History and culture

Castle of Love

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The Swallow’s Nest is a romantic symbol of Crimea and has a compelling history.

 

Perched on the edge of a cliff on the Crimean south coast, the Swallow’s Nest is the postcard picture favourite of Ukraine’s southern peninsula. This miniature medieval castle hoovers some 40 metres above the water, but the more compelling view is the horizon towards the Black Sea. Beyond its touristic appeal it has featured in several books and Soviet films. “It’s very popular,” says Sergey Sorokin, a private tour guide on the peninsula. “Swallow’s Nest is the symbol of Crimea.”

The castle looks as if it could tip into the sea any minute. Once it went close. But it has stood its ground since 1912. The foundations were laid earlier. At the end of the 19th century a wooden cottage was constructed here in commemoration of a general of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877 and 1878. It looked nothing like the castle of today. But that did not stop it from acquiring the name ‘Castle of Love’, which is still used by some.

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The building changed hands several times. It was taken over by A.K. Tobin, a physician at the Imperial Court and doctor of the Russian Tsar. After further interchanges it was bought in 1911 by Baron von Steinheil, a German businessman who had become rich on oil. According to legend, the baron became homesick and wanted to build something that reminded him of his native country. He asked an architect named Vsevolod Sherwood to produce a feasible concept of a castle. Sherwood duly did. In 1912, the baron had his very own: a neo-gothic castle placed atop the Aurora Rock.

Von Steinheil was not to enjoy the castle for long. Only two years later he sold it to P. Shelaputin, a Moscow businessman. He did not share the baron’s romanticism. The new owner turned it into a restaurant.

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So it stayed for years. Then nature left its mark. In 1927 an earthquake shook the region. It measured between six and seven on the Richter scale. The castle escaped unscathed but its foundations took a hit: the underlying cliff suffered a large crack. A garden that used to surround the castle apparently slid into the water. It is believable. Today parts of the castle hang loosely above the sea.

The building was clearly unsafe and authorities closed it off. No use or entrance was allowed. It stayed that way for more than four decades. Not before 1968 did renovations start to try to reopen the castle. It was a significant project. Engineers inserted a large concrete plate into the cliff to patch up the crack and shore up the foundation. In 1971 it was deemed reliable and reopened to visitors.

At first it became an Italian restaurant. Recently, however, it changed its nature once again: in the summer of 2011 it became an art gallery. It still is. Yet the castle’s practical elements have never made a difference to tourists. As long as the architecture remains unchanged it will retain its charm. “Every guide book about Crimea has a photo of this castle – and very often on the cover,” says Sorokin. “Each tourist visiting Yalta or Sevastopol [two nearby cities] will definitely try to see it.”

Photos: Anatoly Tiplyashin, Lonely, Vadim Labinsky [all via Shutterstock.com].

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