Our Exclusive interview with Giuseppe Paternò Castello di San Giuliano
In his Florentine residence, Marchese Giuseppe di San Giuliano, is sharing family stories, passions and his model trains
Via dei Serragli cuts right through Florence’s Oltrarno area: on the left you find the Santo Spirito neighborhood, on the right San Frediano. The street runs from north to south, from the Carraia bridge (Piazza Nazario Sauro) to the medieval Porta Romana gate.
At number 132, a plaque commemorates American poet Nathaniel Hawthorne, the famous author of The Scarlet Letter, who lived here in 1858. Furthermore, two illustrious personalities were born in Via dei Serragli: St. Filippo Neri, the Apostle of Rome, and Antonio Meucci, the inventor of the first sort of telephone.
This Florentine street conveys all the charm and atmosphere of the Oltrano area and here, in his magnificent residence, we met Giuseppe Paternò Castello di San Giuliano. Transfixing eyes, superb class with a positive and contagious savoir faire. He belongs to one of Sicily’s oldest aristocratic families. ‘Norman feudal nobility’, he explains, ‘descended from the combative Counts of Embrun who, shortly after their arrival in Sicily around the year 1000, took on the name of the city they had conquered. The Arab name Budurnus was changed into the Italian Paternò”.
Surrounded by the portraits of his ancestors, our conversation goes on. The most famous one shows Giuseppe’s great-grandfather, Marchese Antonino di San Giuliano, who was the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Italy from 1910 to 1914.
The frescoed walls showcase not only his family’s history, but also his personal passions: flawless
book shelves of history books of which, talking half-seriously, he says he is very proud. The books rise like stalactites from the Persian carpets that cover the library’s floor, the charming furniture and the objects that fill all spaces radiate a euphoric harmony throughout the house.
“In 1953 my professional career began in Rio de Janeiro at the wonderful family-owned estate. Two years later, Olivetti hired me. I went back to Sicily in 1959, where my uncle offered me the chance to work for a Florentine shoe manufacturing company and, in August 1967, I was hired by Giusti. That same year a major shoe trade show opened in Florence, attended by buyers from all over the world. That’s when I decided to move to Florence. At the time, most buyers and producers gathered at Harry’s Bar and it is here where I met Fiamma Ferragamo. From that moment on, our lives and destinies were entwined forever. I fell in love with Fiamma and Florence at the same time”.
Do you feel more Florentine or Sicilian?
I feel both Florentine and Sicilian, but I like to see myself as European.
What is elegance in your opinion?
Elegance is inborn and has little to do with what you wear, as commonly believed.
A symbol of elegance in Florence?
Its DNA, easily discovered when walking through the city. Take a look at Ponte Vecchio from the Santa Trinita Bridge and cross over to Via Tornabuoni to see Florence’s centuries-old elegance.
Wanda Ferragamo, in a few words?
Those said by my mother the day she met her: “Your mother-in-law is a swashbuckling woman, the kind you can’t find these days anymore!”
Your most beloved place?
My family’s estate between Catania and Siracusa, where we produce olive oil and grow citrus fruit and where, ten years ago, I began producing wine. It is a beautiful place, everyone is spellbound by its beauty.
Your greatest passions?
First of all, I love classical music above all things. I have the privilege of being close friends with many conductors, including the great Zubin Mehta.
And what comes second?
Amongst many others, I have a passion for model trains.
And so we learn that Giuseppe di San Giuliano has dedicated the past ten years of his life to creating Europe’s most magnificent electric railroad model. To accomplish this uncommon and extraordinary enterprise, he emptied a 300-square-meter industrial warehouse just outside of Florence. Here he began creating this model with the help of friends and experts, featuring a digital command control system. The meticulousness with which the landscapes have been recreated is absolutely fascinating.
The magnificent central station is a mix of Milan’s central station (the rear) and Berlin’s central station (the front). At the terminal station, there are trains coming and going, locomotives with 32 functions reproducing sounds, lights, maneuvers and even puffs of steam. “After so many years of hard work and passion, we are finally nearing its completion”. A wish? “Being able to share it with as many people as possible”.