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High Society - Grand Hotel Majestic
Hotel | Restaurants
Article By Robert Charles extracted from the Autumn Issue of Bologna For Connoisseurs 2012 to celebrate the hotel's centenary year.
As 5-star hotels go, the Hotel Majestic ‘gia Baglioni’ is not easy to spot. The entrance is tucked away between two chic shops on the via Indipendenza, and consists of nothing more than an inconspicuous set of steps flanked by two ornate lamps. If not for the welcoming doorman, you would hardly know it was there. Visiting celebrities can be out of a taxi and safely inside the lobby before the first whirr and click of a paparazzo’s motor drive. That is one reason why, in the decades when it was known simply as the Baglioni, this was always the chosen hotel for visitors from Hollywood: Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra. Since it was renamed the Majestic in the 1980s, guests have included the Dalai Lama, Princess Diana and Paul McCartney.
But there are parts of the building that are much older than the hotel’s hundred years. The present edifice was built in the first half of the 18th century to serve as a new seminary for the city. Cardinal Prospero Lambertini, a native of the city who later became Pope Benedict XIV, paid 2,000 silver scudi for the land, which occupied one angle of a Roman crossroads. An exposed section of that legionaries’ highway can be seen on the lower floor of the hotel, near the breakfast room. At roughly the same level is the vaulted basement of the seminary, now the hotel’s subterranean enoteca. The bottle-lined room is full of atmosphere and intoxicating fumes. It’s a fine venue for a wine-tasting or a candle-lit dinner with friends.
At the time of the cardinal’s purchase in 1732, three medieval mansions stood on the site of the Hotel Majestic. Those aristocratic homes were incorporated into the new edifice, and spectacular vestiges of them remain. In the meeting room known as the Camerino d’Europa, there are frescoes attributed to the Carracci brothers, leading members of the Bologna School in the late 16th century. The frescoes depict a series of scenes from the story of Europa, who was seduced by Zeus in the form of a bull, and gave birth to the Minotaur. Elsewhere, in the hotel restaurant there are ceiling frescoes telling the story of Phaeton, who dared to drive the chariot of the sun, and had to be struck down by a thunderbolt when he could not control the fire-breathing horses. These paintings are less likely to be by Annibale and Agostini Carracci, but the restaurant is nevertheless named after the brothers. If you come for dinner (and you certainly should), be sure to study the ceiling early on, because your attention will soon be entirely focused on the dishes in front of you: salt cod with a broccoli pesto as vibrantly chlorophyllic as the décor of the Verdi Suite; a stew of roast octopus with rosemary potatoes and black olive dust; or a traditional tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce that is as good as any you will find in this ragù-obsessed city.
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