Royal Spanish Connection at Rome’s Grand Hotel

( words)

In 1931 a very distinguished guest made the Grand Hotel his home: King Alfonso XIII of Spain. The Spanish sovereign had landed himself in trouble back in Madrid. In 1923 he had thrown his weight behind Miguel Primo de Rivera, a general who staged a coup d’état, overthrowing parliament and establishing a dictatorship. Unfortunately for King Alfonso, Primo de Rivera fell from power in January 1930. In municipal elections staged the following year, Republican parties won a landslide victory. Though refusing to abdicate, Alfonso XIII was forced into exile. He landed in Rome, at the Grand Hotel, where he would live out the rest of his days. In Alfonso’s time, dinners in the grand dining room (today the Salone Ritz) were always a black tie affair. How could one eat in the presence of a king without being properly dressed?
In 1935 the sound of Spanish royal wedding bells echoed through Rome. On January 14 Infanta Beatriz of Bourbon and Battenberg, the aunt of current Spanish sovereign Juan Carlos, married Prince Alessandro di Torlonia at the Jesuit Chiesa del Gesù. Afterwards a wedding reception was held at the Grand Hotel, attended by some 125 royal guests. Romance was in the air that night. At the party, Don Juan, heir to the the Spanish monarchy, met his future wife, his cousin Princess Maria de las Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. So taken were they with one another that they also married in Rome later that year. In October 1935 the Eternal City celebrated its second Spanish royal wedding in the space of 10 months. Thousands of Spaniards travelled to the Rome to witness the marriage of the man they saw as their future king (Don Juan would never rule Spain, although his son Juan Carlos, born in Rome in 1938, acceded the throne two days after the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975). On 28 February 1941 the 64-year old King Alfonso XIII of Spain died at the hotel. He had of course been living at the Grand since his exile from Madrid a decade earlier. Half a century later, his grandson King Juan Carlos would visit the hotel himself and ask to see ‘the room where my grandfather died.’ From "Grand Hotel Rome" by Andreas Augustin (edited by Thomas Cane)

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