HOTEL BERNINI PALACE - 150 YEARS OF FLORENCE AS A CAPITAL
The prestigious 5-star Bernini Palace Hotel of Florence, is located in a XV century palace in the heart of the city, behind Piazza della Signoria and the Uffizi Gallery.
Overlooking the Palazzo Vecchio, a few steps from the banks of the Arno, the Hotel was a protagonist of the events that transformed Florence, into the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, from 1865 to 1870. Attended by the Parliament members, it was at the center of national political intrigue: that era is now represented by round frescoes that adorn the current Hall of Breakfast.
We are in the heart of antique Florence, just outside the walls of the first circle of the Roman city and the medieval circle: the so-called Borgo dei Greci, squeezed between the Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza Santa Croce, where by just walking you can "breathe" with the city history. This district is linked to the homonymous Florentine family cited by Cacciaguida in Canto XVI of Dante's Paradise. Here there is a nineteenth-century building that now houses Bernini Palace Hotel. The oldest building dates back to the fourteenth century, when the building was owned by the famous family Pera, ancestors of the historic family Peruzzi, who took over the Greeks after they had fallen into ruin: they were powerful financiers with enormous interest all over Europe. On the side of the Via dei Leoni / Piazza della Signoria, the hotel wall - a marble plaque - recalls the fortune of a family that was rich and powerful at the time of Dante: "The gateway, named from those of Pera, led into the narrow circuit of your wells"(Paradiso, Canto XVI). In Via dei Leoni you can still identify the succession of arches, the same ones from the first floor of the fifteenth century building.
For centuries, the building has devoted to hospitality: in the seventeenth century it was the only hotel in Florence with running water and a shelter for animals. Already in the mid-nineteenth century the palace was an elegant hotel, known as Hotel of the Shield of France. But only when Florence was the capital of the Kingdom of Italy (1865-1871), it had its greatest moment of glory. The Shield of France becomes Columbia Parlamento Hotel. Thanks to its convenient location, it was a place to meet for the members of the House of Parliament, who gathered at Palazzo Vecchio, and the senators, who gathered at Palazzo Pitti. Some members chose it as their permanent residence, others came here especially at mealtimes, for long informal discussions by establishing alliances and making agreements that marked the destinies of the first convulsive years of the Kingdom. The transformations of that time led to its current look: the architectural styles of Renaissance were opposed to the luxurious interiors, including velvets and damasks, up to the high standards of the rich Italian and European bourgeoisie. These special guests were treated with first-class service.
With the capital transfered to Rome the hotel lost fame, until the 80s of the twentieth century, when major renovation was initiated. The recovery process culminated in the discovery of the memories of nineteenth-century building, and finally a historical and real estate structure of greatest value returned to the city.
One of the treasures of Bernini Palace Hotel, is a large frescoed room on the first floor with portraits of the protagonists of the Italian Unification. It was the Buvette of Parliament, and today it is a prestigious Hall of hotel breakfasts. Along the walls you can see the faces of the greatest people: Garibaldi, in the center, is surrounded by many Tuscan celebrities such as Nero Corsini, the last minister of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo Ridolfi and Giuseppe Montanelli, Vincenzo Salvagnoli and Manfredo Fanti, but also famous people from Piedmont, Cavour and Brofferio, Balbo and Gioberti, Lamarmora and Valerio, Giuseppe Farina. One can also find Daniele Manin, in a tribute to the hero of the Republic of San Marco in 1849. However, Giuseppe Mazzini is absent for being too faithful to the ideals of Republicans to swear allegiance to the King and thus to be able to set foot in the Parliament. On the ground floor, during the restoration of the late eighties, a sixteenth-century open gallery was discovered, which had been almost completely hidden from view before. Another discovery was a series of niches decorated with female heads coiffed with curious hats, in memory of a former exhibition in the lobby of the hotel in the early 1900s.
History: Florence, the capital
November 18, 1864: this date will forever be etched in the historical memory of the Florentines. The Italian Parliament approved a law that transferred the capital from Turin to Florence. It came unexpectedly, and lasted for only six years, until 1970. The city came out radically transformed: parliamentarians and senior members of the kingdom, officials of various ministries with families in tow arrived in the city, and suddenly Florence got on international stage. The Chamber was situated in Palazzo Vecchio, and the Senate - in the theater of Palazzo Pitti.
Florence also went through a demographic change: the city, which in 1864 had about 114,000 inhabitants now exceeded 200,000. To address this problem, the municipality entrusted the implementation of the urban expansion plan to the architect Giuseppe Poggi. The growth led to an inevitable shock estate: housing prices swelled dramatically, many hoses were were restored, abandoned and new buildings bilt. The appearance of Florence changed, and actually took its present appearance; it was inspired by the greatest European capitals, especially Paris. Among the most notable features, was almost complete demolition of the old walls, which were demolished to make space for wide avenues, shaped in Parisian style.
The Camaldoli of San Lorenzo, antique but unhealthy quartiers, were demolished to make space for the new Central Market, built in part on the model of the Halles in Paris designed by Giuseppe Mengoni, the creator of prestigious Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. Elegant fashion boutiques and businesses appeared, matching to the ambitions of the new capital. It was surely a period of great enthusiasm and social, political, but also cultural turmoil. In 1859 the first national newspaper, "The Nation", was born. The best painters were living in the area of Florence and around - including Signorini, Lega, Abbati and Sernesi of Piagentina School – those artists who painted the countryside of Florence, and the famous Rotunda Palmieri by Giovanni Fattori. Florence, already fundamental stage of the Grand Tour, was attended by leading intellectuals such as George Eliot, or Dostoevsky who wrote The Idiot in those years, which was finished in 1869, in the shadow of the Palazzo Pitti. On 20 September 1870 the idyll ended, Florence handed the scepter to Rome. Florence ceased to be the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, and became what it had always been: the capital of art and culture.