In October 1889 Francesco Nistelweck’s dream finally came true: the Hotel Eden at the corner of Via Porta Pinciana and Via Ludovisi – still unsurfaced in those days – was finally ready to welcome its first guests.
While visiting the new, affluent Ludovisi district, the Munich-born hotelier – he already managed the Hotel d’Inghilterra and the Hotel de Russie in Rome – had fallen in love with the three-storey house. He turned it into a hotel with sixty-three bedrooms furnished with great taste and care by his wife Berta Hassler, daughter of the owner of the Hassler Hotel which in those days was located in Via Mario de’ Fiori and only later moved to its present location at the top of the Spanish Steps.
At the turn of the century Rome’s thriving hotel industry began to move towards the new pole of attraction of the city: the Termini railway station, which in Pope Pius IX, had found a strong advocate. Nineteenth-century European visitors began to desert horse-drawn carriages, which for centuries had carried them to Italy, in favour of a new, modern companion of adventure: the train.
This burgeoning technological revolution transferred the barycenter of Roman hospitality to the Ludovisi district which, since the 16th century, had gravitated around the Spanish Steps (Via del Babuino, Via del Corso, Piazza Venezia and the Pantheon) thanks to the proximity of the Porta del Popolo Gate, the main entrance to the city for carriages arriving from the Via Cassia and the Via Flaminia.
Niestelweck was the first to realise that the new era of Roman hotellerie was linked to the development of this new means of transport and the rapidity with which it adapted to the needs of the growing number of rail travellers. As a result, his Eden was an immediate success. As apartments went up for sale in the building he snapped them up to add new rooms and public areas. He also installed a lift, electricity, heating and running water.
The hotel quickly made a name for itself, becoming a favourite with foreign visitors wintering in Rome. In 1902 another floor was added to the building and the terrace, which was destined to become the feather in the hotel’s cap, was originally used to hang out the Eden’s linen sheets and towels and finely embroidered table cloths.
Since then the Eden has always been at the centre of Roman hospitality, hotel that the celebrities visit and its Golden Book records many of its most memorable moments. Names and images cram the pages which are now yellowed with time. The signatures of the Grand Duchess Olga of Russia, Princess Teresa of Bavaria, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, Prince Paolo of Serbia, Queen Amelia of Portugal and Umberto of Savoy are all written in Indian ink on its pages. The signature of the entire family of Galitzine Princes and the names of Gabriele D’Annunzio and Elenora Duse are all on one page.
One period photograph is the blurred portrait of Carlo of Bourbon with his family, the Infanta Luisa and other ladies wearing black mantillas. Then, there is the portrait of Princess Maria of Bourbon in her wedding dress as she leaves the Hotel Eden on the day of her marriage to Prince Giovanni of Asturias.
The war years left their mark on the story of the Eden’s Golden Book. After the Liberation the hotel became the headquarters of the English Command and the signatures of Von Papen, vice chancellor of the Reich and Dino Grandi, Mussolini’s minister, are also in the Golden Book while those of two arch rivals, Rommel, who signed the book in 1941 and Montgomery who signed it in 1955, are on the same page.
During the War Francesco Nistelweck shared the management of the hotel with Oscar Wirth who, as a shareholder, managed the Eden and then the Hassler Hotel, together with the Nistelwecks. The two hotels then separated: the Hassler being run by the Wirth family and the Eden by Giuseppe and Gianfrancesco Ciaceri, grandsons of the founder of the historic hotel, renowned for its quest for modernisation while maintaining the highest traditional standards.
Even today there is no view in Rome to rival the breath-taking spectacle from the famed roof garden. It is no mere coincidence that the great maestro of the screen, Federico Fellini, a Roman by adoption, always chose La Terrazza for his interviews.
The Hotel Eden is now part of Dorchester Collection.