how the Palermo Flower Festival was born

The origin of the Festival is much earlier than the 1950s, and 1904 has a very specific date: the year in which Kaiser Wilhelm II was a guest at the Olivuzza della Regina in Palermo.

The voice is that of the week Incom, the newsreel projected in cinemas, before the films (the Istituto Luce of Cinecittà has preserved the memory).

The narrating voice begins with: “The nurseries of Mondello they are not afraid if even the picciotti who with Sicilian ferocity pick up the flowers have taken up the sack, so they will flourish again ». I must say that “Sicilian fertility” leaves me speechless.

It is the usual triumphal and celebratory comment with an Italian far from the spoken language, redundant, full of dated terms. The speaker tries to be nice and captivating, but hearing him today seems a bit ridiculous.

The newsreel is dedicated to Flower Festival from the 50s to Palermo. Event that will live a short season. Initially born for the nobility, it will be re-proposed as a popular festival with huge floats from the cities of flowers, Sanremo, Imperia, Salsomaggiore, Viareggio and Sorrento.

The event can be considered as one of the festivals related to spring as were the festival of Cibale oriental divinity, whose statue was covered with flowers, the infiorate for Corpus Domini, Calendimaggio in the Middle Ages, with young people who brought flowering trees maidens.

The event, as we have said, will last a few years and then disappear, but its origin is much earlier than the 1950s, and has a precise date of 1904. It was the year in which the Kaiser Wilhelm II he was a guest at Olivuzza, of the Queen of Palermo, Donna Franca Florio.

The emperor was one of the many crowned guests of the Florio family in the period in which the city – in addition to being considered a climatotherapy station – was above all the favorite place for nobles, intellectuals, rich magnates, all enraptured by the beauty of the city considered one of the capitals of Liberty.

The Kaiser was a singular character, born with a disability in the arm, despite the numerous operations he will not be able to recover the functionality of the limb which will remain almost atrophied.

William II was the third and last German emperor, considered by many to be responsible for the outbreak of the First World War, with the Congress of Paris he will be forced to live in exile in the Netherlands.

For some historians he was “cruel and irresponsible militaristic authoritarian”. He loved to be the protagonist (the departure of Bismarck, it seems that it was due to the importance and visibility of the Chancellor).

Until the end, he considered himself absolute sovereign by divine right. With constant mood swings, bordering on neurosis, it is said that he was particularly superstitious.

And it was the superstition, the origin of the “Corso dei Fiori“.

A guest of the Florio family, he loved to ride a carriage with his wife, enjoying the panorama and the climate of the city. During one of these outings, one morning, he was recognized by the Countess Mazarin who crossed him on the same street.

The chronicle tells that the lady struck by this meeting, “feeling her blood stirring with excitement”, threw three roses into the Kaiser’s carriage. This state of “exaltation” of the noblewoman was probably due to the rumors circulating about William II, described by Bismarck himself as having a “very strong sexual development”.

It is said that he habitually frequented “escort”Whose services were paid for with a photo of him, behavior that will cause him several problems. The Countess of Mazarin of noble rank, lineage and education, I doubt that she has lost control for these reasons, I like to think that hers was a gesture of courtesy and kindness unfortunately ended badly.

In fact, the roses missed the carriage where the imperial rears rested, ending up instead between the hooves of the horses who could not do anything but trample them. The Kaiser was deeply disturbed, considering it a sinister omen that required an immediate and adequate response.

He made contact with the mayor of Palermo, Pietro Bonanno, asking that one be set up on the same afternoon parade of carriages full of flowers. The request was accompanied by a note that left no room for exceptions, much less refusals.

The mayor could not help but authorize the event, mobilizing the Palermo nobility. Everything was organized in a very short time, just long enough to grab roses, violets and camellias, flowers available in March. The carriages dressed up in this way showed off along the avenues of the English Garden.

It was a great event for the nobility, so much so that it was institutionalized two years later, thanks to Vincenzo Florio. From 1906 it became a prize competition, in the first edition the Trabia, the Scalea, the Whitaker, the Florio, the Deliella and the rest of Palermo’s high society participated.

There location it was taken to Viale della Libertà, and subsequently to the Parco della Favorita, where the steps will be mounted to allow viewing by the public. Concerning the ill omen unknowingly launched by Countess Mazarin, the Kaiser promptly replied.

During the parade in the afternoon of 1904, as soon as he saw the carriage of the noblewoman he threw her a bundle of flowers. They arrived in the chariot, making the countess proud, and reassuring the Kaiser for the moment.

One wonders if with the fall of the Empire, the ruin of the German army, the defeat in the war and the consequent exile, William II was not right to interpret the three roses trampled between the hooves of horses, as a terrible omen.