Italy can charm you not only with its wonderful and marvellous cities, it also has so many gems hidden away from the flocks of tourists. If you’re planning on visiting Favignana, there are two historic buildings that are simply a must on your list of things to see whilst you’re there. First there is the Fort of Santa Catarina which sits over the island and dates back to the medieval times and the second (which we’ll be talking about today) is the Palazzo Florio, a Grand Mansion with beautiful gardens that was build and once inhabited by Ignazio Florio, a tycoon of the tuna industry and once the outright owner of the Aegadian Islands.
The Florio family first found wealth thanks to the efforts of Vincenzo Florio Sr. who was something of an entrepreneur of his time. He invested in tuna fishing and its canned preparation, a business that would go on to make the family one of the wealthiest in Italy. It wasn’t just canned fish that gave this family their fortune though; Vincenzo also founded a bank, was involved with the sulphur industry and even established a factory that produced Marsala wine. He was the first man in Italy to produce the drink and the winery (named Cantine Florio) is still in production today. As if that wasn’t enough he also produced a number of steamers, giving birth to the Florio shipping business.
Vincent died in 1868, after this his son Ignazio took over the business and under his management the industries flourished. He saw the opportunities available for fishing and expanding his business, so in 1874 he purchased the entire archipelago of the Aegadian Islands.
He built this mansion on Favignana whilst also improving the already present preservation plant where he practised a new production method for the canned fish. To do this he hired one of Palermo’s greatest architects at the time, Giuseppe Damiana Almeyda, who was tasked to make the building highly functional as well as being aesthetically pleasing. Though the Florio’s owned several production sites across Italy this was arguably the most in important one. In fact, it was here that tuna was first conserved using oil (a method still used today) rather than in salt, along with the invention of the life changing revelation in convenience, the key-opened tin can
With the Purchase of the Aegadian Islands Ignazio had achieved a monopoly of trade for his shipping business in the Mediterranean, in 1881 he merged with Rubattino company in Genoa and together they formed the Navigazione Generale Italiana and ran routes all over the world. The Florio line consisted of 50 ships carrying goods, further inflating the wealth of the family, so much so the New York Times labelled the Florios as the “merchant princes of Europe”.
Today you can go and see the mansion in all its glory along with what’s left of the production site. The home is now a museum; you can go and admire Almeyda’s exquisite architecture along with the beautiful gardens that surround this grand home. The building is home to many different art exhibitions throughout the year that are certainly worth viewing here in this centre of culture and history on Favignana.