Venetian’s ancient caffè Florian, the world’s oldest, recently marked its 300th anniversary. The caffè faces ruin because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has reduced the magnificent canal city into a deserted town, rather than pulling out all the brakes. Due to its innovation and function as the Venetian social centre for actors, artists, and intellectuals from all around the world, it has been a benchmark in Venice and Europe since its founding. “Caffè Florian,” the founder of the Biennale and the first cafe with a permanent orchestra, serves quick coffee and inhale the heritage, elegance, and beauty of this unique environment.

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Exterior Elevation of café Florian_©Sacra

History

The Caffè Florian, the ancient Italian café, opened on December 29, 1720, under the iconic doorway of the Procuratie Nuove, with the name “Alla Venezia Trionfante.” It was overwhelmingly christened “Florian” after the owner, Floriano Francesconi, in a short time. Caffè Florian remained in the Francesconi family until the middle of the nineteenth century, after which it changed hands multiple times. Lodovico Cadorin, with the help of the best Venetian artists and artisans, completely rebuilt the café in 1858. The Venice Biennale has been held in one of the cafe’s salons, Senate Hall (Sala del Senato), since 1985, and is based on a concept by Italian poet Ricardo Selvatico. The Florian watched the history of Venice flow between its fine tables and the Piazza in front of it, making it a popular venue for artists, intellectuals, historians, and fortune seekers. Indeed, in eighteenth-century Venetian cafes, notably during Carnival season, every kind of transgression had been on the menu, thus the Serenissima Republic’s government sought to limit their attendance.

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Outside Caffe Florian, the world’s oldest café_©Son of Groucho

It has remained a bustling cafe ever since; despite being severely damaged by the Venice flood, it has not closed its doors and remains to operate despite the challenges it faces. While Caffe Florian commemorated its 200th celebration in 1920, it added an art nouveau-styled room to the restaurant. Caffe Florian is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year with a series of exhibits and cultural activities featuring contemporary and ancient Italian artists.

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Cafe Florian_©Marja van Bochove

The magnificient icon

While it is the oldest cafe in Italy, it is hardly the unique one that has been there for centuries. Caffe Greco in Rome, which opened four decades after Caffe Florian, attracts a continuous stream of distinguished and ordinary patrons every day. The Caffè Florian at Piazza San Marco is a historical icon, one of the few locations where you can still feel the beautiful ambience of the cafés of the last era, cherished by the international jet-set. Caffè Florian was granted permission thanks to its distinguished clientele of aristocrats and international ambassadors. The café used to be two plain rooms with no windows until it moved to its current location. It was enlarged in the mid – eighteenth century, adding two more rooms, until the owners entrusted the remodelling to architect Lodovico Cadorin in 1858, giving it its current impression: a great victory of mirrors, stuccos, and frescos.

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Caffe Florian’s Chinese Room_© Sacra

Grand Architecture

Caffè Florian is still a unique lounge on the vibrant Venetian scene, allowing its patrons to immerse themselves in a magical Venice. From the Carnival masks that converge here for the pleasure of the eye (and cameras) to their numerous projects dedicated to modern art and music. In truth, there is beauty everywhere you look. The entrance, as well as the Chinese Room, were the first two rooms built, followed by the Oriental Room and the Senate Hall, with the Hall of Illustrious Men and also the Hall of Season (Hall of Mirrors) opening in 1872 and the Liberty Room opening on 1920 for Cafe’s second anniversary. Yes, because we’re talking about an experience, a coffee at the Florian is greater than just a drink to drink; it’s something that engages all of your senses; suffice to say, many people chose it as an example of a place where you don’t spend for the food, but for the entire experience, for the vista, the customer experience, the significance of the destination, in other words: for an incredible moment that you’ll remember. 

‘The current crisis affects all, but for caffè Florian, it’s like a reflection of a whole city, Venice, which is a victim of its global tourist success,’ Paolini explains. ‘Celebrating the 300th commemoration of a business with doorway excluded is the iconographic picture of this crisis in Venice and art cities in general; as a result, the Florian is an icon, which can be completely taken as an illustration by the many historical events now in massive trouble, whose recession has not only financial benefit but above all historic significance, as they are fragments of Italian heritage known internationally. 

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Entrance to Caffe Florian_© Sacra

Home for art and culture

This is perhaps the world’s oldest still-operating cafe, and residents of Venice’s “lagoon city” admire it for its menu, history, and magnificent artwork that adorns its walls. A compelling historic ambience, polished elegance, and a golden-age appeal. Caffé Florian in Venice is anything from straightforward, uncomplicated, or informal. Every feature of this gorgeous Venetian landmark is as exquisite, ornate, and incredibly luxurious as one would anticipate, from the gilt mirrors with gold-leaf walls to the waiters’ subtle gestures. All of this is magnified by the breathtaking setting of Saint Mark’s Square in Venice. Caffè Florian is Italy’s most historic café and a wonderful monument of Italian magnificence and brilliance, rising in an excellent position below the Procuratie Nuove portico. Its gorgeous painting-lined chambers, and marble tables, with red velvet seats, have hosted the world’s most famous painters, writers, and VIPs of all types, from royalty and academics to world-famous movie stars, for hundreds of years.

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Another room inside Caffe Florian_©Dalbera

Celebrity Hub

Visitors included Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Claude Monet,  Andy Warhol, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Charlie Chaplin and Ernest Hemingway both frequented the patio in the afternoons, sipping espresso and lounging in the sun. Its ornately decorated indoor rooms have provided warmth and creativity to many a legendary artist, welcomed royal families, and enticed travellers in search of Italian style for ages. Caffé Florian retains its Old-World appeal to this day, and no journey to Venice is complete without visiting this paradise of charm and splendour, as well as a sample of its perfectly Venetian culture-rich delicacies. The Serenissima Republic of Venice rose and fell, with Venetians plotting and conspiring to destabilise French and subsequently Austrian power. Secret discussions must have taken place in the adequately darkened café rooms, which also served as a clinic for the wounded during the 1848 riots. The café was massively restored and renovated a decade later, in 1858, to become the magnificent, and comprehensive, the spot we know today: six magnificent interior rooms, filled with stunningly beautiful eighteenth-century decor as well as paintings by majestic Italian masters including Giuseppe Ponga, Antonio Pascutti,  with Cesare Rota.

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Eastern Room inside Caffe Florian_©Sacra

The light, sinuous images that adorn the walls, intertwined with gold leaf ornaments and friezes, give the Chinese room a particularly evocative feel. The Senate Chamber, an outstanding salon filled with two enormous paintings by Giacomo Sala – The Golden Century with The Civilization that Teaching Nations – also 11 panels depicting the Arts and Sciences, is the room most appreciated by Venetians for its cultural and historic importance. The meeting between Venice’s former mayor Riccardo Selvatico and a group of his colleagues must have benefited from this intricate cultural allegory. In reality, in 1893, they met in the Senate room to discuss how to honour King Umberto and Queen Margherita, who was expected to visit. They came up with the concept of holding a large target audience includes of contemporary art while discussing ideas over coffee and liqueurs. After  Two years, Venice staged the first version of the Biennale di Venezia, a modern art exhibition that is today known and admired around the world. 

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Caffe Florian’s VIP Room_© Sacra

European Tradition

Caffè Florian adapted a cutting-edge European tradition, the café-chantant, in the early twentieth century, to suit the refined clientele’s wishes and exceed their expectations. It was a brilliant concept that gave the café’s gleaming salons an exquisite touch as well as a lot of fun. Culture and art, taste and elegance, music, style, and history, as well as excellently rich coffee, an endless assortment of marvellous tea, dainty Venetian Zaletti biscuits,   franchises and fine pastries, excellent wines, and delectable light lunch menus… for a cause to linger a little longer!

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Caffe Florian’s Senate Room_© Sacra

The Florian is currently the site where Venice greets the world and where the world sits to appreciate Venice today. The exquisitely adorned rooms and magnificent terrace retain all of the golden-age opulence that makes them special, while also enhancing it by presenting a wide range of cultural activities. As a result, Caffé Florian’s history-filled salons host dazzling contemporary art shows, award-winning Murano glass works, and cutting-edge installations by striking local artists regularly.

Author

An aspiring urbanist, who is trying to explore herself through architectural writing currently, she believes that the remedy for a healthy planet begins with designing responsive spaces. She is an optimistic, determined and curious person who is always eager to learn and improve her skills.

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