This 1901 villa on the French Riviera recently underwent a top-to-bottom renovation. But nothing could erase the home’s unusual history—a tale of an exiled Russian aristocrat and his lover, a famous ballerina who fled the Russian Revolution.

Now, more than century later, the seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom Villa Marizzina is on the market for €30 million, or about $32.87 million.

Its current owner is a Russian billionaire who bought the rundown villa in 2010. Since then, he has spent part of his fortune—amassed by manufacturing railcars—to rescue the property from dilapidation, said Neil Galloway, a British developer hired to oversee the project.

“It was in a terrible state, everything was rotten—the sort of place you want to have a shower as soon as you’ve been inside it,” said Mr. Galloway, who declined to name the owner.

Restoring a decaying French landmark building is no simple task. Obtaining building permits alone took a year, which meant construction didn’t start until late 2011. The five-year project involved rebuilding most of its interior. The only parts of the original property that remain are its four retaining walls and the balustrade that guards its marble staircase.

The reconfigured design includes a new entryway with a large picture window with sea views. There are two kitchens, seven bedrooms with en-suite baths, a screening room, a wine cellar and staff quarters.

Although this is essentially a new home in a historic shell, the renovation aimed to keep the past alive. The owner commissioned and installed replicas of the villa’s original tall doors and windows, and of the silver-plated hardware on the front door. He added bespoke cornicing to the living and dining rooms, where its first owner, believed to be an Italian countess, once entertained.

The next woman to call the villa home will be familiar to students of Russian history. Mathilde Kschessinska was a gifted young dancer who caught the eye of the future czar Nicholas II during her graduation performance with Russia’s Imperial Ballet in 1890. The teenager—she was just 17—and the czar-in-waiting had a three-year relationship, parting only when he married.

With her career as a prima ballerina blossoming, she moved on to overlapping relationships with two grand dukes: Sergei Mikhailovich and Andrei Vladimirovich, cousins and members of the Romanov dynasty. The story is documented in Kschessinska’s memoirs, published in the 1960s and in Coryne Hall’s biography, “Imperial Dancer,” published in 2005. More

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON MAY 11, 2017 THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

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