< ITALY | ROME: Rome Marriott Grand Hotel Flora
Construction of the building began in 1905, on a Via Veneto then dotted with grape vines flanking the ancient Roman walls. The noble Roman Borghese family commissioned the project, which was to serve as their country villa, until an economic setback made necessary a change of plans. It was the new owner, a Mr. Krumgel of German-Russian origin, who decided to use the structure as a hotel. With this in mind, he engaged one of the architects of the Vatican City, Andrea Busiri Vici. The harmoniously designed, Liberty style building opened its doors in 1907 under the name of Pension Flora. Its address already appears among those of Rome’s others hotels in that year’s Monaci Guide.
It was destiny that the street and its hotels should become the buen ritiro for renowned travellers throughout the ages. Back in Roman times, the area had been the site of an ancient Dolce Vita,
holding the pleasure villas of Caesar, Sallustius and Catullus. And it was here that the modern Dolce Vita of Rome’s “Hollywood on the Tiber” was born.
In a 1930 letter to a friend, Paul Valery describes the Flora as a place ideal for soothing meditation, while actress Ada Negri, writing to Countess Anna Maria di Broglio, refers to the hotel as her “home in Rome”.
But the lengthy history of the Flora has witnessed some sinister figures as well. In 1943, Via Veneto was used by the German occupation troops as their centre of operations. The Gestapo took up residence at the Flora. The officers of the secret police commuted back and forth between the hotel and their “place of work” on the nearby Via Tasso. Already, the world of film had become entwined with real events, as the young Luchino Visconti, arrested by the Fascist militia, had to be saved by a major female star of the popular “White Telephone” films of the era. To free the fledgling director, Maria Denis charmed an SS jailer into loving her.
Then, when the Germans pulled out of the City, poor Denis was accused of being a collaborator and imprisoned: a Tosca-like plot that clearly foreshadowed Via Veneto’s role as the “sitting room” of the film industry, with Federico Fellini using the bar of the Flora as his office, and the novelist Alberto Moravia, who also write on the cinema for the Corriere della Sera daily paper, running into all the stars who passed through town in the lobby. That same lobby served as a crossroads of culture and social life, as the painters of the Roman school, such as Mafai, Turcato and Vedova, mingling with Prince Maximilian of Bavaria, Joan Crawford, Paul Getty and Cassius Clay.
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