Newport is a small town in the State of Rhode Island, the smallest state of the United States. The city has been formerly colonized by the English, then the French…The architecture of the cuttie town has kept a strong colonial DNA. Some aspects of Newport, and its twenty-five thousand inhabitants highly caught my attention. Its strong story, the breathtaking lanscapes… and the huge houses built in the XIXth century: the Mansions. Yes, the Mansions. These used to belong, or still belong, for some of them, to great American families. And by great, I mean wealthy families. Like really wealthy. Some mansions are now, real museums.
My friends and I, visited two mansions: The Breakers and The Marble House. Both belong to the Vanderbilt family. Some of these mansions have more than twenty bathrooms. I know, it can upset you, when you think that your bathroom can hardly accommodate more than one person at a time.
From the first steps in the Breakers, I travel in the world of Gatsby, the Magnificent. I visualize Leonardo, aka Jay Gatsby. He invites me to dance. While dancing this waltz with Jay, I observe the gilding on the walls, the velvet coverings on the furniture, the sculptures, the tapestries, the marble, the huge chandelier that overhang the room. All these elements make me feel dizzy, but as soon as I look in Leonardo’s eyes, I feel appeased. Leonardo is happy in this opulence … I am not. The noble materials do not disturb me, but I prefer them simplier and more refined. Leonardo smiles, but this decoration cannibalizes both his hold-on-me and my energy. Sorry Leonardo but between you and my energy … I choose my energy. Jay, or rather Leonardo, feels sad. He stares straight into my eyes. He tries to dissuade me. I look at him in the eyes, I look at the house elements. I explain him that I do not like the waltz anyway, and I wanna bounce on a Mc Miller sound. I run away without a look behind me … Quick! I need to breath. Some fresh air please!
Alright young indigenes. Time to go back to reality now! As we move into the mansions, I discover the pieces, the colors, the history of the family that lived in this house, and I wonder why they need so much material? Why they needed so much rooms? Were they really happy?
The decoration is often inspired by the French or Italian “haut-lieu”architecture of that time (famous Italian or French castles). The first word that comes to my mind to describe this decoration is “BLING” – the colors, the materials … on the floors, the walls, “everywhere”!
A single chandelier of their lobby is probably worth all my family patrimony … over four generations ;-).
In reality, as in fiction with Leo, I need to get out of this house. I am attracted by the outdoor spaces of this house. This beautiful garden overlooks the Cliff Walk. A walk that is worth taking for a spin. You can see the ocean and the surfers who come to defy the waves. The walk is very peaceful and offers an absolutely beautiful scene. One can also see the “Forty steps“, built by David Priestly Hall in 1830, so that his children can have direct access to the ocean. These stairs used to be the place for the employees and servants of the mansions, to party. It has become later a popular place in town.
The Marble House, as the name suggests, is made of marble. I liked the bathrooms as these rooms were the most refined to me, and the baths were huge. I easily imagined myself having a flower- of-rose flavored bath, with a cup of Ruinart, watching an episode of Narcos. The kitchens were interesting too. The height of the sinks were quite surprising. I realized how small people were .
Owww there was also that room. On the ground floor of the Marble House, a room is entirely made of red marble from Algeria. In 2016, I struggle to bring back olive oil from Tunisia. The Vanderbilt, at that time, imported hundreds of kilos of red marble from Algeria. Just like that.
If you have the chance to go to Newport, I strongly recommend you to visit the Touro Synagogue. It is the oldest synagogue in the United States. It was founded in 1763. It is named after Isaak Touro, the hazzan at the Touro Synagogue, a Portuguese Sephardic congregation in Newport.
This synagogue was built by the English architect Peter Harrison. Its foundation is made of bricks imported from England. The building faces East towards Jerusalem. The interior of the synagogue is of a beautiful classical colonial style. I absolutely loved it. We were very warmly received with my friends by a one member of the congregation, who generously gave us plenty of information about the place.
Well If you go to Newport, you can surf, but you can also visit all the places mentioned in my article. I’m sure you will like it, at least, as much as I did. I loved discovering all these monuments and these stories. It inspired me so many things (like a romance with Leonardo for example!)
More seriously, I loved that the major historical events are still noticeable in the town. I wish you appreciate this article and the town if you visit it!