by Ekaterina Kucher
It is said that all empires fall eventually. I found this assertion disputable, looking at the monumental castles in the suburbs of St. Petersburg and marvelling at the captivating beauty of the gardens of the royal estates as if frozen in time, with their wide spans of marble stairs and luxurious rooms.
Few people know that to the east of Peterhof lies a tranquil parkland named Alexandria - the family nest of four generations of the Romanov dynasty. This homelike estate with the Cottage and the Farm Palace symbolizes the first attempt of Russian emperors to separate family life from state responsibilities. Alexandria became a summer residence, a place for the family and the loved ones, a hearth.
Initially, the territory on which Alexandria is located belonged to four owners who received it as a gift from Peter I. It had been used as grounds for royal hunting until Nicholas I became the owner of the parkland and named it after his wife Alexandra Fedorovna, who wanted to escape the hypocrisy and pomp of the court life. Soon, the Gothic-styled Cottage Palace was built there. I doubt that anyone then could have imagined that over the years this ordinary-looking mansion with small balconies, planted terraces, and lancet windows would become one of the favourite residences of the Royal Family.
However, when I first entered Alexandria, it was not the rare buildings, scattered over the territory of the park ensemble, that caught my eye. I quickly glanced over the cast-iron wells, then looked around the majestic chapel and the unremarkable farmhouse until I came across a Cottage hidden in the lush crowns of trees. My attention was drawn to the blue sign on the decorated facades. This coat of arms, designed for Alexandria by poet Vasily Zhukovsky, depicts a heraldic shield with a sword passing through a wreath of white roses, the favourite flowers of Alexandra Fedorovna.
The real value of Alexandria was revealed to me moments later, when I lowered my gaze to the panorama in front of me and saw those spacious meadows covered with wildflowers, from the buds of which the hum of buzzing bees was barely audible. Dense trees grow on steep banks of rivers that stretch under the Gothic bridges and flow into the vast expanse of the Gulf of Finland.
Where a serene surface of the water meets the horizon, I could hear distant cries of seagulls, feel the wind smelling of salt and wet bark. It was hard to believe that the ruins lying nearby once were a beautiful villa of one of the Russian Emperors - Nicholas II. It was here, at the place named Nizhnya Dacha, that his only son, Alexei, was born on July 30, 1904.
The silence and secrecy of the location made it the favourite residence of the Emperor. “Our house by the sea,” he lovingly referred to the place in his diary. Being so different from Peter’s luxurious chambers or the rich rooms of Catherine's Palace in Pushkin, Nizhnya Dacha can truly be called a dacha - a place where you feel at home. Unfortunately, Alexandria was doomed to a tragic end, just like its owner.
Despite the fact that Nicholas II abdicated in the course of the 1917 revolution, he and his family were arrested by Bolsheviks and sentenced to death in order to prevent any attempts of rescuing them.
On the fateful night of July 16, Emperor Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, their five children and four servants were ordered to get dressed and go down to the basement of the Ipatiev House, where they were being held imprisoned. Nicholas II carried his son: Alexei could not walk due to the illness. At the request of Alexandra Fedorovna, two chairs were brought into the cellar. She and Alexei sat, others lined up against the wall. Yurovsky, the Commandant of the Ipatiev House, behind whom an execution squad of secret police stood with weapons at the ready, read the sentence. «What?» became the only and last question Nicholas asked before the deafening shots tore the tense silence of the room. This was the tragic end of the Russian monarchy.
Years after this brutal execution, Alexandria was turned into a museum complex dedicated to the royal household items. Unsurprisingly, the whole parkland suffered great losses and was severely damaged during the Second World War. The remains of the Nizhnya dacha were destroyed by an explosion in the early 1960s, the causes of which are still unknown. The Soviet authorities, possibly, simply wanted to get rid of the monarchist relics.
It is said that all empires fall eventually. I used to find this assertion disputable, but now, looking at the remains of the once-prosperous and glorious Royal Family dacha, I come to think that it might be true.