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History of Swallow Nest Castle (Yalta)

Although it looks like the seat of a medieval knight or an elegant lady, the Swallow's Nest can be called a castle conventionally. This unusual building served as a summer seaside villa from its earliest days. Such villas were popular among noblemen and wealthy merchants of the Russian Empire in the second half of the 19th century. The history of the Swallow's Nest dates back to the 1870s, when on the top of Aurora Cliff, part of the Aj-Todor Peninsula, the construction of a wooden building started. It belonged to a former Russian general whose name was unfortunately forgotten by history. The isolated location of the general's villa, romantic views of the sea from its windows, and the fact that the general himself called it the «Castle of Love» contributed to rumours that the Swallow's Nest was a place where the general met a mysterious lady.

After some years Adalbert Karlovic Tobin, a member of Yalta city council, who served as a doctor at the summer royal residence in Livadiya, became the villa’s owner. In his times a stone building was established in the place of the wooden villa, you can admire it on paintings by Aivazovsky and Bogolyubov. It was in that period when the villa finally got its nickname – “the Swallow's Nest”. This name appeared even in a guidebook from 1895. Near his house, between the lighthouse and the rock, the doctor established a small boarding house where wealthy patients from big cities were treated. After Tobin's death his wife took care of the villa for a short time. She sold the Swallow's Nest to a rich oil magnate, Baron Steingel. On the initiative of this host the villa was converted and gained its wonderful appearance that brings to mind knights castles in the Rhine Valley.

In 1911 the old building, apparently time-worn, was destroyed. Then the construction of a neo-Gothic castle began. In order to create an extraordinary building, Baron Steingel brought Leonid Sherwood in, an architect from the capital city who came from a famous dynasty of architects and sculptors. The small castle occupied an area of 10x20 metres only, and on two storeys its interior housed several rooms needed for summer holidays and inviting guests. Apparently, Steingel was not destined to enjoy fully his castle because at the beginning of World War I he left Russia and sold all his property. From 1914 the Swallow's Nest belonged to Mrs Rakhmanova, as some information says – a millionaire with provincial habits who furnished the interior of the Gothic castle in the old-Russian style that completely did not match it.

After the revolution of 1917 and a period of civil war the Swallow's Nest was abandoned. Plunderers obviously did not miss that opportunity. In the 1920s, in the golden era of the New Economic Policy, the Swallow's Nest was transformed into one of the most popular restaurants of the South Coast in Crimea. However, on 12 September 1927, when Yalta trembled due to a great earthquake, some part of the castle rock collapsed into the depths of the sea. Although it did not suffer much, from that moment the castle practically teetered on the brink of a precipice. In the 1930s, after a renovation of the main tower, for some time it housed a library from the nearby sanatorium «Pearl», but the access to it was closed because of a difficult location of this building. In the post-war period Yalta very quickly regained popularity of a state health-resort and one of the best resorts in the country. As a result, tourists got more interested in the romantic small castle clutched at the very edge of a rocky cliff.

In order to make the Swallow's Nest available to the public, a renovation that would provide tourists with a safe visit in this great building was obviously needed. Over some years a great number of suggestions and ideas were examined, including to take the castle to pieces and move it to a different place, numbering every stone first. Fortunately, the castle was not separated from its picturesque place on Aurora Cliff in the end, and in 1968 works started that were to strengthen its foundations with slabs of reinforced concrete. The renovation of the Swallow's Nest was carried out under strict supervision of architect I. Tatijev and designer W. Timofiejev. With their work, this building was solidly attached with a monolithic slab and secured with an antiseismic belt while cracks in the rock were filled with concrete and stones. At the beginning of the 1970s tourists saw the renovated castle with a higher tower, crowned with four harmonious spires and wind flags. The incredible popularity of the Swallow's Nest, its miniature statuettes that were sold as souvenirs, postcards and photos caused that the castle was known as one of the Crimean symbols. Between the 1960s and 1980s a lot of films were shot on its premises. Moreover, the restaurant was reopened, it enjoyed a great popularity among holidaymakers spending their time there. In 2002 another renovation was made behind the walls of this unusual stronghold, but it was not until 2011 when this historical building finally served as an exhibition and cultural centre. Unfortunately, since 2013 the Swallow's Nest has been in need of another renovation of the foundation and strengthening the rock that supports it, so new renovation methods are still being discussed.