Italy: Her name inspired the Margherita pizza and her grace an architect
A museum fit for a queen
The Villa Regina Margherita in Bordighera has had a place in Italy’s history since its unification in 1861. It was the favourite residence of the of the new country’s first queen: Queen Margherita of Savoy, wife of King Umberto I, himself the son of Victor Emmanuel II.
Her name has been immortalised in the Margherita pizza, named after her because its colours represented the new Italian flag: red tomatoes, green basil, and white cheese. She was so well loved that she even had a mountain peak in Africa named in her honour.
Since June 2011, her name has also been associated with one of the world’s most remarkable art collections, that of Angelo Guido Terruzzi, a Genoese industrialist known as "the nickel king" because of his success in metal trading.
His collection of 18th century Venetian paintings is probably the largest and best in the world, including works by Tiepolo and Canaletto. He died in 2009 in Bordighera, a town which he had grown to love for its mild climate and refined atmosphere. He had been searching for some time for the perfect place for his collection, and the palace of Italy's first queen seemed ideal. She had died in 1926 and the building itself needed much restoration work. This has been expertly done, with funding from the Terruzzi Foundation, as well as from the province of Imperia and the town of Bordighera.
The palace was built for Queen Margherita in 1914-15 to the design of the Milanese architect Luigi Broggi, the man responsible for the original Milan Stock Exchange building. He and Queen Margherita seem to have had an affinity: besides the fact that both were born in 1851 and both died in 1926, they also had an affection and respect for each other. The Bordighera palace was one of his last designs before he retired; perhaps he saw it as a crowning act of his career.
What is certain is that Margherita was totally enamoured of her villa, for she wrote in 1923: "Whenever I want to think of something agreeable and relaxing, my mind's eye returns to my beloved villa at Bordighera, and my heartfelt gratitude goes out to its architect, Luigi Broggi. This feeling is renewed with the same intensity every time I come back to it." She had asked him to avoid any futuristic tendencies, as she preferred the 18th century Baroque, style.
When the Queen died the building was taken over by Italy's organisation for war victims (Associazione Nazionale delle Famiglie dei Caduti in Guerra), who had it for the next 80 years. Inevitably, it did not receive the loving attention that had been lavished upon it, and a certain amount of maintenance was left undone.
Restoration only began in 2009. In fact Terruzzi had hoped to house his collection at the Grassi Palace in Venice, but fortunately for Bordighera and the Côte d'Azur, this project never materialised.
The doors were finally opened to the public in June 2011, and for the first time the full glory of Terruzzi's collection and the majesty of Margherita's palace could be appreciated. The only sadness was that Terruzzi himself was not there to see it - he passed away in October 2009.
Among the items on display (probably only a quarter of his collection!) are masterpieces of European art from the 17th and 18th centuries, including many still lifes and mythological scenes, together with furniture and porcelain of similar and more recent vintage, among them a 381-piece dinner service made by Angelo Minghetti in 1888.
On the roof of the museum is a terrace complete with restaurant and majestic views of the Côte d'Azur which stretch out to the west. The Villa Regina Margherita is open from Wednesdays to Saturdays until the end of September (10am-6pm April, May, June, September, 3.30pm -11pm July and August).