The literary Caffè Pedrocchi of Padua

Veronica Baldassa (University of Padua, Italy)

Caffè Pedrocchi is located in and symbolises the heart of Padua. It represents the historical and literary café per excellence. Inaugurated on June 9, 1831, the “Caffè-Ridotto” of Padua suddenly became a unique and unprecedented place that embodies the spirit of European Enlightenment (Del Negro, 2014: 32).

The history of Caffè Pedrocchi began in 1799 when Antonio Pedrocchi (1776-1852) – the son of Francesco (1719-1799) – took over his father’s café (Puppi, 1980: 21-32). In 1805 he began acquiring, expanding, and renovating what is now known as “Isola Pedrocchi” (Mazza, 1984). In 1826 Antonio Pedrocchi turned to the famous Venetian architect Giuseppe Jappelli (1783-1852) to realize the project of a multi-purpose building: it would have been a café, as well as a meeting place, a club, and almost a stock exchange, a real cultural and commercial centre (Puppi, 1980: 33-39). Jappelli, helped by the engineer Bartolomeo Franceschini, soon started the work. The ground floor of the building was inaugurated on June 9, 1831: Caffè Pedrocchi was immediately celebrated by Padua’s citizens. In 1832 Giovanni Cittadella published the short poem Il Caffè Pedrocchi. Versi praises the new "incantato castello". His poem was followed by those of Giuseppe Barbieri, Pietro Buratti, Francesco Trevisan, and Alvise Mabil, who wrote in Latin. Pietro Selvatico Estense, Carlo Leoni and Adalulfo Falconetti also wrote prose poems celebrating the café as a meeting place for Paduan patricians (Leoni defined it as "centro, anima e decoro della padovana società"). However, Caffè Pedrocchi was more than just a "reggia cittadina" (Leoni); it was also the "casa del popolo" (Giovanni Sertorio). The owners allowed their customers to stay even without consuming anything, welcomed all social classes, and the café, being open day and night, earned the nickname “Café without doors”. It played a central role in the transformation of Paduan society, which was increasingly open to a bourgeois lifestyle rather than an aristocratic one (for more on this, see Del Negro, 2014: 36-39 and 47-49).

Between 1837 and 1839, a neo-Gothic outbuilding was added to the café, called the Pedrocchino, which was used as a pastry shop (“ofelleria”) for the sale of sweets (Mazza, 1984: 49). Ten years after the first inauguration, the upper rooms used for nobles’ meetings (“Casino dei Nobili”) were finally completed. They were officially inaugurated on September 16, 1842, and hosted the IV Congress of Italian Scientists. A medallion with an effigy of Titus Livius placed on the balustrade of the staircase commemorates the event. The medallion reminds the host to preserve Padua’s predisposition to progress in science and arts (Puppi, 1980: 68).

In the same year, the first Guida di Padova e della sua provincia was published: it celebrated the Pedrocchi factory as an assertion of a democratic society (Del Negro, 2014: 52). The café recalled some famous European models: French travellers like Théophile Gautier recognized Parisian design and described it like an ancient temple, insisting on its solemnity (Possamai, 2014: 225). The architect conceived the ground floor “like a covered promenade” (Possamai, 2014: . 229): it includes two northern Doric loggias, the Octagonal Room or Stock Exchange, the laboratories, the access to the cellars and underground, and a southern Doric loggia; on the right, the Green, Red, and White Rooms; on the left, the staircase to the upper floor. Four lions sculpted by Giuseppe Petrelli dominate the two northern loggias, which look like a double triumphal arch. The south loggia, however, gives separate access to the upstairs Casino dei Nobili. The Octagonal Room (the number eight, together with three, recurs in the building due to Jappelli’s Masonic culture) was designed as a room for selling agricultural products. The Green, White, and Red Rooms evoke the colors of the Italian flag, as a result of national unity. The Red Room, called “Sala Grande” (“Great Hall”) because of its size, is the main room of the establishment: Jappelli divided it into three parts to imitate a temple’s structure. Two unusual maps designed by the engineer Peghin decore the room: they present a French nomenclature and position the North at the bottom (Pavanello, 1984: 91).

The upper floor represents past styles, including Etruscan, Greek, Roman, Renaissance, Rossini, Egyptian, and Moorish Rooms. A small Baroque Room and a Medieval Room are also used as a reading room. The Rossini Room is particularly interesting. It is the central hall of the floor, designed for balls and gala dinners, and is dedicated to the famous composer and friend of Jappelli, Gioachino Rossini. In the room, some symbols recall the memory of Napoleon I, and, for this reason, it is also called the “Napoleonic Room” (for more, see Puppi, 1980: 68-81; Possamai, 2014). Giovanni De Min, Ippolito Caffi, Pietro Paoletti, and Vincenzo Gazzotto were the main decorators and painters of Caffè Pedrocchi.

Between 1846 and 1848 Guglielmo Stefani found a newspaper called "Il Caffè Pedrocchi", which played an important role in the run-up to the 1848 insurrections. Its name was an allegory: it wanted to break down the barriers of society, just as the café had done (Puppi, 1980: 83). Its pages hosted political poems by Arnaldo Fusinato (Lo studente di Padova) and Giovanni Prati (Toffanin, 1984: 88).

On February 8, 1948, turmoil arose at University and evolved into tragedy at Caffè Pedrocchi. Many students and Italian patriots revolted against the Austro-Hungarian government and pushed away an attack by the Austro-Hungarian guards, defending the university’s building. The guards thus entered the Caffè Pedrocchi and fired on the crowd. A trace of a hole produced by guards’ bullets in the walls of the White Room is still visible today, as a reminder of such a tragic event (for more on the role of the Pedrocchi establishment in the politics of the Risorgimento, see Del Negro, 2014: 49-67).

In front of the hole, a plaque displays Stendhal's quotation from the Chartreuse de Parme . The French author frequented the café in 1815 and in 1830-1831, and appreciated its cuisine ("l’excellent restaurateur Pedrocchi, le meilleur d’Italie"), particularly the zabaglione. He was just one among the many illustrious writers and men of letters who visited the café. Besides him, Alfred de Musset, George Sand, Antoine-Claude Pasquin Valery, Honoré de Balzac, and the aforementioned Téophile Gauthier are worth mentioning. Caffè Pedrocchi was a must for anyone passing through Padua. Among the Italians, Gabriele d’Annunzio, Giuseppe Giacosa, Eleonora Duse, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Ugo Ojetti, Renato Simoni, Giuseppe Prezzolini, and Luigi Barzini went there. In front of the café, the Garibaldi Theatre (formerly the Duse) brought together several illustrious personalities (in addition to d’Annunzio and Eleonora Duse, Tommaso Salvini, Ernesto Rossi, Tina di Lorenzo), who also frequented the café (Toffanin, 1984: 90). During the Risorgimento, many intellectuals and writers from Padua and Veneto met in the “tricolor rooms”. The most famous are Arnaldo Fusinato, Aleardo Aleardi, Teobaldo Ciconi, Antonio Gazzoletti, Giovanni Prati, Iacopo Cabianca, Francesco Dall’Ongaro, Marco Antonio Canini, Niccolò Tommaseo, Giacomo Zanella, Antonio Somma, Luigi Carrer, Guglielmo Stefani, Giacomo Zanella, and Ippolito Nievo (Possamai, 2000: 18; Toffanin, 1984: 87-90). The young Nievo frequented the Stock Exchange Room and the fumoir (a room reserved for billiards), as he wrote in his letters.

The café was actively used by citizens as well as famous people, above all university professors and students. At the end of the 19th century, the relationship between the students and the café intensified. Students dedicated poems in dialect and in language, cartoons, and plaques to the café. Many of them were published in the magazine "Il Pedrocchi. Periodico settimanale illustrato", printed between 1896 and 1898 and edited by Ettore Da Rin in honor of the café, with the aim to write "continuamente per il caffè, nel caffè, col caffè, sul caffè, dopo il caffè, prima del caffè, tra due caffè", calling forth the title’s allegory of the previous periodical. There was also a short-lived magazine dedicated to Pedrocchino (Del Negro, 2014: 61), and other homonymous magazines would continue to come out (see Del Negro, 2014: 67). The relationship with the students also involves goliardery: it was allowed even for the most destitute students to enter the Green Room and read newspapers without consuming anything (the expression “essere al verde”, “to be broke”, comes from here). Even today, every student at the University of Padua can have a free coffee in the Green Room.

In January 1852 Antonio Pedrocchi passed away, followed by the architect Giuseppe Jappelli. The building was bequeathed to Domenico Cappellato, the son of his faithful apprentice, whom he adopted. In poor health, he rented the premises of the establishment between 1857 and 1858. When he died, in 1891, Cappellato bequeathed the entire building to the citizenship, represented by the Municipality of Padua, with the solemn and imperative obligation of preserving, promoting, and adapting the entire Pedrocchi establishment to the progress of the times (Puppi, 2014: 169).

At the beginning of the First World War, the café’s decline started: in 1916, it closed in the evening for the first time. In 1921, an intervention in the historic centre caused structural changes to the building, which led to a decline that continued in the following years (Puppi, 1980: 83-100; Puppi, 2014:167-187). The café ceased to operate throughout the 1980s and 1990s until the Municipality carried out a thorough renovation between 1994 and 1999 (Macchietto, 2014). The aim was to restore the café to its original form and recover its social significance. The café opened again to the public in 1998.

Today, Caffè Pedrocchi still plays an important role in Padua’s city life and attracts many tourists fascinated by its historical and social importance. The upper rooms house the Museum of the Risorgimento and the Contemporary Era.

How to cite this dictionary entry: Baldassa, V. (2023). The literary Caffè Pedrocchi of Padua. In R. Baleiro, G. Capecchi & J. Arcos-Pumarola (Orgs.). E-Dictionary of Literary Tourism. University for Foreigners of Perugia.

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