Not long ago I wrote a post on the visit the great American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow paid to Florence. The palazzo in which Longfellow lived during his stay in Florence is alive and well today in one of the most beautiful piazzas in the city, the Piazza di Santa Maria Novella. Known then and now as the Hotel Minerva, this albergo opened at Piazza Santa Maria Novella, # 15-16, in 1869. Alfredo Ciappei was the owner and manager.** (You can see the hotel to the right of the famous church in the image above.)
But the hotel’s history goes back much further. This is Florence, after all.
In the Middle Ages, on the place where the Hotel Minerva now stands, was a building belonging to the “Company of the Archangel Gabriel,” one of the many Florentine confraternities attached to the Convent (monastery) of Santa Maria Novella. In 1472, the building became a part of the Scala Hospital, an important welfare institution of the city.
A great increase in the activity of the piazza presumably took place around 1848, when the 2nd Florentine railway station, called Maria Antonia, was opened, linking the town with Pistoia and Lucca.
The Piazza was by then an attraction for many tourists and it was given the name of “The Mecca of the foreigners.”
The building housing the Grand Hotel Minerva began life as housing for the monks of Santa Maria Novella and afterwards as a home to several noble Florentine families. It officially became the Locanda della Minerva, an Albergo, in 1869.
In the early 20th century, the tavern was turned into a hotel and in the 1950s two innovative Italian architects, Edoardo Detti and Carlo Scarpa, transformed the premises into the Grand Hotel Minerva. Scarpa was a pioneer in balancing new and old, revealing the history of the original building, something the current owners also value. The Maestro, as he was known, deconstructed and transformed the hotel structure, leaving a few rooms unaltered, with beautiful frescoes and original hand-painted ancient wooden beams. While transforming the hotel, Scarpa created design details that would become a symbol of Italian modernist architecture for years to come.
In 1995, a Florentine family purchased the hotel and did a complete renovation.
**I am not a Longfellow scholar, but from my cursory research I discovered that Longfellow was in Florence sometime during his first European sojourn lasting from 1826 to 1829. That is before the Grand Minerva opened officially as the hotel it still is today. However, the conglomeration of buildings on the site were no doubt used as hotel space even before the Minerva was inaugurated.