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Russian Florence

In November 1868, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and his second wife, Anna Snitkina, moved from Milan to Florence. They rented an apartment on the second floor of Via Guicciardini 8, where Dostoyevsky finished writing The Idiot in January 1869. In his free time, the writer enjoyed walking with his wife in the nearby Boboli Gardens.

In May 1869, after Anna’s mother arrived, the family moved to a larger apartment on the Piazza del Mercato Nuovo. The busy location near a marketplace and the summer heat caused a great deal of discomfort – Anna was in an advanced state of pregnancy with their daughter Lyubov – and so they decided to leave Florence via Bologna and Vienna for Prague at the end of July 1869.

In December 1875, Alexander Herzen’s seventeen-year-old daughter Elizaveta committed suicide in Florence. The reason was her unrequited love for a forty-four year-old French sociologist called Charles Létourneau, who was happily married with children. Elizaveta took a fatal dose of chloroform after an argument with her mother (she was the product of Herzen’s love affair with Natalia Tuchkova, the wife of his friend and fellow writer Nikolai Ogaryov).

Dostoyevsky had met Elizaveta in Genoa when she was five and heard about the suicide from Konstantin Pobedonostsev. In October 1876, he wrote an essay called Two Suicides, which compares the death of Elizaveta Herzen, who left a bitter suicide note written in French, to the suicide of Marya Borisova, a penniless seamstress from Moscow, who jumped out of an attic window clutching a Russian icon.

Peter Tchaikovsky visited Florence eight times between 1874 and 1890. In 1878, the composer’s patroness Nadezhda von Meck rented him a villa overlooking the city at Via di San Leonardo 64, near the church of San Miniato. Tchaikovsky wrote the music for his opera The Queen of Spades while staying at the Hotel Washington on Piazza Ognissanti in spring 1890.

Further down from San Miniato, close to the River Arno, is the former apartment of Andrei Tarkovsky. The famous director lived at Via San Niccolo 91, where he wrote the scenario for his last film, The Sacrifice, in 1983. Further down the river, on the Lungarno Serristori, is the Piazza Demidoff. The square is named after Count Nikolai Demidov, who once owned a palace there (now the Hotel Silla at Via de’ Renai 5).

The Piazza Demidoff was laid out in the second half of the nineteenth century, when Florence was briefly the capital of the newly unified kingdom of Italy. In the middle of the square is the monument to Count Nikolai Demidov designed by Italian sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini. Nikolai Demidov served as the Russian ambassador to the court of Tuscany from 1815 to 1828 and was widely known for his acts of charity while living in Florence. 

In 1860, Count Nikolai Demidov’s grandson, Pavel Demidov, purchased a country villa from the heirs of Grand Duke Leopold II of Tuscany. The residence was created by Francesco I de’ Medici in the second half of the sixteenth century. Although the original villa no longer survives, it is still possible to visit the park, which was laid out by Bernardo Buontalenti and includes the famous Colosso dell’Appennino sculpted by Giambologna in 1580.

The Villa Demidoff is situated in the small town of Pratolino, which lies eight miles to the north of Florence, along the main road to Bologna. To visit Pratolino, take the 25A bus from Piazza San Marco in Florence and stay on until the last stop. The entrance to the park is down the green slope and across the road. The Villa Demidoff is only open to visitors at weekends or public holidays.

The first Russian Orthodox church to be built in Italy was the Church of the Nativity of Christ and St Nicholas, which still stands at Via Leone X 8. The church was designed by Mikhail Preobrazhensky and constructed between 1899 and 1903. Services are held on Saturdays and the eve of festivals at 6 pm and on Sundays and festivals at 10 am.

Fifty-four Russians were buried at the Cimitero degli Inglesi between 1838 and 1877. The cemetery is located at Piazzale Donatello 38 and is open to the public on Mondays (9 am to 12 noon) and other weekdays (3 pm to 6 pm in summer, 2 pm to 5 pm in winter), closed on weekends and public holidays. For more detailed information on the Russian graves see


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