Sicilian Girl sets her sights on her hometown of Palermo, where Donna Franca, once ruled the Belle Époque. But who was this fascinating woman?
All hail Donna Franca
Sicilian Girl salutes The queen of Palermo
Donna Franca (also known as Franca Florio), the queen of Palermo, was the most elegant, beautiful and admired woman of the Belle Époque, a woman of noble birth who decided to marry Ignazio Florio of the Florio family, which was rich and powerful in Palermo and beyond.
The family history spanned 150 years and dates back to when Paul Florio left Calabria and opened a grocery shop in Palermo in 1783.
Franca and Ignazio Jr. married in 1893 and became the most beautiful and envied couple of Palermo: their empire included a shipping monopoly in the Mediterranean, the tuna fishing of Favignana (did you know that it was the Florios who invented tuna in oil?), Villa Liberty, and the famous Marsala wine cellars that are known all over the world. Their wealth was immense.
But who was Donna Franca Florio?
A teacher of elegance, she charmed D’Annunzio who did not limit himself to wring several letters to her. Her taste in choosing clothes and jewellery was well-known throughout Europe; it appears that she even had a seven-metre long pearl necklace.
It was also thanks to Franca Florio and her husband that Palermo became one of the world’s opera capitals: Teatro Massimo always hosted them on the occasion of first nights and the orchestra regularly paid tribute to Donna Franca, as applause rose from the audience.
But so much beauty was also accompanied by much bad luck. Her husband was apparently an unrepentant womaniser, but the real pain came from the loss of two of her sons. Meanwhile, the climate was changing and the Florios, due to unchecked spending and the little favour they met in politics at the time, began to lose everything. Donna Franca died in 1950, at the home of her daughter, after having lost her costumes and her jewellery – but not her beauty, a beauty that today is still famous in Palermo and worldwide.
Throughout the whole of Sicily we find traces of the epic of this great family: Villa Igiea, Villa Florio at the Arenella in Palermo, the castle in Favignana, the still working Florio winery in Marsala … a story of a family that is intertwined with the history of Italy and Palermo, once the capital of European social life.
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