In the summer of 1887, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky spent just over three weeks in the spa town of Borzhom in the Tiflis Province of the Russian Empire. Shortly after leaving Borzhom, the Russian composer reflected on his stay at the spa in a letter to opera singer Emilia Pavlovskaya, commenting: “I do feel that Borzhom is one of the most bizarrely wonderful places in the whole world.”
For Tchaikovsky, Borzhom was a place apart, a community peculiarly detached from the real world. This was not unique to Borzhom. Tchaikovsky would have encountered much the same atmosphere in other spas around the tsarist empire, made to emulate their famous European predecessors like Carlsbad. Whether in the Caucasus, the Crimea or the Baltics, their atmosphere is still the hallmark of the traditional European spas so very popular with Russian visitors today.
Tchaikovsky used his time in Borzhom to good effect, taking the waters as prescribed by his doctor and working on the orchestration for his Suite No. 4 (Mozartiana). So he worked, to be sure, but at a different tempo. The clocks run slower in spa towns. It is that sense of time having stalled, of being in a refuge where the worries of everyday life are kept at bay, that makes such places so enduringly popular. The spa is a sanctuary, though whether it promotes more the betterment of the body or the soul is open for debate.
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