June 02, 2012


David Ellis

IF its walls could talk, what tales could they tell of the romantic encounters consummated within the centuries-old bosoms of Venice's Hotel Danieli – a grand hostelry created by bringing together no less than three one-time, side-by-palaces.

Few of us do not know of one of the most famous of these love stories, that of Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis and opera's Maria Callas, brought together at a party organised at the Danieli by American gossip columnist and party-guru, Elsa Maxwell in 1957.

And while Onassis was nearly two decades her senior, and both of them were married, Onassis immediately began showering Maria with attention. But it was two years before he made an audacious move: he invited the singer to join him on his luxury yacht for a three week's cruise of Greece and Turkey… taking along his own wife, and inviting Maria to bring along her husband.

To the horror of their spouses and other guests also on board, Onassis purposely did little to hide his feelings towards Maria, and somewhere into the second week she admitted to "falling head over heels in love," confessing that she and Ari had consummated their love aboard the yacht…

And bizarrely, Onassis asked Callas' husband if he would agree to a divorce, so that he and Maria could marry…

When that marriage did come-about it was a tempestuous one, swinging between love and emotion, and physical fighting and name-calling.

Ari also could be unfaithful, the couple's lives creating gossip-page headlines for the next decade and a half. Even after famously marrying Jackie Kennedy in 1968 after divorcing Maria, Onassis turned up on Maria's doorstep in Paris late one night, hammering on the door and begging to be let in…

What had begun as a romantic encounter between millionaire and opera star in the Hotel Danieli had degenerated into soap opera…

But it wasn't the only grand emotional entanglement woven into the history of the Hotel Danieli, that had originally been built as those three palaces in the 1400s by  the flamboyant Dandolo family – themselves no slouches when it came to partying. In fact hotel records include an entry: "today, the 28th August 1498, has arrived the Prince of Salerno... a most brilliant reception was given, great festas held in his honour, and his suite of forty-four persons lodged in the Palazzo Dandolo..."

In 1805 hotelier Giuseppe Dal Niel rented the palaces and converted them into a hotel, giving it his nickname Danieli, and later acquiring the buildings outright. Many of the original sweeping staircases, saloons and some apartments originally created by Dal Niel and others before him have been preserved to this day, as well as stuccoes and frescoes from the 16th and 17th centuries and portraits and heraldic shields of the Dandolo families.

And it was in one of those apartments, now the Hotel Danieli's Room 10, that another famous – or infamous depending on your point of view – couple once frolicked. The French writer George Sand whose real name was Amantine Lucile Dupin, married into high society by way of the Baron Casimir Dudevant, but quickly scandalised that society by regularly dressing as a man – and, horror of horrors, smoking tobacco in public.

After quarrelling over behaviour that her husband saw as not befitting that of an upper-class lady, George Sand walked out and moved to Paris where she soon ignited more scandal by becoming the lover of aristocrat, novelist and poet, Alfred De Musset. The two decided to leave Paris, and being unable to decide between Rome and Venice, tossed a coin. Venice it was.

They moved into the Hotel Danieli's Room 10 overlooking the canal, each continuing their writings until after a month Alfred became extremely ill. A doctor was called, Alfred slowly recovered – but by then, to Alfred's horror, George Sand and the handsome young doctor had become lovers.

De Musset moved back to Paris – and not long after Sand and the doctor parted ways too. During her 71 years Sand had no fewer than six known relationships, including one with musician Frederic Chopin, while also once writing to French actress Marie Dorval of "wanting you either in your dressing room or your bed…"

Which makes us ponder what other tales the walls of the Hotel Danieli could tell…


Photo captions:


[] THE grand Hotel Danieli, Venice – once three 15th century palaces (Image: Hotel Danieli)

[] THE hotel's spectacular lobby including the original staircase (Image: Hotel Danieli)

[] NOW that's a view: the Hotel Danieli's Ristorante Terrazzo (Image: Hotel Danieli)

[] MARIA Callas and Aristotle Onassis: their relationship began in the Hotel Danieli (Image: Wikipedia)

[] GEORGE Sand: Scandalised high society with her behaviour and many relationships (Image: Wikipedia)

[] ALFRED De Musset's grave (Image: Olivier Bruchez)


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