Ukraine: If Palace Walls Could Talk

Ghosts may occasionally inhabit the ancient passages of places where history was made long ago but the walls themselves record every occupant’s celebration and frustration keeping secrets for centuries. Livadiya Palace, once the summer home of the last Russian Tsar, Nicolas II and the site of the Yalta Summit in 1945, this palace’s walls could write a history book. Designed as an Italian Renaissance-style building in 1911, the pearl white stone flanked by ornate gardens is a popular destination for travelers and Ukrainians alike.

Inside the formidable 116 room palace, visitors can visit the English style billiard room where President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Josef Stalin sat around a small table dividing Germany in half and forging a specious compromise to end the Second World War that would allow Stalin to wield power over much of Eastern Europe. Staged and candid photographs of the Big Three world leaders, newspaper articles from the time, the actual desk used by Roosevelt to craft his thoughts, and other artifacts are available to view.

Perhaps the most poignant mementos preserved in the private apartments of Livadiya Palace are personal effects of Tsar Nicolas II himself. He and his family spent four summers at this residence before their subsequent arrest by Bolshevik troops in 1917 and execution a year later. Tsar Nicolas II’s private study is littered with unanswered correspondence, cherished family photographs, and books that have survived generations, the room untouched since the Romanov family’s last days.

The coastal gardens are a reason to visit also. The Sunny Path winds through landscaped and overgrown parts to the edge of Swallow’s Nest Castle, a modern-day toy visage built in 1912 for a German oil magnate. Finally, a visit to the Romanov’s personal chapel with its ornate icons and gently curved ceilings may bring the long-kept secrets to life. The Romanov family was beautified as martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church. Maybe if you listen closely, you may still hear the family’s prayers for redemption.