterranean, so exotic to people from the northern regions, annexed at the end of the XVIII century, the Crimean peninsula attracted the then elite of St. Petersburg and Moscow. In this land, unlike the bleak Middle Russian landscapes, they sought to create a new Russia…
The nobility began to build the most beautiful places of the Southern Crimea, without sparing any money. Governor-General of Novorossiya Mikhail Vorontsov was among the first. The construction of Count Vorontsov’s palace cost, in addition to the forced labor of enslaved people (serfs and soldiers of the sapper battalion), nine million rubles and lasted two decades – from 1828 to 1848.
During this period, several architects changed: initially it was Franz Boffo (who previously designed for Vorontsov Palace in Odessa) and Thomas Harrison, but later they were replaced by Edward Blor: historian, architect, restorer, who worked for the Royal House of Great Britain.
Vorontsov’s Anglophilism influenced the final choice of architectural solution. Blor, a supporter of the Tudor style, decided to combine this style with the Moorish, which should look good against the background of the Crimean landscapes, and he did it surprisingly well. Interestingly, Blor was never at the construction site, and designed the palace based only on the plans of the area, but the building is surprisingly well in harmony with the natural landscape.
The most interesting architectural solution is hidden underground: few people know that this is the only building in Ukraine, the foundation slabs of which are filled with lead – so in those days builders prevented the destruction during the earthquake, because the danger of seismic activity in those days, as now in Crimea, was and remains high.
The main entrance of the palace is located on the west side, it is really western in the full sense: round towers, high jagged walls, narrow windows like loopholes – you get into the early medieval castle of the Western European feudal lord, built on the principle “my house is my fortress”.
Instead, the southern entrance is made in the Arabian spirit: a horseshoe-shaped arch decorated with plaster carvings. It is written six times in Arabic: “There is no winner but Allah.” A natural question arises as to what caused the appearance of this phrase in the palace, because the count was not a Muslim. Apparently, Vorontsov sought to recreate the Moorish palace of the Alhambra in Granada in southern Spain, the residence of the Muslim rulers of Spain, where there is such an inscription, thereby connecting the West with the East.
Count Vorontsov collected paintings by European artists. The collection of works by Western European masters gathered in the palace was dominated by works by artists from England, Flanders, Holland, Italy, and France. There are works by P. Snyers, K. Netscher, Carlo Maratti, William Hogarth, George Doe. In the main lobby there are several ceremonial portraits of Vorontsov’s relatives of different masters (artist Richard Brompton and others).
The last one, in the 1840s, was a library. Vorontsov’s book collection numbered 25,000 volumes, of which only ten thousand have survived to this day. Vorontsov had similar collections in his other estates, but only the library in the Alupka Palace survived, the book collection of the Odessa Palace was transferred to the university, Tiflis disappeared to nowhere, and Vorontsov’s son Semyon Mikhailovich sold the St. Petersburg.
The owners of this palace have changed over the years. It was inherited from one branch of the Vorontsov family to another, but after the arrival of Soviet power in the Crimea, it was nationalized, and in 1921 a museum was opened here.
Fortunately, the palace was not damaged by bombing or shelling during the occupation of Crimea by the Axis powers during World War II. The German occupation authorities treated the cultural heritage with some respect by issuing a security document for the museum. They even organized excursions for officers and soldiers of the Reich. Retreating in 1944, the invaders took to Germany 537 exhibits, not all of which were returned. For preserving the pearl of architecture, the museum’s caretaker Stepan Shchekoldin was awarded high by the Soviet “liberators” – he received ten years in the Gulag as a collaborator of Nazi invaders.
In 1945, a British delegation was housed in the palace. It was here, on February 8, 1945, that the number of countries participating in the inaugural conference of the United Nations, the time and place of convening the first meeting of UN member states were finally determined. After the end of the Yalta Conference for ten years, the Vorontsov Palace was used as a government dacha for high-ranking officials of the then all-powerful NKVD. Only in 1956 did the palace become a museum again, and it remains so to this day. Its main fund alone numbered 27,000 exhibits.
The palace-museum has repeatedly become a nature for filming. The specificity of its interiors and architecture, inscribed in the Crimean landscape, created ideal conditions for creativity.
The Vorontsov Palace-Museum has already survived one occupation. Is history repeating itself?
What is being done today during the Russian occupation? Combining imperial ambitions, petrodollars and impunity with the lack of control of government and ignoring the values of a democratic society is a bad combination for cultural heritage.
Especially when the occupiers are not aware that the sky in Crimea is not always cloudless.
Back in November last year, repairs began on the roof of the palace. The roof with an area of 2.5 thousand square meters was to be replaced for 60 million rubles from the federal budget. The roof was dismantled, temporarily replaced by the so-called “technical roof”, and the word “temporarily” was the key. It took the last straw to complete the chain of misfortune.
The last “drop” was heavy rain that fell on June 7 this year: on the southern coast of Crimea were heavy rains, accompanied by strong winds. Yalta streets turned into stormy river flows. The temporary roof was blown away by the wind from the Vorontsov Palace, and the museum was flooded so that “there was water to the bone” inside.
Not only the walls and interiors of the palace-museum were damaged, but also the exhibits. Nothing was reported about the condition of paintings from Vorontsov’s collection and books collected in the library. For a while, the leading exposition was closed to visitors – the ceremonial halls of the main building of the palace.
The press service of the so-called Ministry of Culture had to blow away the federal minister: “On the morning of June 7, due to hurricane wind and heavy rain, part of the temporary (technological roof) cover was removed from its design position, corps “, – it is said in the official message.
“The museum-reserve has taken measures to turn off the power supply to the main building and transfer part of the museum funds and exhibits to other premises. No direct losses of museum objects were found. The rain was short-lived, and the hurricane did not cause significant damage to the architectural monument, ”the ministry’s spokesmen say.
“There is no damage, we have not found any direct loss of museum items. The walls of the first and second floors of the main building were wet, but nothing was damaged. The blue living room was soaked, and one sculpting element was gone. It has already been restored and will be restored soon. Everything is fine with Vorontsov’s office and the rest of the elements of the exposition, “said Arina Novoselska, Minister of Culture in the collaborationist government of Crimea.
Work on repairing the roof of the palace-museum was carried out by the company Meander LLC, which in 2018 undertook the development of 367 million rubles for the reconstruction of the building. It should be noted that this company is simultaneously engaged in the reconstruction and restoration of a dozen architectural objects on the “benevolent” peninsula. The zeal is easily explained by the generosity with which the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation distributes taxpayers’ funds for the needs of reconstruction of cultural heritage sites. Moreover, there is a deep understanding between the mentioned Meander and the Federal Minister of Culture Volodymyr Medinsky. This company receives all profitable contracts through the Federal Ministry of Culture, especially in St. Petersburg and now in the Crimea and Sevastopol.
The official website of Meander LLC authoritatively assures: “The roof is only the first stage of works. Next is the reconstruction of external engineering networks. It will cost 300 million rubles. Terrace fences are also being restored. The park will also be put in order. ” The park is no less unique than the palace buildings. Will century-old trees be cut down to put them in order?
And the final chord in general strikes with confidence in the future: “Work within the federal target program will continue in the Vorontsov Palace until 2020.”
“High to God, far to the king, and Vorontsov died,” – so said in the last century. In the Crimea, after the June downpour that flooded the Alupka Palace-Museum, the saying spread: “Vorontsov, seeing what was happening, would die a second time.”
However, let’s hope that the occupation will be as short-lived as the rain, and will not cause “significant damage” – then it will be possible to save at least something from modern barbarians.
Valeriy VERKHOVSKY, correspondent of the Crimean Svitlytsia newspaper, Sights of Ukraine magazine, 2019