Baron Paul Georgevitch von Derwies ( 1825-1881 ), a Russian of Baltic origin and engineer, became immensely rich by building railroad lines in Russia. He founded then a bank and still increased his wealth. He arrived in Nice in 1867 and bought on the borders of Cimiez and Brancolar a vast domain of more than 10 hectares, Vallaurosa, that he renamed Valrose. He asked his fellow countryman, David Grimm, helped by other architects as Bernardin Maraini* and Albert Bérenger *, to build a big and a small castle in an eclectic style with a Gothic Tudor dominant and Romanesque and Renaissance elements. The construction lasted from 1867 till 1870 with 800 workers. The inside was inspired, according to the rooms, by the Renaissance, the neo-classic and the French XVIII-th century styles. The ceiling of the big lounge was decorated with a vast painting by Pierre-Victor Galland. Von Derwies asked another Russian architect, Mikhail Makaroff, to build a concert hall for 400 auditors, then a scene and its machinery to represent operas. The room in a Louis XVI style with a note of rococo, contained a single box for the host. Joseph Carlès, from Nice, helped by a hundred gardeners, fitted out the park with rare species, an ornamental lake, false ruins, stairs, an important statuary set, an authentic wooden isba imported from Ukraine was rebuilt on the spot. S.M. Biasini* raised a monumental entrance with a house for the warden looking on Cimiez.

Baron von Derwies counted on music to introduce himself in the Russian high society which avoided him and considered him as an upstart. He constituted an orchestra of 50 musicians and 8 chorus-singers and let filter echos on the quality of the concerts which he organized. Soon, driven by curiosity, the aristocracy went to Valrose where even the members of the imperial family were received. The domain, sometimes called " Bayreuth of Nice ", became one of the high places of the fashionable and musical life. Besides the works of the host, author notably of the opera The countess of Lascaris, the programs included varied pieces, with a strong presence of the German symphonic music which von Derwies particularly appreciated. The famous artists who stopped in Nice were invited, such as violinist Joseph Joachim or soprano Adeline Patti. The highlight of this musical life was reached on January 5, 1879 with the creation of La Vie for the czar of Glinka. Von Derwies, a philanthropist, affected the product of the representations to the charities of the city of Nice. He created a night shelter and a school which bore his name until its destruction in 1998.

In 1881, von Derwies lost his daughter Vera whom he adulated and he himself died, two days later, from a crisis of apoplexy due to the sorrow. The baron’s sons managed awkwardly the fortune they inherited and lost a big part of it. They occasionally returned to Valrose where von Derwies’s widow died in 1903. The domain was sold in 1912 to Russian businessmen, then in 1920 to a rich Bolivian, " king of the tin ", Simon Patino, who died in 1947. Ten years later, the city acquired the domain and retroceded it to the Ministry of Education which implanted there in 1965 the Faculty of Sciences and the presidency of the University. The old buildings and the park were classified Ancient monument in 1991.

Ralph SCHOR

 

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