The Italian Almanac

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portrait of Franca Florio

Sicilian beauty

A turn-of-the-century Sicilian beauty has beaten screen siren Monica Bellucci in a poll of Italian Women Who Made The World Dream. The beguiling Franca Florio, a beacon for the international elite drawn to Palermo in the golden age of the famed Marsala wine dynasty, came out surprisingly high in a poll of 170 lifestyle and glamour gurus in the United States, Britain, France and Germany.

With a 63% 'recognisability' rating, the woman once described as The Star of Italy by Kaiser Wilhelm II and The Unique One by poet Gabriele D'Annunzio came second to movie icon Sophia Loren who scored a massive 95%. Bellucci was third with 61%, ahead of ballet legend Carla Fracci and top model-turned-singer-songwriter Carla Bruni.

Florio, whose famed portrait by Giovanni Boldini became a symbol of the belle epoque era of graceful and sophisticated living before the First World War, was a scion of Palermo's nobility. Her allure helped make the Sicilian capital an unmissable stop on the grandest tours at the beginning of the 20th century and she gave her name to the best Marsala wine. Although the Florios' wine, shipping and financial empire eventually declined and the Marsala plant was sold off, 'Donna Franca' is still the most highly prized type of Marsala.

Academy Award winner Coppola is reportedly thinking of making Florio the subject of a new biographical film, after her unconventional but acclaimed portrait of Marie Antoinette. Sicilians called 'the queen of Sicily', will also star in a four-part TV mini series on the Florios being made by Italian state broadcaster RAI.