Let’s go to Florian!
by Ayfer Selamoğlu
For nearly 300 years, a voice has been heard in Venice’s pastel-coloured, narrow streets: “Let’s go to Florian!”. This magical cloud of invitation passes through narrow, pastel-coloured streets with Renaissance patterns, bridges that dance around the city and reaches the swan gondolas. It invites everyone to a magical world…
Almost everyone has shown great interest in Caffè Florian, which has been the address of a light meal, a drink and meeting with friends since the first day. Locals, tourists, artists, writers, the world of cinema… So, Cafe Florian is like a fictional stop for those who want to get lost in time travel. I comply with this call and embark on an emotional journey with a cup of coffee… Let’s get started!
I’m in the Serenissima Republic era. The calendars show December 29, 1720. There is an exciting hustle and bustle in St. Mark’s Square. Floriano Francesconi, one of the leading names in the city, was opening Europe’s first coffee house. Name: “Alla Venezia Trionfante”. The sign is put on with applause. But this name stays on the sign after a while. Because the residents of the city immediately begin to call the cafe they own “Florian’s”, referring to the owner’s name, who is their friend.
Since its opening, Caffè Florian has been visited by distinguished and important people, where almost every topic is discussed, from government affairs to art and culture, from local gossip to the latest fashion. Venetian nobility, ambassadors, literati, merchants and artists gathered here. They sat side by side with the citizens and tourists of La Serenissima.
Here Casanova wove his love plots, and Carlo Goldoni got the inspiration for his comedy “The coffee shop”. In 1760, the first modern newspaper, “La Gazzetta Veneta”, written and directed by Gaspare Gozzi, was distributed at its tables. In its almost three centuries of history, the Florian there is no famous person who, while staying in Venice, has not taken the opportunity to sit on its red sofas: Jean Jaques Rousseau, Lord Byron, Goethe, Canova, Stendhal, George Sand, Charles Dickens, Alfred de Musset, Alexandre Dumas, John Ruskin, Henry James, Proust, Gabriele D’Annunzio, and nowadays actors like Gary Cooper and Marcello Mastroianni, Paul Neumann and Grace Kelly and the list would be endless!
As such, Caffe Florian became a place where the foundations of many great works in architecture, music and literature were laid. For example, the first idea for the Venice Biennale emerged at Caffe Florian. At the end of the 19th century Riccardo Selvatico, then mayor of Venice, and his intellectual friends used to meet in the Sala del Senato of the Caffè Florian: during one of these evenings, the idea was born of organising an Art Exhibition every two years International, as a tribute to King Umberto and Queen Margherita of Italy. The first “International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice”, which became famous worldwide as “La Biennale”, was organised in 1895. This place, where such a solid Venetian tradition is still alive, is a meeting place of many worlds today. With some luck, today, you can find yourself sitting next to cinema or theatre stars and personalities from the worlds of art, culture, politics and the economy.
The architectural history in Florian is fascinating. At the beginning of its history, the Caffé had no windows and consisted of two rooms furnished with extreme simplicity. In the mid-1700s, probably driven by competition, the Florian expanded with two rooms. Towards the end of the century, the management passed to Valentino Francesconi, nephew of Floriano and then to his son Antonio. After about thirty years, it was bought by the new owners: Vincenzo Porta, Giovanni Pardelli and Pietro Baccanello. It was these new managers in 1858 that entrusted the architect Lodovico Cadorin of the Academy of Fine Arts with the complete renovation of the place with the addition of two rooms, thus giving it the appearance that has remained unchanged until today with its prestigious rooms. Two new halls have been added to the Cafe and all rooms have been given new names. Since then, Florian has kept its prestigious ambience and atmosphere unchanged. The cafe has rooms such as the Freedom Room, the Senate Room, the Chinese Room, the Oriental Room, and the Seasons Room. Each room has its feature. While the Senate Room is important as it is the birthplace of the famous Venice Biennale concept, there are elegant, feminine figures emphasising the beauty and representing the four seasons in the Seasons Hall. The Freedom Room was created in 1920 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the cafe, and the Art Nouveau movement influenced the architecture of this section. The Chinese Room has elegant and curvy forms on its walls and has a distinct atmosphere like the Oriental Room. Both rooms fascinate their visitors with their unique atmosphere.
The decoration of the “Chinese” room and the “Senate” room was entrusted to the painter Giacomo Casa who depicted “the Enlightened Century, or Progress and Civilization teaching the Nations”, following the very optimistic atmosphere towards scientific progress of this era, a room that is characterised by a Masonic rebus. Then the “Orientale” room, painted by Antonio Pascuti, so named for the oriental motifs. One of the side rooms became known as the “Hall of Illustrious Men”, decorated by Giulio Carlini with oil portraits of famous Venetians: Carlo Goldoni, Francesco Morosini, Titian, Marco Polo, Paolo Sarpi, Vettor Pisani, Pietro Orseolo, Andrea Palladio, Benedetto Marcello and Enrico Dandolo. This Hall has recently been restored, completing the overall restoration of the venue, which began thirty years ago. The “Hall of the Seasons”, or “Hall of Mirrors”, was decorated by Cesare Rota to represent the four seasons with figures of women. The latest acquisition was the “Sala Liberty” from the early twentieth century, characterised by a large vaulted ceiling, wooden floors and original hand-painted mirrors.
Cafe Florian, where the most beautiful wines and coffees of the world and Italy are served, has also witnessed important historical events. Its windows witness the glory and fall of the Serenissima Venetian Republic and secret conspiracies against French and Austrian rule; Its elegant rooms were used to treat the wounded during the 1848 uprising. Caffe Florian was also famous as the only meeting place that accepted women…
The idea of the orchestra in Piazza San Marco comes with Austrian domination. After the brief parenthesis from 1798 to 1806, excluding the period of 1848/49 when the Florian became the meeting place for the revolutionaries, the Austrians dominated Venice from 1814 to 1866. from coffee” born in particular in Vienna. Before, there was the tradition of the “abate” in the cafés of Piazza San Marco. Wandering artists played and sang “barcarole” “on request” for the cafe patrons, i.e. songs that cheered up the gondola rides. In particular, the tradition of the Florian orchestra became customary at the beginning of the 1900s. Today’s repertoire ranges from classical to light, evergreen music, with opera and operetta melodies.
Today, Florian represents a lifestyle full of the Venetian tradition, like a fairy-tale bridge stretching from history to the present. Let’s go to Florian. Let’s sit in one of its magnificent halls, restored in the middle of the nineteenth century. Let’s order a Bellini and a Spritz. And let’s breathe the long and vibrant history of the city as it unfolds outside the stained glass windows at six o’clock to the captivating sounds of the live orchestra…