Apricale and the Belle Époque

In the hills of West Liguria, the tragic and fascinating story of Countess Cristina Bellomo, lover of nobles and French intellectuals and alleged spy for the Tzar’s Russian secret services, is well guarded.

The official documents gathered in the archives in Apricale see her birth in 1861, together with that of the Kingdom of Italy: of a poor family, Cristina marries Giobatta Pisano, called Battilosso, who was involved in illegal trades of money, and who flees to America, leaving her alone in Nice. The future Countess does not lose heart and contrives to be hired as a maid by Count Charles de la Tour. De la Tour divided his time, made up of salons and smart sets,  between Nice and Paris, where he soon moves to with Cristina, to whom he allows  learning to read and write and study etiquette.

De la Tour cannot marry her as she is still formally married to the fugitive husband, but he leaves her his substantial inheritance and his name (the reason why she was also called Contessa della Torre) which she uses to make her way up in society and to convince her niece, Maria, to leave Apricale and move to Paris with her.

The two ladies undertook a series of trips around Europe, the most important of which seems to be the one in Russia to the Grand-Duke Alexeij Romanov.

As in all tragic events at the end of the 1800s, it is here, at the climax of the story, that Maria falls ill with tuberculosis. The Countess leaves in a hurry for Paris with her niece in order to obtain the best treatment, but the young lady dies as soon as they enter France. A majestic funeral procession, accompanied, it seems, by Romanov himself, unwinds towards Apricale, where Maria is buried with an orthodox cross put on the grave by the nobleman himself.

The bond between Cristina and the Grand-Duke grows stronger, so much so that they wish to get married and the Countess begins negotiations for the husband’s repatriation in order to void the marriage. Battilosso agrees and returns to Apricale where he is faced by his wife’s wealth and prestige, which he was never able to achieve. It is perhaps because of his desire for  revenge that, in 1904, Battilosso tragically kills his wife, hanging himself soon after stricken with remorse.

A small cameo, that of the Countess della Torre, capable of evoking in just a few lines and in a few significant locations the unique atmosphere of an entire historical period.

[Alessandra Chiappori]

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