Friday, 19 October 2012

Ukraine, near Yalta: Swallow's Nest Castle, Ластівчине гніздо, Lastivchyne hnizdo. Yalta, Ukraine


The symbol of Yalta and the Crimea is the Swallow's Nest castle - a fairytale folly perched on the edge of a 130 ft. high cliff in Gaspra near Yalta in Crimea, southern Ukraine.

Designed by a Russian architect, Leonid Sherwood, and built in 1912 for Baron von Steingel, a real oil baron from Baku oil, The Swallow’s Nest is a popular attraction for tourists on their way to Livadia Palace, the former summer residence of Tsar Nicholas II. The Palace is more famous now as the meeting place of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in February 1945.

The castle overlooks the Black Sea and has an outside terrace, but measures only 20 m long by 10 m wide. In 1927 an earthquake measuring 5 to 6 on the Richter scale damaged the cliff below, and Swallow’s Nest was closed. Various owners followed, and concrete reinforcement was added to the cliff.

Swallows still nest by the castle which is currently undergoing more restoration and is closed again. It can be viewed from above, from afar and coaches and tourists stop to see the fairytale sight.  

The guide on the coach told us that in an old history guide to the Crimea, an earlier castle had been built by a Russian general for a beautiful young gypsy girl dancer whom he had captured after a battle. He fell in love with her, and being a jealous man wanted to keep her locked up while he was at war. During one of his subsequent absences, however, the gypsy tribe rescued the girl, who was never seen again.

The Swallow’s Nest story is reminiscent of the Brothers Grimm fairytale of the imprisoned Rapunzel, who let her hair down through her castle turret window so her lover could climb up her hair. That fairy tale was rather modern for its time, as he got her pregnant and the story didn't end up happily ever after.

Yalta has long been a fashionable resort, and apart from the Russian royal family and aristocrats, Tolstoy and Chekhov used to go there.

In the little park by the port was the best child's swing ever: it went so high there was a kind of safety net for the children. Yalta is twinned with Margate, and a fishing boat was there with that name. Other twins of Yalta are the very smart Baden-Baden, Nice, Acapulco, Batumi, Georgia; Galati, Romania; Khachmaz, Pozzuoli, Italy; Azerbaijan;  Rijeka, Croatia; Santa Santa Barbara, USA; Sanya, China and Ulan Ude, Russia.