THE RUSSIANS

As for the British community, the history of the Russian community of Nice was closely bound to the evolution of the diplomatic relations between the House of Savoy and Russia.

To establish such relations, Russia had to intervene on the European and Mediterranean political scene. It was only possible from the end of the XVIII-th century, when Russia took from the Turks an access on the Black Sea, and was therefore able to theorize about a foreign policy towards the south of Europe by the Mediterranean Sea. This policy was strengthened by the wars of the Revolution and of the Empire in two ways. On one hand, in 1799-1800, by the regular presence of Russian contingents in northern Italy, together with the Austrians; and on the other hand, by the emigration in Russia of followers of the House of Savoy, as diplomat Joseph de Maistre or officer Alexandre Michaud*

The court of Russia supported with its subsidies the House of Savoy during the Sardinian exile. A current of political sympathy was so created, strengthened by the common support, during the Restoration, for the theses of monarchic conservatism.

There were also very concrete material links between Nice and Russia, by the way of the supply in grains. From the end of the XVIII-th century, and especially in the XIX-th century, Ukraine, through Odessa, became one of the first wheat suppliers of our region, which always was deficient in this domain.

Considering these specific links and the accentuation of the fashion of winter tourism, it was inevitable that the Russians became interested in the region of Nice

This interest was strengthened in the decade 1850.

There was a first break, when Charles - Albert chose in 1848 the side of the liberal monarchies. Nice welcomed then Russian revolutionary theorist Alexandre Herzen, who died there. The policy of the Savoy and of Cavour marked its hostility to the absolutist Russia by engaging 18 000 men (including a regiment of Nice) beside the Anglo-French armies in the war of Crimea ( 1854-1856 ). But in 1857, Turin granted the Russian navy a right to stop in Villefranche natural harbour. From then on, Nice was launched, by the intervention of the tsar’s navy officers as by the regular presence of members of the imperial family (from 1856). Certain inhabitants of Nice contributed to this fame, as famous painter Joseph Fricero, who was married to a natural daughter of tsar Nicolas Ist. Some of his works are presented in the Museum of Hermitage in Saint-Petersbourg
In the XVIII-th century, the Russian presence in the County of Nice was rare and occasional. It happened that the imperial fleet stopped in Villefranche, as in 1770. In the first half of the XIX-th century, some leading hosts stayed in Nice, such as Gogol in 1843-1844. The global number increased in the course of time: during winter 1850-1851, one counted 52 Russian families on 560 foreign families, 40 families on 604 the following year, 141 in 1856-1857 and 214 in 1860. In fact, a decisive stage is crossed(exceeded) in 1856 with the arrival of the imperial family, the czarina dowager Alexandra Feodorovna, her children grand duke Michel and grand duchess Olga, as well as grand duchess Helena, Nicolas Ist’s sister in law. These prestigious hosts who liked the region for its beauty and the benefactions which it exercised on their health contributed powerfully to the fame of the wintry stay. The empress intervened for the building of a Russian church: It was built in rue Longchamp, inaugurated in December, 1859. Alexandra kept such a good recollection of Nice that she spent a second winter stay in 1859-1860, together with several members of her family

The imperial visits which continued confirmed the prestige of the County with Russian Gotha. In October, 1864, Nice welcomed czar Alexandre II and czarina Marie Alexandrovna, soon joined by tsarewitch Nicolas. The feasts, the banquets, the meetings with Napoleon III also present in Nice succeeded one another. But the tsarewitch who suffered because of a bad horse fall died on April 24, 1865. The czar bought the villa Bermond where his son had died, demolished it and replaced it with a commemorative chapel inaugurated in 1868. The Russian winter holiday-makers colony continued to develop. Empress dowager Marie Feodorovna settled in Cap d’Ail in 1896, she granted her patronage to the project for the construction of a new Orthodox Church. After many efforts and the decisive help of Nicolas II, the cathedral situated along the boulevard du Tsarewitch was consecrated on December 18, 1912. The prestige of French Riviera still increased thanks to the visit of other members of the imperial family, tsarewitch Georges, Alexandre III’s son, the brothers of the latter, grand dukes Wladimir, Alexis, Serge and Paul. The Russian aristocracy spent without counting and sometimes became famous with their eccentricities. Among the personalities, one notices baron von Derwies who built the castle of Valrose , Marie Bashkirtseff, Anton Tchekov. Katia Dolgorouki, mistress then morganatic wife of Alexandre II who gave him three children, lived in Nice in 10 boulevard Dubouchage from 1891 till her death in 1922. Some Russians bought properties in Nice: they were 170 in 1870 and more than 600 in 1914.

The revolution of 1917 ruined the Russian aristocracy and forced many of its members to the exile. Some returned in the County as impoverished refugees, they were obliged to sell the possessions which they had kept, they were sometimes forced to frequent charitable institutions created by their less unfortunate fellow countrymen. The Russian colony of Alpes-Maritimes passed from 156 persons in 1918 to 1 982 in 1919, more than 2 000 in 1923 and 5 312 in 1930.

Whereas the Russians of the old generation aged and disappeared, their children became gradually integrated in the French society. There were no longer Russian tourists until 1990's. Businessmen and nouveaux riches who prospered after the collapse of communism found the road to French Riviera. In July, 1994, in the hotel Négresco, 28 rooms were occupied by Russians. In 1999, one counted two weekly flights Moscow - Nice. The newcomers spend generously, often in cash and in dollars. They buy brand goods, rent villas and limousines, (French authorities sometimes wonder about the origin, possibly suspect, of the money). Storekeepers learn Russian. A luxurious magazine, Bereg ( the coast, published in Saint-Laurent-du-Var, intended for these new guests and written in Russian), introduces them to the way of life, to fashion , to gastronomy, to the " good taste " reigning in France.

LeRoy Ellis : Les Russes sur la Côte d'Azur des origines à 1939, Serre Éditeur, Nice, 1988

Hervé BARELLI - Ralph SCHOR

 

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