The streets of Florence filled with hype and excitement this weekend as two of Hollywood’s biggest stars of the moment arrived in the ‘cradle of the Renaissance’ to celebrate their wedding.
As my father was finishing a large glass of Chianti and musing over the possibility that one day babies will be inserted with microchips at birth, the guests of undoubtedly one of the biggest weddings of the year were being tagged with electronic bracelets, allowing them entrance to the 16th Century fortress Forte di Belvedere in Florence on Saturday to see Kanye West and Kim Kardashian exchange their wedding vows in front of a wall of white flowers.
Groups of fans and journalists gathered outside the five star hotels in the city including the Westin Excelsior (where the couple had paid for 100 of the property’s 170 rooms to accommodate many of the wedding party) hoping to catch a glimpse of the couple and their guests. Taxis could not reach Piazza Repubblica, passing in front of the Savoy Hotel for the crowds outside as preparations were underway for the evening’s celebrations starting with a 6pm outdoor ceremony.
Security was high for the star-studded event and you’d be hard pushed to find a venue more secure than a hillside fortress designed to protect the city of Florence and the ruling Medici family over 400 hundred years ago. The couple are said to have paid €360,000 euro for the exclusive use of the location which only re-opened last year after five years of closure for restoration. The beautiful fortress is one of Florence’s jewels, described by Italy’s premier Matteo Renzi, former mayor of Florence, as “part of Florence’s identity”.
In the afternoon dozens of uniform black Mercedes swept through the city climbing up to the fortress, keeping bystanders guessing as to who was inside but it sounds like guests were also kept in the dark, receiving updated plans and locations at two hour intervals via text message. Upon arrival at Belvedere however all mobile phones were left at the door on strict instruction.
Rumours surrounding this wedding have seen the guest list escalate to well over 1000 but Kim and Kanye were joined by just over 200 family members and friends (very possibly a security limit from the venue) including 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen and Will Smith’s
son Jaden. The guests were all seated at one 60m long white marble banquet table which
had to be air-lifted over the fortress walls – a wedding gift from Gualtiero Vanelli from his quarry in Carrara. The ‘Last Supper’ style scene is said to have been Kanye’s inspiration.
Inside the fortress guests were surrounded by marble and onyx sculptures from Italo-American Vanessa Beecroft, Kanye’s favoutite contemporary artist. “The theme for this event is the stylized human form.” she revealed to Italy’s Corriere della Sera.
Florence and Milan based Galateo Ricevimenti catered for the event, and the soundtrack to the sunlit evening against one of Florence’s most stunning views included live
performances by John Legend, Andrea Boccelli and Katy Perry. Luckily the sun was on their side; following dark clouds and showers the day before, Florence enjoyed some of the best weather so far this year on the wedding day itself with blue skies, sunshine and a gentle, refreshing breeze, with temperatures of around 25 degrees.
Just before midnight the Florence skyline was illuminated by a beautiful firework display, and listening to them as I wrote this article I can confirm that they were heard over 5 km away on the outskirts of the city.
Mr. and Mrs. West’s guests were full of the party spirit following the festivities at the fortress. At the Westin Excelsior in Piazza Ognissanti, where Kanye’s three sisters were staying along with the likes of American actor and rap star Common, American fans waited eagerly and patiently pretty much all night as guests arrived back between 1am and 5am in the morning, in various conditions! With the hotel bars closed in the early hours the guests continued their own party until dawn on the terraces of the fifth floor rooms ordering from room service. “All the guests were actually very polite and well behaved”, commented one source. There will have been some delicate heads in the morning after an early check out!
Italy is a popular choice for celebrity weddings, in recent years having hosted the nuptials of Tom Cruise, Rod Stewart, Wayne Roonery, Petra Ecclestone, Justin Timberlake, Emily Blunt, John Legend and Theo Walcott, to name but a few. Florence is a particular favourite destination alongside Rome, the Lakes in the north and the Amalfi Coast in the south, but what’s the attraction?
13 reasons why Kimye and dozens of other stars every year choose to get married in Florence:
1) International appeal. In many countries, including the US, Florence is widely considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world, an opinion supported by Tripadvisor who recently officially placed it at number 13 in the ranking for best world city (Rome being at number two). Providing a natural stage for passion, theatre and history, ‘Firenze’ offers some of the most beautiful sights and scenery imaginable. In the words of Kanye West himself: “I adore Florence…it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and, for me, it is the most beautiful in Europe“.
2) Wealth of art heritage. The entire historic centre of Florence is itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is bursting with a rich artistic culture through which visitors can experience the journey and visions of humankind. Part of Florence’s charm lies in the fact that all this history is accessible and tangible and the intimate setting makes you feel a part of it.
3) Wow factor locations. From historic hilltop fortresses to renovated monasteries, royal palaces, prestigious villas and private galleries, Florence is home to some incredible movie style locations ideal for celebrating events to remember.
4) Captures the soul. Florence has an inescapable effect on those that visit, creating strong life memories and leaving a lasting urge to return. The US rapper and Hollywood actress duo Kimye came to Florence a few years back and it is thought that they conceived baby North here, giving Florence a firm place in their life story.
5) To everyone’s taste. With around 12 million tourists arriving in Florence each year (representing 15% of the GDP) the city’s infrastructure offers visitors an overwhelming choice of hotels (with wonderful five star properties such as the Four Seasons, Villa San Michele, the Westin Excelsior, the St. Regis, the Savoy and Il Salviatino), private accommodation and restaurants to suit every taste and style, from Renaissance elegance to contemporary chic.
6) Nuptial know-how. With an average of 1500 foreign couples (the majority being English, American, Australian, Irish, Russian, Japanese and Dutch) saying I do in Tuscany every year, almost half of them in Florence town hall,* not to mention the weddings that bypass the civil hall and celebrate with a symbolic ceremony or religious blessing (as was the case with Kim and Kanye), Florence knows how to throw a good wedding party. When considering the experience and level of suppliers out here from catering and floristry to entertainment and music, the services offered are of the highest quality, representing Italy’s finest hospitality. Let’s face it, Italians like to give a warm welcome and are incredibly proud of what their country has to offer. They want you to have fun here!
7) Second home for the stars. Dating back to the ‘Grand Tour’ of the 18th Century (before the advent of rap music and television!) Tuscany has been the land of inspiration for a stream of artists, writers, poets and musicians with several now owning their own property and, like Sting, even turning their hand to wine production. Madonna recently took over the top floor of the St. Regis hotel to film her latest hedonistic music video in an open-top car around the city, capturing the beautiful streets and open piazzas. Football stars, film stars, artists and musicians can regularly be seen checking in to some of the city’s most prestigious hotels where they are guaranteed excellent, discreet service and total respect for privacy.
8) Secret green city. Not far from the main sights and attractions of the more tourist trodden paths lie the hidden treasures of Florence which the average visitor would never see. Walking down Borgo Pinti for example, home to the Four Seasons Hotel (hosting some of the wedding party this weekend), the street is narrow and dark, lined with 6m high reinforced wooden doors. Those lucky enough to enter these doors however can discover some of the most beautiful, peaceful and prestigious gardens and parks of the city.
9) Accessible. Whether by private jet, charter plane or commercial airline, Florence is easily reached from all over the world. New routes have recently opened up to Florence airport from destinations in Europe (BA have just launched a direct route from London City) and there
are projects in the pipeline to further develop the airport.
10) The climate. When spring fades into summer at this time of year the temperature of the soft sun and the calm air makes for the perfect feel good factor. All you need to do is sit back, sip on a chilled glass of prosecco and enjoy the view!
11) The food. Italian cuisine is renowned the world over and seeing as the menu can very often make or break a wedding, you simply cannot go wrong in letting Italians cater for your wedding. Fresh hand-made pasta, juicy tomatoes, tender beef, fresh fish, farm picked vegetables, zesty lemons, garlic, chilli, truffle and lashings of extra virgin olive oil from the neighbouring olive grove, all in the artistic hands of a Florentine chef prove a winning recipe, guaranteed to leave your guests smiling. I’ve seen vegetarians convert overnight and enemies reunite at an Italian dining table. The energy of food is alive here. Again, in Kanye’s own words: “I love the Italian lifestyle”
12) The wine. Italy boasts some of the world’s best wines and in Florence, being the capital city of Tuscany, at the heart of which lies the famous Chianti wine growing region, you are literally surrounded by famous cantinas and wine producers, which you can reach in an easy 20 minute vespa jaunt from the city centre, so you can pick the best of the bunch! Wine itself has played an important social and economic role throughout the history of the city – they take this stuff seriously!
13) The scenery. Inspiring artists for years the scenery of Florence and Tuscany is quite literally breathtaking and so characteristic of this particular part of the world. The location for Kim and Kanye’s nuptials, not by chance, offers THE best view over the Renaissance city of Florence, the kind of view that makes you fall in love.
Lastly….this is a city of love!! Florence simply breathes romance. Botticelli’s Birth of Venus dominates one of the numerous halls of the world famous Uffizi art gallery and lovers fill the piazzas sipping on an espresso or strolling hand in hand in the sun. The jewellery shops on the Ponte Vecchio are filled with couples choosing engagement or wedding rings to the backdrop of the sun setting over the river, as theatres entice passers by with stunning opera performances….swoon!!!
* Data provided by ISTAT Italy’s National Institute for Statistics
Images provided by Corriere Della Sera www.corriere.it