Caffè Greco, the historic café in the heart of Rome
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«At the foot of the majestic staircase of Trinità dei Monti, between a boutique and another in Via Condotti, stands a piece of history that is 250 years old: the Antico Caffè Greco. Founded in 1760, it still represents a symbol of the capital and an obligatory stop for walks in the center of Rome.»
A place full of charm and history, where art, poetry and taste come together to create an atmosphere of other times: it is the Antico Caffè Greco (coffee site), the historic coffee in the heart of Rome, second in terms of longevity only to the Florian of Venice. Let’s take a dip in the past, going back 250 years, and let’s go to via Condotti 86 to discover the birth, history and curiosities of Caffè Greco!
The birth of the Antico Caffè Greco is part of a century in which the capital was literally invested by the “cafe” phenomenon “, which were configured as meeting places for intellectuals, artists and famous people. In fact, in addition to the Caffè Greco, there were the Caffè del Veneziano, the Caffè degli Inglesi and the Caffè del BuonGusto, all disappeared today. Although it is not the oldest coffee place, Caffè Greco is the one that still boasts the maintenance of those characteristics, such as the furniture and the refined and elegant atmosphere that have distinguished it since its opening in the 18th century.
Its birth is linked to the figure of a certain Nicola della Maddalena, Levantine and coffee maker by profession, of whom we find precise proof in a letter by the French painter Pierre Proudon. It was in the following century, the 19th century, that the Caffè Greco achieved an unparalleled success, bringing all the foreign artists and visitors who were passing through the Piazza di Spagna, becoming the headquarters of the foreign arts and movements. The Caffè Greco soon qualified as an international environment and a privileged meeting point for intellectual and political exchanges, so much so that the memories of the meetings that took place in its halls can be found in all European literature.
Among the many illustrious visitors we can remember the great musician Hector Berlioz, Giacomo Casanova, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Lady Diana, Giorgio De Chirico, Edvard Grieg, Arthur Schopenhauer, Richard Wagner, Stendhal, Aldo Palazzeschi. Not only nobles, composers, philosophers and writers, but even Indians and cowboys like Sitting Bull. All of these people made Caffè Greco the literary coffee par excellence of the capital. The passage of this number of characters to Caffè Greco is marked by the presence on the walls of prints, squares and various writings, which still represent one of the main attractions of the restaurant. Over time, these spontaneous representations have fueled the collecting of the owners, who have started to exhibit art objects such as miniatures, paintings and sculptures inside the premises.
Today the Caffè Greco, with its more than 300 works of art, can be considered a real museum: the largest private art gallery open to the public in the world. If the restaurant still retains its characteristics, it is due above all to Federico Gubinelli, a lover of miniature art who has managed it since 1905 and has preserved it from a risky modernization intervention, and to his daughter, Antoinette, who has even expanded the collection of Caffè Greco, enriching it with paintings and art objects. Thanks to its peculiarity as a historical place and thanks to the pressure of public opinion, in 1953 the Caffè Greco was given, by the government authority, the title of historical site of interest, foreseen «for the protection of things of artistic and historical interest». The same rooms of the café retain their 19th century appearance, with marble tables, damask walls and waiters in tails serving tea and coffee in the same orange-rimmed cups of the time.
The same rooms still continue to host important figures and cultural associations. The famous Omnibus hall, a narrow and long room similar to a corridor, hosts every Wednesday of the month the Group of Romanists, academics specialized in studies and memoirs related to the capital. At the end of the room is the Red hall, the one that appears on the cover of the 45 giri of Mina Minuetto, guarded by a statue of a faun and where you can find the sofa that belonged to Hans Christian Andersen and a beautiful grand piano. The refined settings of the Caffè Greco have even inspired the painter Renato Guttuso, who has dedicated the homonymous work to the famous café, exhibited at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid.
Entering the Antico Caffè Greco is like taking a journey through time; sit at the tables once populated by famous writers and thinkers and taste tea, coffee and hot chocolate, surrounded by precious relics. It is one of the most fascinating experiences you can try out in Rome.
Foto anteprima: By DIMSFIKAS [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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