Up until the late eighteenth century, chocolate only existed in liquid form and was drunk exclusively by the aristocracy and the clergy, and only subsequently did this sybaritic delight start to spread to other sectors of society, beginning with the wealthy merchant classes. These were just the years when news began to spread about a small artisan confectionery-maker with the adjacent Teresa Majani shop, named the "Laboratorio delle Cose Dolci" (literally 'Workshop of Sweet Things"), which had been opened right beside the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna in 1796: this would be the seed of a renowned Company and Family of Master Chocolate makers.
Business went so well that in 1830 a property of some 5,000 square metres in the heart of Bologna was purchased, at numbers 5 and 7 of Via de' Carbonesi, extending as far as the corner of Vicolo Santo Spirito: before long Bologna's residents began referring to this address as Palazzo Majani.
The ground floor housed the workshop and the shop with its tea-room, while the Majani family lived on the first floor and the upper floors contained other apartments.
In 1856, when Italy was still divided into various different States and Duchies, Giuseppe Majani travelled to Turin, using a passport issued by the Papal State (now jealously preserved in the company's archives) that permitted him to pass the customs frontiers separating Bologna from the Duchy of Savoy, in order to buy the latest and most technologically advanced machinery for chocolate-making.
Some years later, outside his Bologna premises he proudly displayed a sign proclaiming "STABILIMENTO A VAPORE DI CONFETTURE E CIOCCOLATA" , equivalent to "STEAM-DRIVEN CONFECTIONERY AND CHOCOLATE ESTABLISHMENT". This establishment became a symbol of the Belle Epoque period, a kind of salon where Bologna's social and cultural aristocracies socialised, from Carducci to Marconi and from Eleonora Duse to Arrigo Boito.
In following years it was decorated with lavish furnishings and precious marble, and with glistening crystal which shone all the more dazzlingly thanks to the exceptional illumination provided by the in-house steam engines. This caused a huge astonishment of citizens who had never experienced electric lighting, which only came into general use in the early 1900s.
Before long the Majani company became recognised as one of the finest in Europe in its field, winning prizes and medals on numerous occasions, including the Universal Exhibitions of Paris (1867 and 1878), Vienna (1873) and Milan (1881).
This was the period when Majani products conquered the palates of the sovereigns of the fledgling Kingdom of Italy, beating off competitors from the Savoy family's native Piedmont for the honour of being nominated official suppliers to the Royal Family. Subsequently, in 1878, King Umberto I granted the right to display the royal coat of arms on the facade of the Majani establishment in Bologna, and in 1891 Aldo Majani was awarded the title of Knight of the Order of the Crown of Italy.
In the same period other European royal families were discovering the pleasures of Majani, and in 1885 and 1893 respectively the coats of arms of the Royal Houses of Sermo Sõr Infante Duke of Montpensier and Sermo Sõr Infante Antoine d'Orléans also appeared on the Majani façade.
The original documents attesting to these – and many other – deeds of recognition received in the course of two centuries, represent a source of great pride to the Majani family and are all carefully preserved in company's historical archives.
Francesco Majani (1794-1865), son of the founders Giuseppe Majani and Teresa Menarini, left a long and meticulously detailed dairy of 741 pages with the title "Things that happened in my lifetime". The manuscript, kept in Anna Majani's home, was deemed so historically valuable that in 2003 the Monte di Bologna and Ravenna Foundation sponsored its publication by the Marsilio publishing company. Edited by Professor Angelo Varni, this volume is still available in bookshops.
Art Nouveau was flourishing in the early 1900s, and in 1908 Majani had a splendid new building in this style designed by Augusto Sezanne and built in the highly central Via Indipendenza. Through subsequent decades this was to be a favourite haunt for Bologna's celebrities, in the 1950s would be frequented by artists such as Totò, Wanda Osiris, Renato Rascel and Macario with his Bluebell Girls.
In 1911 Majani crowned its image of prestige and excellence by creating what would become its most renowned product: the Cremino Fiat originally born as a publicity product for the launch of the Fiat Tipo 4 automobile. This Cremino immediately became a resounding success in the learned circles of Bologna's famed university, praised by such luminaries as Guglielmo Marconi, Giosuè Carducci, Professor Augusto Murri and Olindo Guerrini. Even the most renowned intellectual of the day, Gabriele D'Annunzio, was conquered, declaring "Every time I visit Bologna I go to Majani to buy their Fiat chocolates" and in 1919, during his period in Fiume, as described in Piero Chiara's "Life of Gabriele D'Annunzio" (Mondadori 1978 edition, page 337) "He had sent to him, from the "Casetta Rossa" in Venice (his home on the Grand Canal) a shipment of boots, shoes, ten boxes of 'Fiat' chocolates, 500 grams of strychnine, a frock coat lined with astrakhan which was found to be moth-eaten, shirt collars, ties and various uniforms."
The Second World War caused considerable problems for both the Family and the Company: as a consequence it was decided to return the chocolate production to Palazzo Majani in Via de' Carbonesi, which still belonged to the family.
This may not have been the best solution to have adopted, since it cramped company development during the years and in 1976 left the Majani family in a minority position within the company.
In 1985, thanks to the tenacity and skill of Francesco Mezzadri Majani and his mother Anna, a complex financial operation saw the company return once more under the family's total control, and the kind of solid financial position outlined in the initial "Overview" was established.
Currently the firm is based in Crespellano, a few kilometres outside Bologna, in two company-owned buildings covering a total area of some 7,500 square metres. It has remained as one of the very few companies in its field that still starts its chocolate-making process from the raw cacao seed.
Today the shop run by Michela Lunardini, wife of Francesco Mezzadri Majani (President and CEO of the Group), still maintains its traditional atmosphere and is a tangible symbol of a company that over the centuries has maintained the extraordinary quality of its products as well as its founding values of professional respectability and sensitivity towards market desires.