According to statistics, more than 70% of tourists (not only from Russia but also from Europe) can recognize the Swallow’s Nest Castle seen in this photograph. It is known as the “white pearl” of the Southern Crimean Coast and despite being located in the village of Gaspra which is 11 km from the “resort capital” of Yalta, it is still listed as one of Yalta’s most famous tourist attractions. The palace, on Cape Ai-Todor, on the cliff of Aurora (named after the ancient Greek goddess of dawn), is also known as the “Palace of Love” inspired by its romantic and fairytale appearance.
The history of the construction of the Swallow’s Nest
In the Middle Ages, the Christian monastery of Saint Theodore of Tyrone was located at Cape Ai-Todor (Eng: Saint Theodor), and nearby Tatars also called the cape – Monastery Burun, however in the 19th century, there was no sign of these ancient religious buildings, and the cape was given a new name – Aurora.
During the second half of the 19th century, at the time when the southern coast of Crimea was actively built up by nobles and retired military men, an inconspicuous wooden house appeared on the Aurora Cliff. It was erected for a retired Russian general following the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878. The original building has been replaced by several owners over time, and the wooden cottage was acquired in 1912 and replaced with the current structure within a year. Photos of the original building, already dilapidated at that time, have been preserved and can be seen in the museum.
The land upon which the caste is constructed was purchased by the oil industrialist P. L. Steingel (nephew of the famous Russian railroad builder Baron Rudolf Steingel, a German nobleman who had made a fortune extracting oil in Baku. Baron von Steingel adored the Gothic architectural style, so he ordered the prominent Russian architect Leonid Sherwood to use the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany as an example for the new construction, but to make the building even more fairytale-like.
The available land only measured 20 x 10 meters, so the castle was built up high with turrets, spires and open battlements. Inside the main tower, there were 2 tiny bedrooms. The living room, with a large fireplace and stairs, were brought closer to the “shore” for security reasons. Sherwood made a beautiful toy “copy” of the Gothic Rhine castles but did not take into account that large grottoes were located under the cliff. Behind the balconies, at the edge of the cliff, there was originally a garden, but in 1927 an earthquake occurred, and the rock upon which the castle stood broke: the garden fell into the sea, and one main tower was almost completely destroyed.
The next large-scale reconstruction took place in the 1960s. Originally it was proposed that the castle be dismantled brick by brick and moved “to the mainland”, however, this idea was abandoned. The Soviet architect Tatiev was responsible for the eventual reconstruction and the Swallow’s Nest was “rebuilt” with the entire castle being dismantled with each brick numbered and then reassembled on an earthquake-resistant slab placed on top of the rock. During Soviet times an Italian restaurant occupied the castle, and because of its inspiring location, the exterior of the castle has also been used in multiple Soviet films.
Swallow’s Nest Castle today
In 2011, after 3 months of restoration work estimated to cost $150,000 USD, this spectacular building was opened as a museum. Inside, there is a huge fireplace and an unusual wooden staircase, from which you can climb to the second floor and enjoy the expansive sea views from the turret windows. The museum hosts various thematic exhibitions of artists and craftsmen. In Summer, the traditional “Russian Ball” is held here (the organizer being a club for historical dance and etiquette from Yalta). The castle seen from the neighboring coastal ledges looks like a beautiful toy box.
In autumn 2019 the castle/museum was closed for restoration again.
Address, Opening Hours, Admissions
9A Alupkinskoye Highway, settlement of Gaspra, Yalta, Republic of Crimea
At the present time, the area around the Swallow’s Nest Castle is closed to the public due to the start of restoration works. Admission price and opening hours will be updated after the museum re-opens.