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  • Writer's pictureShershada Rauf

The Sparrow's Nest, Crimea

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

Architecture, through ages, has been conceptualized, constructed and immortalized by the need to express a kaleidoscope of emotions. In this week's article, we discuss how the expression of love birthed The Swallow's Nest, a monumental building in the southern coast of Crimea.

There have got to be very few places as romantic and unbeknownst to travellers as the disputed Crimean coast overlooking the vast expanse of the Black Sea. The Swallow’s Nest is perched here on the 40m high Aurora Rock, with a view that is as captivating as it is mind-boggling.

History has it that in 1895, a wounded Russian veteran was awarded the piece of land by the Tsar for his heroism. He built on it his humble timber abode and called it the ‘Fortress of Love’ with speculations rife at the time that this was the General’s place of privacy to invite his secret mistress. It could well have been, considering its seclusion, lack of visibility from the land, and the sheer romanticism facilitated by the hill top cabin speaking to the myriad moods of the sea and the sky.

In 1910, as the ownership passed on to Baron von Steingel, the wooden building saw itself being demolished to give way to a concrete Neo-Gothic ‘fortress’ designed by Moscow architect Vsevolod Sherwood, who was in Crimea on his honeymoon. The building is not functionally a fortress and was never intended to be. It’s hardly majestic in size, with a floor plan spanning over 10 metres by 12 metres, and a two-storey height of 12 metres.

The ornate bare-concrete exterior decorated with spires, crenellations and lancet arches is a stark contrast from the humble interiors with a hall, living area and two bedrooms.

Baron’s Neo-Gothic home was sold in 1914 and converted into a restaurant. In 1927, when an earthquake struck the cliff, the underlying rock below the balustrade was affected and toppled off, leaving a cantilevered observation deck. Now, a part of the structure floats in thin air.

The building was closed for renovation for years owing to structural inability.

The Swallow’s Nest puts Yalta and Crimea on the architectural tourism map, arguably as a castle that is fresh out of a fairy-tale. It was built on a piece of land where a war veteran envisioned his home to be a castle of love, by a man who was on his honeymoon and designed using the principles of one of the most romantic styles of architecture.

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