The hidden heritage of Venetian hotels: il Cavalletto
There is one facility that is used by almost every tourist in the world and whose history no one cares about: the hotel.
The firstly built Venetian hotels were four: the Cappello Nero, the Orientale –both of which are no longer existing- and the beautiful survivors Luna and Cavalletto.
The latter, in particular, is said to be the most ancient hotel in Venice if we consider that it was there in the XIII century in the form of an osteria (inn, tavern).
But what is the origin of hotels?
At the beginning, hotels were transitory rooms for modest people that could not afford to buy a house abroad when moving out of town. The rich population, in fact, either used to be hosted by friends inside their houses, or bought several residences around the globe.
It was in the 1400s that the trading developed and rich people chose to travel to major cities in order to chose the best goods coming from abroad. Therefore they travelled and brought their own servants, cooks, tailors, etc. who needed some modest places to stay in exchange for money. The hotel was born.
The Cavalletto e Doge Orseolo inn was erected around the 1200, standing right behind St. Mark’s Square, whose centrality was already affirmed. In fact, the name Cavalletto comes from the Italian cavallo (horse) as at that time Venice was still a rural area, more easily accessible on horseback then by boat. Therefore the animal used to be left outside while the owner sat at the bar having his glass of wine.
At the beginning, the inn was a checkpoint for the aristocrats staying in Venice for the boar-hunting season in the Lido area. Amongst those were many Dogi (head of the Venetian Republic).
The owner, the Orseolo family, was very well known and could boast the parentage of two of those former Dogi. This fact is reminded through two carved plates walled-up in the main façade.
The Cavalletto formally turned into a hotel in 1308. Some of its history can be found in the “Venetian curiosities”, a work by Giuseppe Tassini dated 1863.
Tassini collected data about the names of streets and squares of the city, and dedicated a whole paragraph to the Cavalletto. The text also reports a rare legal dispute of the owner being sentenced for using wine cups whose capacity was littler than he declared.
In the 1800s the hotel was enlarged after the near hospice was annexed, right after the bacino Orseolo was built. The bacino is some kind of “gondola parking lot” and needed to be created in order to easily reach St. Mark’s by boat. The name bacino Orseolo is nothing but the confirmation of the importance of the Orseolo family, whereas the crossing-over bridge and the street got named Cavalletto after the hotel.
The hotel gained more and more popularity thanks to its renowned restaurant and its modernity. Cavalletto e Doge Orseolo has housed guests from around the world, such as: Winston Churchill, Herman Hesse, Richard and Oscar Strauss, Blasco Ibanez, Arturo Martini, Prince Troubetzkoy, just to name a few.
Its central position and historic value caused the hotel to be always up-to-date and appreciated by generations of tourists.
Its last big development dates back to the 1911 when the new owner, Giovanni Masprone, enriched the hotel service with running water, a today’s must that was firstly brought to a hotel in Venice thanks to this gentleman.
Today, the Cavalletto remains a quality service offered to the tourists in the city of bridges. It now treasures 107 rooms that combine the antique history with modern facilities and a breathtaking view on the water. Its furniture is of an elegance from another time, its snack bar serves inviting food and its multilingual staff is the most accommodating in town (a special thanks goes to them for being so helpful with my research).
Venice and its Lagoon – Italy
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