What will happen
to Hotel delle Palme,
the heart of Palermo’s
Belle Époque?

In this historic venue Renoir drew Richard Wagner in 1882. Now, following the bankruptcy of the previous owner, the property has been purchased by Davide Serra, but all the décor has been auctioned

As soon as I arrived in Palermo, I headed to the post office to know the whereabouts of Wagner; no one speaks either French or German, but back at my inn, someone points me to Hotel delle Palme. Upon entering, I am immediately greeted by a servant who asks me to follow him: I’m lead through a small greenhouse, into an adjacent parlour, and finally down, into a huge armchair. I can hear the sound of steps muffled by the carpets. It’s him, the Maestro, clad in a velvet attire with black silk sleeves. Handsome and very kind, he holds out his hand and invites me to take a seat. Then the oddest conversation begins, half in French half in German. We talk about everything. I say “talk” but all I ever said was “Yes, dear Master, absolutely” while trying to get up, only for him to hold my hands and pushing me back into my seat».

Pierre Auguste Renoir, Portait of Richard Wagner, 1882

What remains of this meeting between Pier­re Au­gu­ste Re­noir and Ri­chard Wag­ner, other than the portrait exhibited at the Musée D’Orsay, is a letter the French artist wrote to a friend on the 18th of January 1882. He describes his trip to Palermo and Monreale and talks about the “Grand Ho­tel des Pal­mes” where he met the composer, who was just then putting the finishing touches on the “Parsifal”. The furniture of venue, consisting of 650 pieces coming from the six oldest hotels in Sicily, have been auctioned on the 15th of November 2018 after the owner, the company “Acqua Marcia”, filed for bankruptcy. Armchairs, sofas, chairs, statues, pottery: everything has been sold to the highest bidder. However, as most of the items are under the supervision of the regional government, the new owners will not be allowed to move them out of the building.

THE HISTORY. Several politicians, army generals, writers, artists and other personalities crucial to European history have walked the halls of Hotel delle Palme. It just takes a few steps beyond the lobby and the Canova style statues to be drawn into its atmosphere: there lies the grand piano, upon whose stool a plaque reads “Wagner finished his Pasifal in 1882”. Here, Francesco Crispi held his politics classes and, in 1933, the French poet Raymon Roussel, one of the fathers of Pataphysics, passed away. The more recent history of this place is even richer. During world war II, Hotel delle Palme served as headquarters for the US general Charles Poletti; it was here where the last meeting between the heads of Cosa Nostra and the American crime families, lead by Lucky Luciano, took place, in ’57. What of the legendary suite 103, reserved just for Giulio Andreotti? The Prime Minister probably spent some of his most restless nights there, trying to come to terms with his not always transparent relationship with Sicily.

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS. How many tourists have come to Delle Palme, maybe just intrigued by a particularly low price (probabily motivated by the financial issues of the company), and left without ever realizing the historical significance of the place? Today, the hotel is firmly in the hands of Algebris, a company owned by Davide Serra. The businessman, known to be close to Renzi, the former Italian Prime Minister, has assured the 37 employees they will retain their jobs. We hope the same care will go into preserving Hotel delle Palme’s legacy, which has remained intact until today.


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