French Flowers on Italian Water
The smallest detail can allude to some of the biggest stories and a simple visit home can turn into an all-night Google search.
My sister showed me with great pride one of her more recent purchases. A glass bottle filled with sparkling water. At first, I didn't recognize it as anything special but she was quick to explain.
This was Acqua Panna.
This explanation alone did not suffice. Exhausted by my apparent ignorance of foreign sparkling water she told me this was the water she found all over Italy, and in particular, Florence. She traveled with VoyEdge RX on it's inaugural Northern Italy adventure and had loved it but one of her oddest souvenirs was this love for Acqua Panna.
Knowing my love for design and cultural detail she then began showing me the labeling which clearly celebrates its Florentine heritage but it is also embossed with a printed seal. It's this seal which threw me for a loop. I asked her to confirm this was, in fact, Italian as I stared at a large Fleur-de-lis, the symbol of France and the French monarchy. She said yes and specifically, this symbol was the sign of the Florentine family, the Medicis. The f#cking Medicis, or course.
I didn't know how or why but knowing the Medicis were involved I knew there was a story.
The Medicis were once the wealthiest family in all of Europe. They built their fortune in banking and forged their legacy as major patrons of the Italian Renaissance. They also had a reputation for power through some pretty cunning networking.
By the numbers, this one family produced three Popes, two Queens, two Dukes of Florence and seven Grand Dukes of Tuscany. This was all over a span of just over 200 years, which in the span of history might as well be a week. They were a powerhouse and besides their dollars being behind some of the greatest work ever produced by the likes of Michaelangelo and Da'Vinci, they are still culturally relevant 600 years later. They have their own Netflix show!
So whats the deal with the French icon on this Italian family crest?
Well those two Queens, were actually Queens of France. I thought this might have been the best place to start but Catherine de' Medici married Henry II when she was 14 in 1533 and ruled as Queen from 1547 to 1549. She was the first Medici Queen of France but the Fleur-de-lis first began appearing on the family crest almost a hundred years earlier in 1465 by Louis XI. This is really when the business started to boom for the Medicis. First winning political favor in the early 15th century by introducing a proportional tax system and by 1434 Cosimo the Elder took over as the Gran Maestro, the unofficial head of the Florentine Republic.
Italy was not a unified country at the time. Cosimo the Elder would later become known as the father of the country, but at the time, Italy was broken up into a city-state system. Venice, Milan, Rome (The Papacy), Florence and the Kingdom of Naples were all independent of one another.
And as any European neighbor would be at the time, France was interested in expanding its influence. The Valois kings saw an opportunity in playing the system to win over Italy. Louis XI had already married a member of the Sforza family in 1451 winning over Milan and kicking off an era known in his reign as The Italian Question. It appears the Fleur-de-lis was an offer made by a French Monarch in an effort to win over a young influential family on the rise seeking legitimacy. The little lilly made the young Medici family bonafide and put France in Florence's favor.
In time the Medicis would reach their zenith of power and alter the fleur-de-lis of gold to red. Defining themselves and Florence as independent to France. Now it can be seen all over Florence and all over Italy, including bottles of sparkling water.
It just goes to show you, there's a story behind just about anything and it's wild to think a simple branding decision could be rooted in something 500 years old which would later result in armed invasions.
This is why I love these little cultural nuances. They offer little threads to pull, unraveling stories far beyond bottles on a shelf.
As for the water, it tastes like water.
Interested in going to Northern Italy, yet?
Spots for the trip close March 30th, 2018!