Born in Palermo and son of Ignazio Florio Sr., Ignazio Florio Jr. was the heir to one of the largest Italian business dynasties of the time established by his grandfather Vincenzo Florio senior in the early nineteenth century. After the death of his father in 1891, he inherited an immense fortune based on industries, banks, shipyards, commercial activities (foundries, tuna, salt pans, wine cellars), and the majority of the capital of the “Societa’ Italiana di navigazione”, one of the largest shipping fleets of Europe.
Elegant, highly educated and comfortable in speaking various foreign languages, Florio Jr. signed the most important Sicilian business initiatives of late nineteenth century and early twentieth century including the Anglo-Sicilian society for sulfur, the Sicilian Agricultural Association, the Ceramica Florio, the leadership of the Teatro Massimo, the construction of Villa Igiea, a masterpiece of liberty style, the founding of the newspaper “L’Ora” and the construction of the shipyard of Palermo .
His political and entrepreneurial goal was to “Europeanize” Palermo and Sicily, attracting capital and foreign investment to the island, weaving a network of influential and powerful relationships and friendships: his dream was to modernize Sicily. Florio Jr. was one of the promoters of the “National Exhibition” in Palermo (1891) that was supposed to show to everyone a picture of modern and hardworking Sicily. In those years, Palermo was really a European capital: enriched with a large number of villas and Art Nouveau buildings, a flourishing of the arts and music that had found its temple in the monumental Teatro Massimo
In the early twentieth century, when the Italian government began cutting agreements with the Florio shipping company, focusing on the port of Genoa, Ignazio, in an effort to modernize and expand the shipyards of Palermo, considered dilapidated and inadequate, embarked in a work of great dimensions which eroded the whole of Florio’s capital ending with the absorption of all Florio’s activities and shares of the Societa’ Italiana di Navigazione by the Banca Commerciale Italiana. One by one the bank closed all the activities of Casa Florio, including the tuna traps of Favignana and the Marsala factories.
Ignazio tried to react by creating fish traps and plantations of bananas in the Canary islands, and by founding a new fleet, but at the first difficulty, the last financial capital was absorbed by the Banks. Economic instability was joined by the death of three of his children. In the end, the family jewelry was sold at auction and the furniture and properties of Casa Florio went to public auction to pay off debts. It was the end of Florio’s dreams.
Like its sister Giulia, Florio Jr. proved his philanthropic inclination on several occasions, as when he personally went to help the inhabitants of Messina after the tragic earthquake of 1908. He filled up his yacht, Sultana, with medicines, clothes and food and sailed to Messina where he joined the volunteers trying to rescue people buried under fallen buildings.
1. Wikipedia, https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignazio_Florio_jr
2. Ignazio Florio, tramonto di un impero, La Republica, http://ricerca.repubblica.it/repubblica/archivio/repubblica/2007/09/19/ignazio-florio-tramonto-di-un-impero.html