Caffe Florian, Venice Image courtesy pf Caffe Florian Facebook page

On this day in history: Caffè Florian, Venice, opened

History of Italy News

On 29thDecember 1720, Venice witnessed the opening of the iconic Caffè Florian, a cultural gem that has stood the test of time for over three centuries. Tucked under the arcades on the southern side of Piazza San Marco, Florian’s, as it is known today, boasts a rich history as the oldest active coffee house in Italy, second only to Paris’s Café Procope in Europe.

Founded by Floriano Francesconi, the café initially occupied just two rooms and was bestowed with the grand title of Alla Venezia Trionfante (“To Triumphant Venice”). However, it swiftly adopted the name Florian’s after its visionary owner.

Over the years, Florian’s evolved into a fashionable meeting place for Venetian society, particularly attracting writers.

Literary Haven

Notable figures such as Carlo Goldoni, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and the adventurous Giacomo Casanova frequented the establishment during the 18th century.

During the late 18th century, amid the political turmoil of the Republic of Venice’s last days, Florian’s faced closure due to fears of revolutionary activities. However, with the support of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army, the café reopened, marking a significant chapter in its history.

In the 19th century, Florian’s continued to be a literary haven, hosting luminaries like Lord Byron, Marcel Proust, and Charles Dickens. The café remained within the Francesconi family for over a century, passing down from Floriano to his grandson Valentino and subsequently to Valentino’s son, Antonio.

Renovation and Risorgimento

In 1858, Florian’s underwent a transformation under new ownership, commissioning architect Lodovico Cadorin for a substantial renovation.

The result was the creation of the exquisite Senate Room, Greek Room, Chinese Room, and Oriental Room, each adorned with unique artworks and decorations.

Florian’s played an active role in the tumultuous events of the 19th century. The Senate Room, once a meeting point for Venetian patriots advocating the cause of the Risorgimento, even served as a temporary hospital during the city’s struggle against Austrian forces in 1866.

Florian’s and the arts

In 1893, Florian’s raised its status in the Venetian art world by becoming the home of the Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte Contemporanea, known today as the Venice Biennale.

Embracing the cultural zeitgeist of the 20th century, Florian’s introduced daily concerts and established a resident orchestra. The addition of the Sala Liberty, decorated in the art nouveau style, further enriched the café’s ambiance.

Since 1988, the café has hosted a contemporary art exhibition every two years in conjunction with the modern Biennale.

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