Unity and Diversity in Architectural Styling of Alupka Park

Text: Yuta Arbatskaya

      “A garden resembles the Universe, it is a book in which one can “read” the Universe… But a garden is a special book: it reflects only the good and ideal essence of the world” (D.Likhachev). The above quote of Dmitry Likhachov gives an ability to start studying of a garden as a universal work of art, in which all the accumulated variety of poetic tropes is used.


      Garden and park design is one of the astounding creations yet made by the mankind and inside it various styles and cultural epochs are interlaced incorporating horticulture, art, architecture, poetry, religion, and philosophy. Palace and park ensemble of Alupka is undoubtedly a universally recognized masterpiece of architecture and park design. The ensemble was laid in the first half of the 19th century by Count Mikhail Vorontsov whose idea was to create a “universal architectural chronicle of the world” (A.Galichenko, “Alupka. Noble Retreats of Russia. History, Culture, Architecture. Essays”).

      In the times when Russian culture and philosophical ideas blossomed and the world’s cultural heritage underwent transformation, this park was created by Mikhail Vorontsov using motifs of the English poetry and of the French romantic prose, with traces of the Eastern philosophical traditions, Greek Revival minor architectural forms, and Ancient Greek philosophical schools of thought. It is impossible to review the park separately from its visual connections with the unique South-Crimean landscape around it and the peculiar architecture of the palace and of the numerous park pavilions.

      Park of Alupka was created in the style of Historical Romanticism. This style had developed since the early 19th century when it was originated by landscape designer Humphry Repton. Anna Galichenko wrote the following about him: “Characteristic trait of this architect and his school was combination of various styles: Classical and Gothic, English landscape and French formal gardens. When a park incorporated an American garden, a Renaissance-era flower bed, an English lawn, and a Chinese landscape, it was in no case deemed eclecticism and never violated the rules of synthesis” (A.Galichenko, “Alupka. Palace and Park”).

      And now, we enter the park. Not to lose our way, better open the book Alupka. Palace and Park of Anna Galichenko. There are five terraces on the plan made by architect William Hunt. Why five? Let’s assume the following. If we consider that the coastline and the sea are also terraces, then their overall quantity equals seven. If we compare Plato’s garden with the amphitheater of Alupka’s relief and seven half-sphere terraces, then Plato’s Universum comes to mind.

      While ascending from the sea to the palace, we note numerous wall fountains which symbolize the epochs of the human culture by the rhymed line ends of the terraces.

      They either lead to fountains, or stretch away from them. Observers, while ascending, as if watch the whole history of the mankind by going from fountain to fountain, from epoch to epoch. The time is wittily locked in the architecture of these fountains: the higher we go, the more detailed is the depiction of the details. From the epoch of Ancient Hellas, through the epochs of the Ancient Rome and Byzantine Empire, through the Middle Ages, we move towards the Renaissance era. The “Shell” fountain, located on the middle terrace under the front staircase, is in its shape similar to Gothic edifices of the 12th – 13th centuries. There is information that only roses and lilacs used to grow on this middle terrace (A.Galichenko, “Alupka. Palace and Park”).
After we have gone further upwards on this marble staircase, we, at last, found ourselves on the lion terraces where lush Mediterranean vegetation is harmonized with the majestic sculpture and architecture of the palace’s Southern façade.

      “Its form is the quaint interlacing of Alhambra gardens and Renaissance-era Italy, of Tudor-epoch flower gardens and patios of Bakhchisaray. Here, there is every single thing for which garden design of the 16th century had been praised,” Anna Galichenko writes.

      Carrara marble vases stand on the parapets of the retaining wall. White marble benches are not less perfectly-made and wallow in the niches of the trimmed boxwood bushes.

      Along the axis of the palace, in the center of the each of two symmetrical parterres, there are two marble fountains made by Italian craftsmen.

      The front staircase is “guarded” by marble sculptures of the sleeping, wakening lions, and lions on watch. These sculptures were crafted in the workshop of sculptor Bonanni from Bologna. The terraces have always abounded in flower beds, they have always been richly decorated with lianas and decorative shrubbery blossoming during the various seasons of the year. However, center of the composition here is the portal with architecture styled as that of Alhambra.

      And from the eastern side of the upper terrace, narrow unnoticeable stairs lead down to the concealed Bakhchisaray patio and to the replica of the famous “Maria” fountain, and further in the Georgian court yard with a fountain "Cupids".
Interior rooms of the palace represent a boundary after which there is another epoch, style, and architecture. Here we leave the Lower park. Observers, who entered the palace from the sunlit south façade abounding in exquisite intricate decorations and exotic plants, exit to the northern forecourt and found themselves in an atmosphere of the intentional austerity and Romantic savagery.

      Here, architecture of the palace bears characteristic traces of Tudor-era England castles, while some architectural elements are taken from feudal fortress-castles of the 9th-12th centuries.

      After they have entered the northern forecourt of the Voronstov palace, visitors become mesmerized by the picturesque view of Mount Ai-Petri jags, which seem to repeat the outlines of the diabase “Potemkin cliff” otherwise known as the “Lunar stone”.

      However, during the times of the Vorontsovs this composition looked differently and had another semantic meaning. In front of the “Lunar stone”, there used to be a pergola, the longest and the most scenic on the Southern coast of Crimea. It was fully twined with climbing roses and used to lead from the Asian pavilion towards “Lake Moeris” in the Upper park. Anna Galichenko connects the pergola itself and the symbolism of “Lake Moeris” with the plot of Thomas Moore’s Lalla Rookh romance (1817), drawing attention to the fact that Moore was closely acquainted with architect Edward Blore and that his Oriental romance was extremely popular among the Vorontsovs.

      When we approach “Lake Moeris”, the last one in the system of flow-through ponds of Alupka, it is impossible not to remember that artificial mountain cascade “Freischütz ” starts here. This cascade was created by brothers Poluektovy, serf-stonemasons, and was named after Der Freischütz (“Freeshooter”) opera by Carl Maria von Weber. The cascade pierces the whole Smaller chaos and ends in the Lower park as a wonderful waterfall.

      Nodier described Trilby as an extremely kind-hearted and cute brownie who lives in a fisher’s house in Scotland. Trilby is so devoted to the house mistress that after her death, when he is banished as evil spirit, he settles in the graveyard and bemoans his mistress’ grave. Charles Nodier writes in the conclusion that “he who has ears” can hear his sorrowful moans even today. The story immediately became popular in Europe, even a special “trilbymania” term occurred.

      Poet Ossian (real name James Macpherson) has remained one of the most mysterious personalities in the literature of the late 18th century. Born in Scotland, this bard published his poems in 1760s and became popular all around Europe. Goethe praised Ossian better than Homer, characters created by Ossian were inspiration for George Byron, Walter Scott, and Victor Hugo. Plots of his poems were used by artists in their paintings and by composers in their ballets and operas. From Derzhavin and Batyushkov to Bryusov and Mandelstam, no one has missed the imagery visions of this distinctive bard. It is well enough just to mention some characters and figures created by Ossian: a desert with shadows of fathers in the moonlight; ghosts moaning in caves and forests; a deeply grieving young woman who sobs at the moss-covered and grass-grown headstone of her beloved man who perished in a battle; a wandering grey-haired bard who seeks traces of his ancestors in the desert, but all he manages to find is only graves; memories coming alive in the gloomy light of a star and by the foamy sea; sullen inaccessible cliffs and cold waves banging against them with wild roar; a deserted castle in which souls of the perished heroes in vain seek for piece and quiet; and so on, and so forth. Needless to say that wildness of Alupka with its chaotic lumps of cliffs, dark grottos, and rough winter sea was as if created for Ossian’s characters and images to come alive here. Especially poetic is the Smaller chaos with its mysteriousness and time patina on its boulders.

      And finally, there are romantically piled diabase boulders of the Greater chaos.

      Speaking a more prosaic language, one cannot but mention the metaphor of the chaos. According to philosophy of the ancient people, everything emerged from chaos and also ends there. One can quite understand delight of poets who for the first time beheld wonderful lumps of cliffs and stones. The gaze moves along the line “Lake Moeris” – Greater chaos – Ai-Petri peak – the sky, and, finally, wanders into the boundless space.

      Following a path which leads eastwards from the Greater chaos, visitors find themselves in an atmosphere of piece and quiet. This place represents a complex of four glades which merge gradually one into another: the Sun, the Platan, the Contrast, and the Chestnut glades. Vast open areas of the glades remind of “Alexandria” symbolical park in Belaya Tserkov, the family estate of Elizaveta Vorontsova, which was laid in the late 18th – early 19th centuries.

      It is worth noting that plant composition of both parks was created using the same principles, despite the considerable difference in climate zones. Both parks were created by merging numerous precious exotic cultivars into the biocenosis of the natural tree flora of the areas to undergo landscape design. This fact proves once more that mistress of the estate, Elizaveta Vorontsova, participated in creation of the structural composition of Alupka park.

      Thus, the Upper park of Alupka also bears vivid traces of historical romanticism and is full of semantic content of works of arts, philosophy and culture of various countries, national cultures, and religions, and all this appeared as a great idea of one of the most educated and outstanding people of the early 19th century – Mikhail Vorontsov and his spouse Elizaveta Vorontsova.

      In 2016 Alupka palace-park museum-reserve has entered National Association «Revival of historical gardens and parks» (Saint-Petersburg).