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On 27 May 1895, Tsar Nicholas II wrote in his diary: “With joyous and sad feelings, I drove into dear Alexandria and entered our house by the sea. It seems so strange to live here with my wife. Although space is at a premium, the rooms are lovely and ideally arranged. The new room (Alix’s) downstairs by the dining room has been beautifully decorated. But the pride and joy of the whole house is the proximity to the sea!”
This house by the sea was the Lower Dacha or Lower Palace, designed by Anton Tomischko in a Neo-Renaissance style. Built by Tsar Alexander III for his son and heir between 1883 and 1885, the palace was small and cosy. Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna particularly liked its location on the seashore, far away from Nicholas’s mother and other in-laws, who lived at the Cottage and the Farm.
There were virtually no interconnecting rooms in the Lower Dacha, which was specially designed to exclude outsiders. The ground floor housed the official premises. Very few guests were ever invited to the first floor, which contained the emperor’s walnut study, the empress’s sitting room and the Rose Drawing Room.
The second floor housed Nicholas and Alexandra’s bedroom and the Lesser Drawing Room (Coffee Room), where the whole family gathered in the evenings. The birth of children meant a need for more space. Between 1895 and 1897, a new wing called the Children’s Half was added to the southern side.
Alexandria is linked to many important events in the life of Nicholas II. In the summer of 1890, he went there to talk to his parents about marrying Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt. On 2 June 1894, he set off from Peterhof to England, in order to spend time with his fiancée and plan their wedding. After they were married, Alix gave birth to four of their five children at the Lower Dacha – Tatyana (1897), Maria (1899), Anastasia (1901) and Alexis (1904).
Nicholas’s desire to spend as much time as possible with his family meant that, in summer, the wheels of government moved to Peterhof. The tsar signed many famous documents at the Lower Dacha, including the manifesto of 17 October 1905, granting civil freedoms, his decrees dissolving the First Duma in July 1906 and the Second Duma in June 1907, and the manifesto on Russia’s entry into the First World War on 20 July 1914.
Nicholas and his daughters paid their last visit to Alexandria on 18 August 1915, when they stopped there on the way to Kronstadt. The Lower Dacha was turned into a museum after the revolution, but was later awarded to the NKVD as a rest home. The building was badly damaged in the Second World War and the remains were blown up in 1961.