Ships for sultans and popes
Lloyd’s ships were highly luxurious from the very start. One need only think of the Mahmudié, launched in Trieste in 1837, whose name paid tribute to the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II. The Oriental-style luxury of her interiors cost the astounding sum of 16,000 florins.
On 15th June 1839 the Seraskier and the Qapu–da–n Pascià of the Ottoman Empire were invited aboard the ship to visit her and report back to the Sultan. The captain Pietro Marassi wrote to Lloyd’s executives that the ship: «immediately made an advantageous and pleasant impression on their spirits, since once they had looked around they both began repeating Giusèt ed In-Alla over and over. They first admired the bridge, and after visiting the cabins and being shown everything, they expressed their surprise. They remained seated for a good three-quarters of an hour in the Ladies’ Quarters, where they were served food and drink. Among the offerings was some champagne, which the Commander-in-Chief turned down: but the Captain suggested an exception would be made since they would be toasting the Sultan’s health, and so he drank, perhaps not for the first time».
Pope Gregory XVI had also heard great things about the Mahmudié, and asked to visit in when she was docked in Ancona in 1841. The Pope was so impressed by the steamship that he allowed for his portrait to be hung onboard, next to the Sultan’s.
Before World War II Lloyd’s ships, with the exception of those transporting settlers to Italy’s African colonies in the second half of the 1930s, were never equipped with the notorious steerage dormitories where immigrants would be packed like sardines, and where the f’c’stle was the only place where the passengers could have some leisure time.
According to an account from the 1920s «between the sporting games on the bridge, the exercises in the gymnastics hall, swimming in the pool, stopping at the flower stand or the art shop, spending half an hour reading in the library, and browsing the newspapers that was printed onboard with news from the two worlds, a visit to the photographers’ studio and a chat about the latest stock news or political speech received by the wireless room, dancing the Charleston at all hours, going to the evening film screening, and attending music auditions, the days would pass by as quick as lightning, interrupted only by the sound of the gong summoning the passengers at meal times.»
The quality of onboard food and drink was one of the main attractions for passengers, and explained in large part the success and failure of a ship and the shipowning company. The introduction of refrigeration (1875) and electricity (1881) aboard ships made it possible to store a larger variety of provisions thus allowing passengers to enjoy a much wider range of meals and keep them safe from food poisoning.
Thanks to the country’s renowned culinary traditions, Italian shipowners immediately grasped the importance of cuisine in driving the choices of potential customers.
As quoted in a brochure from the 1920s «in the luxury class, à la carte and buffet service are available as in just a handful of exceptional hotels. On any given day, a menu offers as many as ten appetisers, six soups and broths, two types of fish, six meat dishes, four vegetables, an assortment of fourteen types of cold meats at the buffet table, four salads, six desserts including ice cream, six cheeses, and the most exquisite Italian and tropical fruit.»