The name game: A noble heritage

2012-09-20 13:45

A famous family name can be a blessing – and for some it’s a responsibility to nurture for generations to come.

Antonia Labia

Count Natale Labia was Italy’s ambassador to South Africa in the 30s when he built a smaller version of the 18th century palazzo of his Venetian ancestors in Muizenberg in Cape Town, overlooking the sea.

He even brought out a decorator from Venice, who covered the ceilings with carved, gilded panels and filled the rooms with ornate furniture, mirrors, chandeliers and fireplaces, creating a palatial little gem on what was then Cape Town’s most fashionable stretch of the coastline, frequented by the rich and the royal.

It’s been 76 years since the count died and now his granddaughter Antonia, with the help of her father, also named Natale, has recreated his vision.

The count married a South African, Ida Robinson, daughter of the mining magnate JB Robinson.

They had two young sons and the count focused his energy on improving the ties between Italy and South Africa.

He introduced a shipping service, encouraged Italians to immigrate here, instituted chairs of Italian at South African universities and promoted trade.

‘I wish I could have met my grandfather,’ says Antonia.

‘I believe he was generous, vivacious and kind, a family man and loving husband. He was also a visionary who saw great potential in South Africa.

I share his passion for both countries. I have visited his family’s palazzo on the Grand Canal in Venice.

It’s one of the most impressive buildings in a very impressive city.’

Now Antonia is reinventing her grandfather’s dream.

Following a two-year restoration, the palazzo has become home to an art gallery, a café-style restaurant and the Casbah boutique, which will open early December.

It’s now called Casa Labia and can also be hired for special events.

‘We have opened this beautiful building for all to enjoy,’ says Antonia, ‘not least because of its significant history, but because it gives visitors a unique cultural experience.

It was not without significant sacrifice and determination on my father’s part that the building is today so well cared for.’

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