Biological Research Institute of St. Petersburg State University, Russia
RUSSIAN PERIOD OF THE HISTORY OF THE VILLEFRANCHE-SUR-MER
OCEANOLOGICAL STATION (1886—1930). EVENTS AND FACES.
Investigations of marine invertebrates, especially those of uncertain origin and phylogenetic relations, were greatly inspired by the discoveries of А. Коwalevsky (1840—1901) and I. Metschnikoff (1845—1916), Russian zoologists who mainly worked in Messina and Naples (Italy), but also visited several other points of the Mediterranean Sea coast, as well as in Villafranca (Villefranche-sur-Mer, France). The idea to create a station in Villafranca had deep roots. Long before the Station’s foundation Villafranca roasted was known to be a convenient site for marine biological research. Russian biologists: L. Cienkowsky, P. Ovsjannikow, А. Bogdanow, N. Wagner, M. Ganin,
А. Коwalevsky, I. Metschnikoff, V. Ulyanin, M. Ussow, A. Korotneff and some others visited this part of the Mediterranean coast, that belonged to the Sardinian Kingdom up to 1860 and then — to France. A number of scientists from Western countries also have worked there; among of them were K. Vogt (1817—1895) — a «godfather» of future Russian station as well as J. Barrois (1852—1943) and H. Fol (1845—1892) who organized kind of private marine laboratory in Villefranche around 1880 at their own expense.
The Russian Zoological Station at Villafranca opened in 1886, though its organization actually started in 1884. It was the only zoological station at the Mediterranean Sea to be founded by Russians and it functioned for over 40 years under the aegis of Russian scientists. It was a brainchild of A. Korotneff (1852—1915), a professor of the St. Vladimir University in Kiev, a prominent specialist in invertebrate zoology and embryology. The purpose of the Station was initially twofold: it was well suited for the needs of self-studying students from natural faculties and, on the other hand, the diversity of local fauna and improving a station’s equipment provided a wide choice of research topics and possibilities of their implementation.
In the first decade of the XX c. almost the whole building (an old spacious prison built in 1769) was accommodated for the station’s needs. There were several well-lighted laboratories, rooms for the visitors, aquariums, running fresh and seawater, gas for thermostats and lighting. The station’s museum of local fauna was created as well; it was not intended so much for the general public as for the scientific staff, facilitating identification of animals in current samples. The Station owned a yacht of 7 tons displacement, «Velella»; scientists were proud of the Station extensive zoological library. Its basis was formed by V. Ulyanin’s personal library.
The students visiting the Station were quite numerous. At the beginning of the XX c. in the Station reports visitors from the educational establishments of France, Germany, Switzerland and Russia as well as from England, Belgium and Italy could be found. In 1907, for the first time for the Russian biological stations, practical zoological courses for students started in Villafranca. In 1908 M. Davidoff, Korotneff’s assistant at the Station since 1895, also started a course of experimental zoology. Under the joint leadership of Korotneff and Davidoff, Villafranca became one of the most popular biological stations at the Mediterranean. Among the visitors there were not only students and magistrants, but Russian experienced biologists as well: А. Кowalevsky, W. Salensky, М. Menzbier, К. Мereschkowsky, V. L’voff, А. Sewertzoff, W. Schimkewitsch, D. Pedashenko, М. Rymsky-Korsakov, Е. Bihner, N. Ivanzov, N. Nasonov, А. Мordvilko, S. Metalnikoff, V. Redikortzev, P. Sushkin, B. Sukatchev, А. Ostroumoff, K. Davidoff, B. Swartchevsky, J. Wagner, S. Zernow, N. Koltzoff, N. Livanow, A. Gurwitsch, S. Kuschakewitsch, J. Sokoloff, М. Novikoff, S. Tschachotin, J. Strel’nikoff and many others. Calculations made in 1911 (25 years of the Station) have shown altogether about 400 visitors. In 1907—1908, for instance, the Russian Zoological Station in Villafranca was second to the one in Naples in the number of researchers.
Faunistic researches were leading at the Station. Embryological, anatomical, histological and cytological works followed them. The main objects for investigations were marine animals, but terrestrial fauna and flora were also investigated. A few physiological studies were conducted and a special physiological department was envisaged. The zoological station was gradually changing into a general biological one. Korotneff wanted the Station to be under the jurisdiction of the Russian government. The Deputy Minister of Public Education W. Schewiakoff (1859—1930) energetically supported this idea. In 1914, several days before the outbreak of the World War I, the Station passed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry. «Statute of the Russian Zoological Station in Villefranche named after Prof. A. Korotneff» was legislatively confirmed. The Station’s budget was fixed at 18 000 roubles a year which was the biggest one among all Russian stations.
In the beginning of the World War I the Station’s activity was curtailed: only deputy director M. Davidoff (appointed director in 1915), assistant G. Mittens and a fisherman were left in the staff. From the autumn of 1914 to the autumn of 1916 just 5 scientists came to Villafranca. After the Bolshevist revolution in Russia the Station found itself in a desperate economic situation. Russian scientists in emigration formed a special committee for the Station support (1921). The Committee was found by academician N. I. Andrusoff, a geologist and paleontologist, Profs. M. Novikoff and S. Metalnikoff, biologists, E. Kowalevsky, public figure, and some others. M. Davidoff and the Committee avoided making contacts with Soviet government (Commissariat of Education of RSFSR, then USSR), which have tried to establish such a connection in the 20s. At first the Committee scraped some donations and received a modest support from the French government. Then the Czech Academy of Sciences came to help, renting 12 working places at the station for own scientists. The Committee also established connections with the Krakow and Belgrade Academies that also rented working places at the station. Negotiations with the Bulgarian Academy and Yugoslavia were under way. The Committee also had a hope to get some support from USA institutions. However, at the end of the 20s G. S. Tregouboff (1886—1969), which de facto substituted for the Station’s director M. M. Davidoff, began negotiations, without the knowledge of the Committee members, about passing the Station over to the French government. Tregouboff replied to the Committee’s protests that attempts to preserve the Station as Russian was nothing but a sentimental viewpoint and that its transfer to the French is the only way of ensuring its stable existence. In 1931 the Russian Zoological Station in Villafranca was passed over to the Paris University and even the request to retain the name of its founder Prof. Korotneff in the Station name was not complied with. Tregouboff has been at the head of the Station’ staff up to 1956. Then, at 1989 the title of the Station was changed to «Observatoire Océanologique de Villefranche-sur-Mer, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris». Portrait of the Station founder, research vessel «Korotneff» and wonderful Russian books and journals collection in the library are only remaining now the Russian time of the Oceanological Station.
г. Калининград, набережная Петра Великого, 1.
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