< ITALY | MILAN: Sheraton Diana Majestic
Positioned in the centre of Italy’s fashion capital, Sheraton Diana Majestic is an iconic hotel in Milan with over a century long history. Telling the story of the Diana Majestic means talking about the habits and the customs of the Milanese middle to upper class who made this elegant hotel to their rendezvous; to eat in the restaurant, to swim in the pool, to dance or even to see a theatrical production.
In 1842, near the East Gate of the city, Porta Orientale (which today is Porta Venezia), the first public swimming pool in Italy was opened: "Diana Bath". The pool was 100 metres long and 25 wide
and constructed around it were 120 changing rooms, showers, party rooms, billiard rooms, restaurant, coffee shop and garden. There was very little of “public” about it, since access was granted
only to a certain class of Milanese families.
To maintain the bon ton, two people surveyed the pool: the spectacled Mr. Febo Franchi, who managed the property for forty years without ever having a swim; and Bacioch, the lifeguard who was always armed with a long stick which he extended to any swimmers in difficulty. The rules were few but precise; the ladies could have access to the pool only in the morning, it was forbidden to raise one’s voice above a level that could be considered as good manners and, whoever entered the coffee shop was not allowed to sit by the windows to watch the swimmers.
Next to the establishment, theatrical productions were organised which attracted many people. An event which made history was without doubt the hot-air balloon flight driven by Carlo Rossi on May 2nd. 1847.
Later on, in 1877, a large square of ground was covered in asphalt and the owners imported a large number of roller skates directly from England. This novelty was very popular with the habitués of Diana’s Bath who could once again count on an exciting innovation. In 1904, the Hotel Diana was inaugurated and even this represented a first: it was the only building that was constructed specially as a hotel.
However the date that the true birth of the Diana is remembered by is 1908, when it was decided to construct a new recreational complex (of 15.000 sq. metres). This was in order to provide the Porta Venezia area with an elegant amusement centre; hence the birth of the Kursaal Diana. The buildings were all constructed around the pool, which then with time became gradually covered and replaced by an open games park.
This subsequently included the theatre, the artists’ dressing rooms, the hotel-meublé, a restaurant and a sphere court for pelota. In 1920, just a few steps away from the hotel, the Fiera Campionaria (Trade Fair) was inaugurated and from that moment the Diana became the place to stay for generations of important Italian and foreign industrialists who attended the fairs.
In addition, the jewellers who exhibited at the fair considered it unsafe to display their goods in a wooden stand, so a suitable arrangement was set up for them in the dining room of the Diana. On March 23rd 1921 the name of the Kursaal Diana made history because of a tragic event. A bomb exploded during a theatrical performance causing the death of 21 people and wounding 80.
On July 29th 1953, Orio riunited a group of 13 people of journalists, editors and presidents of important companies in order to found a gourmet club for lovers of haute-cuisine. This laid the foundation for what became “The Italian Academy of Cooking”. Part of the garden of the Kursaal Vergani chose the restaurant of the Hotel Diana both for the cuisine and for the large garden, which is still today considered a true rarity in Milan.
However the Diana is also well known as a hotel of high fashion. In the ’70 the hotel was the hub of all foreign models arriving in Milan and the set for fashion photographers and Ad campaigns. Everybody discovered the Diana as the best place to be. The lovely garden the classic interior, the old fashioned wondows and staircases inspired photographers, designers and their followers.
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