300 years of Venetian grandeur
300 years of Venetian grandeur
Golden-age allure, refined elegance, and a captivating historic aura.
There’s nothing plain, nothing simple and nothing informal about Venice’s Caffé Florian. From the gilt mirrors and gold-leaf walls to the subtle movements of the waiters, each and every detail of this stunning Venetian landmark is just as graceful, ornate, and luxurious as one expects it to be. And all are marvelously enhanced by the sensational location, Saint Mark’s Square in Venice.
Rising in an outstanding position beneath the Procuratie Nuove portico, Caffè Florian is Italy’s most ancient café and a glorious monument of Italian splendor and excellence. For hundreds of years its handsome painting-lined rooms, marble tables, and red velvet chairs have welcomed the world’s most famous artists, writers, and all kinds of VIPs, from royalty and intellectuals to world-famous movie stars.Lord Byron, Claude Monet, Charles Dickens, Andy Warhol and Nietzsche were all frequent visitors. Ernest Hemingway spent afternoons drinking espresso and basking in the sunlight on the patio, and Charlie Chaplin was a regular too.
For centuries its richly bedecked indoor halls have offered warmth and inspiration to many a renowned artist, hosted kings and queens, and lured tourists on a quest for Italian style. Still today, Caffé Florian maintains all of its Old-World charisma, and no trip to Venice can be complete without a visit to this haven of charm and magnificence, and without a taste of its exquisitely Venetian culture-rich flavors.
It all started over 300 years ago, on December 29 1720, when entrepreneur Floriano Francesconi, aka “Florian”, inaugurated his “Alla Venezia Trionfante”, an elegant, but small, coffeehouse comprising an outdoor patio on the square and two finely appointed rooms inside. Quickly renamed “Floran’s” by its patrons, the café soon became a hot spot for local artists such as Guardi, Canaletto and Goldoni, nobility and personalities. Among these Giacomo Casanova, certainly attracted by the Florian’s avant-garde admittance policy: at the time it was the only Venetian café to admit women, thus a wonderful place to be for Casanova, always on the lookout for lovely ladies!
Over the following century, whilst celebrities leisurely savored the world’s best wines and exceptional chocolate and coffee from the Americas enriched by Oriental spices, history moved on, both outside the café’s windows and inside.
The Serenissima Republic of Venice came to life, rose and fell; Venetians plotted and conspired to subvert first the French and then the Austrian rule. Secret meetings must have been certainly held in the appropriately darkened café rooms, and during the riots of 1848, these same rooms became an infirmary for the wounded.
Ten years later, in 1858, the café underwent massive restoration and renovation works that turned it into the marvelous, and extensive, place we know today: six splendid indoor rooms, filled with breathtakingly beautiful 18th century decor and paintings by grand Italian masters such as Antonio Pascutti, Giuseppe Ponga, and Cesare Rota.
Among these, the Chinese room boasts a uniquely evocative atmosphere thanks to the light, sinuous figures that cover the walls, interwoven with gold leaf decorations and friezes. Oriental charm aside, the room most beloved by Venetians for its historic and cultural value is the Senate Room, an extraordinary salon decorated with two grandiose paintings by Giacomo Sala – The Enlightened Century and The Civilization that Teaches Nations – plus eleven panels that portray the Arts and Sciences.
This elaborate cultural allegory must have added a secret inspiring ingredient to the meeting between Venice’s former mayor Riccardo Selvatico and a group of his friends… in fact they met in the Senate room in 1893 to decide how to pay homage to King Umberto and Queen Margherita, due for a visit. Discussing options over coffee and liqueurs, they conceived the idea of organizing a grand International Exhibition of Contemporary Art. Two years later, Venice hosted the first edition of a contemporary art exhibition now renowned and celebrated worldwide: the Biennale di Venezia.
Desirous to meet its refined clientele’s wishes, and surpass its expectations, in the early 20th century Caffè Florian adopted a cutting-edge European trend, the café-chantant, employing a permanent orchestra. It was a splendid idea that added an exquisite touch, and much lightheartedness, to the café’s glistening salons.
Art and culture, taste and refinement, music, style and history, alongside superbly rich coffee, an infinite selection of marvelous tea, dainty Venetian Zaletti cookies, fine pastries and friandises, excellent wines, and delicious light lunch menus… for an excuse to stay a while longer!
Today, the Florian is still the place where Venice welcomes the world, and the world sits down to enjoy Venice. The superbly decorated rooms and exceptional patio retain every bit of the golden-age grandeur that made them famous, and enhances it by hosting countless diverse cultural events. Hence, Caffé Florian’s history-filled salons periodically house brilliant contemporary art exhibits, award-winning Murano glass pieces, and cutting-edge installations created by stunning local artists.
Truman Capote once said that “Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go”. He was probably seated at the Caffé Florian.