Find out our history from the dark era of the Middle Age to the opening of the Gran Locanda della Minerva in 1869. Meet the architect Carlo Scarpa and the artist Emilio Greco whose heritage is still present in the new and historic Grand Hotel Minerva
Near the Central Station of Via Ferrata.
This was the headline of the La Nazione newspaper of October 5, 1869 announcing the opening of what, after remodeling in 1958, became the Grand Hotel Minerva. This was first official document, along with the City of Florence papers, marking the birth date of our hotel. Alfredo Ciappei was the owner and manager.
But the hotel's foundation and its history have roots that go back much further.
In the Middle Ages, on the place where the Hotel Minerva now stands, there was a building which belonged to the Company of the Archangel Gabriel, one of the many Florentine confraternities attached to the Convent of Santa Maria Novella. In 1472, the building was handed over to the Scala Hospital, and became an important welfare institution of the town.
The institution, which was made up of various buildings, was transformed into a hotel in the nineteenth century. One of its first guests, certainly the most famous, was the American poet Longfellow (1807-1872) who stayed there when he worked on the translation of “The Divine Comedy”.
A great increase in the activity of the Hotel and a resulting regulation of its activities is presumed to have taken place around 1848, when the second Florentine railway station, called Maria Antonia, was opened, linking the town with Pistoia and Lucca.
The Piazza was an attraction for many tourists and it was given the name of “The Mecca of the foreigners”. We are reminded of this by a commemorative plaque placed next to the entrance of our Hotel.
At the end of the fifties, as a result of further developments in tourism, we realised that the Hotel needed radical reconstruction, which, while leaving the facade unaltered, in harmony with the rest of the square, at the same time, made a rational use of the space available and kept up with the times.
The work was carried out by an architect, Edoardo Detti, a great expert in town planning. The support given to him by his friend and colleague, Carlo Scarpa, whose unmistakable style permeates the architecture, was of undoubted importance. At the time, many architectural magazines spoke about the work completed by the two Italian masters, defining it as an example of the modernist style of our country.
Once the work was finished, the Hotel became one of the landmarks of the tourist life of the town.
After having being neglected in the mid 1990s, partly because what it was offering had become "old hat," and no longer up to the standards of the day, in 1995, it was bought by a Florentine family and underwent major remodeling, revamping all of its interior furnishings.
Now, 21 years on, it needed both a new interior design and in-depth refurbishment to bring its building systems in compliance with current codes. Architect Piera Tempesti Benelli took on the project, well-known for having refurbished many historical homes and hotels in Tuscany.
Carlo Scarpa and Edoardo Detti
The Grand Hotel Minerva can be considered to be the oldest hotel in Florence in a modern sense, having grown up in the eighteenth century and being adapted to the function by joining various contiguous dwellings on different levels. The whole complex was by then falling into ruin through continuous use and the deterioration of the installations, besides its having a low financial return. Therefore in 1958, it became necessary to restore it, as an act of architectural mending of a structure in contact with an urban fabric such as that of the Church of Santa Maria Novella. The Florentine architect and town planner, Edoardo Detti rigorously put this plan into action, with the collaboration of the master, his friend, Carlo Scarpa. The immense volume which occupied the left side, the longest one of the pentagonal Piazza, together with the series of internal cloisters to be found on the left of Santa Maria Novella, was totally renewed in its width, for nearly half of its length.
Such was the situation, a large hotel which represented an imposing and complex technical problem, especially with regard to the existing, intricate tangle of incomplete and disconnected structures, which were densely stratified. It was necessary to combine a technique of breaking down with the unavoidable demands of the commercial aims. Finally, it was necessary to combine the criteria for restoring the facade with the urban and monumental fabric of Santa Maria Novella. These necessities obviously would not have to weaken or diminish the functional efficiency of the hotel. Neither should philological rigour reduce the usable commercial space of the building. Retaining the old facade did not constitute an obstacle to the greatness of the formal result of the renovated building, for which all solutions were found internally. The operation was the intelligent manual breaking down, layer by layer, knot by knot, carried out with patient perseverance on all the accumulated false structures and partitions, which had built up over five centuries of changes. For Detti the care expended on these procedures had a precise aim. That of discovering and mapping the structures of the original lotting out and the medieval constructions.
No plan of the building presented symmetrical patterns, not even between the floors of the building. This curiosity gave rise to occasional episodes, new facts, which resulted in appropriate architectural solutions. The Hotel Minerva was reorganized by modifying and restoring most of the building overlooking the Piazza — an area of about 9,500 sq.m. — and 120 bedrooms were completed all with their own bathroom. The Hotel had two new dining rooms and a conference room with a terracotta floor with white inlays and embellished with a fireplace designed by Scarpa. The floors of the lounges were of marble and terracotta and those of the bedrooms were partly of teak parquet and partly carpeted. In the lounges there were some furnishings from the Miller collection and chairs by Hans Wegner. Except for some pieces by Alvar Aalto, for the lighting, pieces of Murano glass by Venini and Vianello were chosen. For all the bedrooms, original drawings, etchings, monotypes and lithographs by Cavalli, Greco, Margheri, Pozza, Squitieri, Tirinnanzi, and Zamboni were chosen.
From Zodiac n. 7 by E. Luporini
Emilio Greco (Catania 1913 – 1995)
As our hotel is named for a goddess, Minerva, it's only natural that a woman is the subject of the most significant fine artwork on display at our hotel. The work is Emilio Greco's "Large Bather VI."
Greco, a Sicilian artist, was closely tied to Grand Hotel Minerva's history, particularly Detti and Scarpa's remodeling project. Several lithographs can be seen in our hotel and, most significantly, a bronze statue part of his Large Bather series.
Large Bather I won an award at the 56th Venice Biennial, and was to be the first in a series of 12 statues representing 12 women in different poses to place around a small lake or swimming pool. Anna Padovan, who was the model for the six Large Bathers, later became his second wife.
Large Bather I is in the Tate Gallery in London; Large Bather II is at the Museo all’aperto Bilotti in Cosenza; Large Bather III is at the Museo del Novecento in the same square as us, Piazza di Santa Maria Novella.
Our Large Bather is number six, and was the last the great artist made in 1962, measuring
207 x 67 x 42 cm.
The whereabouts of number 4 and 5 are unknown.
Greco gained much popularity for his Pinocchio and the Fairy monument (1956) in Collodi. He is also the artist of the monument to Pope John XXIII in St. Peter and the magnificent doors of the Cathedral of Orvieto (1970). In 1974, a permanent area known as "Greco Garden" was opened in Hakone's outdoor museum. The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow have permanent rooms for his sculptures and other artwork. A museum of his work in Catania includes many lithographs and etchings. Today, he is considered one of the great 20th-century sculptors.
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