Something to be proud of – Palmyra Arch

Palmyra ArchI could not contain my delight on hearing the Arch of Triumph, the copy made  for Palmyra, Syria was on display in Florence for a month. In timing with the first ever G7 Ministers Summit on Culture which Italy promoted on taking over the presidency of the G7.

With the premise “Culture as a tool for dialogue between the people…The international community will thus reaffirm its commitment to recover and preserve the heritage of mankind damaged by natural disasters, hit during conflict and attacked by terrorism and in combating illicit trafficking of cultural property. Among the objectives of the summit is the need for agreement on  a cultural component in peacekeeping missions promoted by the United Nations and to make the summit of Ministers of Culture permanent at the next G7.”

Florence is the perfect setting for such an event and the Palmyra Arch of Triumphhas become a true global symbol of the triumph of cooperation over conflict, optimism over despair and human ingenuity over senseless destruction.”

I am provincial enough to say I am so very Tuscan proud of the Italian capacity to conceive the idea and the craftsmanship that built it….it’s been in their DNA for centuries!

I leave you with more details from my post of 24/4/2016:

As I watched the building of the antique marble arch of Palmyra in Syria I could not be more impressed by Italian creativity and talent in using the most update technology of 3D printers to recreate a work of art destroyed in the civil conflict in Syria. While never to replace the original it is still heartening to see the use of the current technology in recreating such a masterpiece. Congratulations to the company -TorArt- which has succeeded in the project, working together with the Institute of Digital Archeology.
Fascinated as I am by the new technology ( see my previous blog on Makers) I am even more impressed by seeing it used to enormous benefits of us all.

And to think it is on my doorstep, by workers from Fantascritti quarry in Carrara, Tuscany, adds an extra note of pride for their ingenuity and craftsmanship. The arch went on display in Trafalgar Square London 19th April, and will go to New York, Dubai and then home to Syria.

Arch Trafalgar Square

Arch in Trafalgar Square Photo credit Lucy Glasser

Fantascritti quarry museumIt also brought back fond memories of various tours I had taken to the quarry of Fantascritti where a retiree of the quarry –Walter Danesi, had created an outstanding museum dedicated to the difficulties and hardships involved in extracting the most beautiful marble in the world. Marble that has created masterpieces, like Michelangelo’s David and more.

The difficulties can be seen here in the photos from the quarry museum, where many have risked their lives over the centuries and continue to do so. The last unfortunate accident on site was but 10 days ago when two workers were crushed under tons of marble and a third rescued as he remained suspended in the air. Not surprisingly the area of Carrara has been known to be a strong anarchist haunt as Man challenges the elements of Nature and the ongoing pressure of extraction to meet today’s demands.

Walter Danesi always had lots of stories to tell of his time as a quarry worker and gave a warm welcome to my tour groups and my family. He wrote a dedication in his book Walter Danesiwhich I cherish “To lovely Susi, with admiration, Walter Danesi”Walter Danesi book

 

 

 

 

 

 

So if you are ever in the area of Carrara, about an hour from Pisa or Lucca, drive up to the Fantascritti Quarry to see for yourselves the marvel of marble and the incredible effort that has gone into it’s extraction and sculpting. Be warned though, it is still a working Quarry and the truck drivers don’t take kindly to visitors on the long windy road…..understandably!

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Nothing like the Santo Spirito church

Brunelleschi ranted and raved as he led us personally to the Altar in the Santo Spirito church in Florence – just one of the personalities we were to meet from the itinerant Theatre group – La Compagnia delle Seggiole. This genius who had designed the Dome on the Cathedral of Florence some years earlier, was grumbling about how his plans for this church had been modified after his death. He vent his frustration on his local patrons who had not permitted the destruction of the dwellings facing the Arno river, as he had rather boldly designed the church to face the river! While he had begun designs for the project around 1428, work did not commence until 1444 and since he died 2 years after he never saw the completion…..at least not until his return this evening!Santa Spirito church Florence

Monna Giovanna  (the voce of the local people) swept past and told him to stop grumbling as she recounted life in the area amidst  the wool workers and dyers.

I love storytellers and this theatre group has taken me through many monumental buildings in Florence and historical events like the dreadful flood in 1966.

The church is in Oltrano – the opposite side of the Arno river a less touristy area with the most beautiful plain façade (again not how Brunelleschi had planned). The Renaissance elegance so evident inside, and a rather lay back tree lined piazza outside created to eliminate the squalor that surrounded the church in the past. Even today it still has a hangover from its seedy past of drug dealing and alcoholics, replaced now by American students and hip bars and hangouts.

In1980 Mario Mariotti projected hundreds of outlandish slides on the façade, a ‘happening‘ considered advanced for its time and certainly Florentines remained impressed by the display. They were still talking about it in 1985 when I arrived and took me to a café in the piazza where oodles of photos of the slides almost completely covered the walls.

This evening instead was a step into the minds of the great artists of the time. A young Michelangelo appeared praising his recently departed patron Lorenzo the Magnificent for having left him under the protection of the Convent of Santo Spirito. Here he could deepen his studies of anatomy by studying the corpses from the hospital and in thanks he carved the crucifix for the church, at the tender age of 18.

 

Florence Santa Spirito church

An entertaining experience as we wandered through the Cloisters of the Dead, accompanied by Giuliano da Sangallo, the architect of the octagonal Sacristy  which houses Michelangelo’s crucifix. A stop to admire the frescoes of the refectory and later welcomed into the Vestibule by an Augustinian monk with more stories to tell.Frescoe in Refectory

 

 

 

Then it was time to say goodnight to our illustrious  company and Monna Giovanna was quick to remind us that she will be taking us through the Museum of the Innocents as “Una Donna Innocente” next month!Theatre performers

 

 

 

 

 

 

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50 years on – Florence flood

On the 4th Nov, Florence called for the Mud Angels of the tragic flood of 1966  to return to Florence to participate in the Anniversary commemorations. The most dramatic flood to hit Italy since 1557 with flood levels reaching 5m high. Level signs along many streets and above shop windows remind us of the drama.

A flood that no one had expected or could imagine. Santa Croce was the worst hit area and the wooden crucifix by Cimabue (c1265), while restored, still bears massive scars from the flood.

A symbol of the 50th anniversary was the restoration of another masterpiece – Last Supper by Giorgio Vasari ( 1546) only just finished in time for the local and overseas visitors to admire. Paula Deitz, now an Editor of an Arts Journal, and curiously in Florence at the time of the flood, gives details of her experience and the restoration process here.

35 people died, 17 in Florence, 18 in Province, 70 horses at the race course and a favoured dromedary from the local zoo. Around 5,000 people remained homeless and  6,000 business were damaged. Prisoners in the city prison were released and housed by locals in upper floors of buildings, most of whom returned on their own volition to local authorities after the flood subsided!

Florence was without electricity, telephones went down and the city remained isolated for 3 days. Florentines had to rely on each other for assistance and passed requests along by shouting from window to window  ” in via di Fico” all the way to the Town Hall for the Mayor to respond back, ” Received Palazzo Vecchio, Over ”  Emergency supplies and teams gathered in the Soccer stadium and with whatever means – rubber dinghies, fishing waders, shutters laced together with paddles, brought basic supplies to those afflicted. For months after the city was nothing but slime and sludge with a disgusting smell of naphtha and sewage.

It mobilized the biggest international volunteer movement to save the city and its artistic heritage. Mud Angels, poured in from everywhere, personalities, clergy, art lovers and thousands of young students from the rest of Europe came to clean up the sludge from books and documents, and move artworks to safer abodes. It became a catalyst for new techniques in restoration, of which Florence is now famous.

Theatre performance on Florence Flood

‘Sotto una Gran Piova d’Acqua” Theatre

I relived the experience of the flood at a performance by an Itinerant theatre group – Teatro delle Seggiole who read from 3 diaries of the period: the Mayor of Florence, Piero Bargellini; a 16yr old lad; and the Director of a national newspaper, Enrico Matteo. It was a gripping account of the reality faced by Florentines before the arrival of outside assistance.

An excerpt:

The Lad looks on from his window:  “4.30am a crash. The course of the Arno, shortly after is in Piazza Mentana , curves right and rushes under the Ponte Vecchio. The lights of the Old Bridge are low. The current and its overflow has dragged tree trunks and rubbish which transforms the bridge into a dam. The violent water finds vent on the right, causing the collapse of the parapet and the road. Now the furious Arno pours throughout our part of town.”

The Mayor announces to his city by radio. “At this time I have been informed of the sad news that the Arno water has arrived in Piazza del Duomo. In some areas the flood reaches the first floor. And it is that area that needs our most urgent help. I invite everyone to stay calm and minimize your circulation. Any owners of rubber boats and amphibious vehicles, even in plastic, please make your way to the Palazzo Vecchio, to assist with immediate sanitary, food and rescue relief ”. In the days following he continued to protest loudly to the TV and newspapers indicating the gravity of the situation seemingly underestimated, and to the political institutions with a special plea to the Prime Minister to understand the scale of the tragedy “the damage is immense”. 

The Journalist: “On arrival I found along with the Florentines who were not affected – that unforgettable night spent in mournful vigil on the edges of the another city, a city that water had separated from us, mysterious, inaccessible like a world inhabited on another planet, and that touched us with its breath, with  a dank breath – a scene of total despair ”  It was largely due to his reporting of the dramatic tragedy to Rome, together with the Mayor, that forced the mobilization of military and others to the aid of Florence.

Also completed just in time  for the 50th Anniversary was the road alongside the Arno which had collapsed in May due to a burst water pipe,  devouring a number of parked cars in the process!. The worksite was operative 24hrs a day and only asphalted in time for the President of the Republic to walk down it on 4 Nov 2016. The next day following days of rain, the Arno level rose to alarming levels again and equipment from the worksite had to be hurriedly craned up.

Which just goes to show we should never take it for granted, and keep an eye on the Arno and Mother Nature! Having been involved in the Vernazza  flood of 2011, the drama of Florence 1966 seemed even more credible.


 

 

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I did it my Wei and Never Sorry

Florence Palazzo StrozziSome of you may think the title is about me but it is actually taken from Ai Wei Wei’s film called ‘Never Sorry’!

The Wei Wei exhibition ‘Libero’ (Freedom) is in Florence now until the 22 Jan 2017 and I was keen to go early having seen his exhibition in Melbourne in Jan 2016.  There has been quite a lot of comments and some hefty criticisms as the orange rubber dinghies used by refugees, were hung around the majestic Palazzo Strozzi housing the exhibition.

The ‘Huffington Post’  was huffing heaps in an article by Luca Rossi published 5 days before the opening, to give you an idea with an excerpt since the article was in Italian:

‘Ai Weiwei has not done anything politically significant, if not taken advantage of the misfortunes and injustices of the world to increase his fame and the price of his works. Showing the rafts on the facade of the Palazzo Strozzi shows us the refugee problem? As if I did not know that there is a problem, as if the problem did not pass every day on the news. What can an artist do? A lot, but Ai Weiwei does nothing.

If he was born in Viterbo, and  was not “exotic” to the Western world he would not have had the exposure of which he and his gallery owners can enjoy; it is a new form of colonialism, aimed at creating expensive trinkets for the rich to show in some apartment in New York and London. And here are the remains of an earthquake in China in an exhibition in London, and here are the rafts and life jackets hanging of refugees in the city of Berlin and soon (now) in Florence. I would like to see one of those rafts in a living room of Park Avenue.’

wei wei solar cookers

Solar cookers on a wing to freedom

I don’t have the same impression, and believe artworks exist to provoke thought and reflection and as a result, can mean a range of things to different people, and Ai Wei Wei’s exhibits are definitely thought provoking. Many Florentines have never heard of him before so it is a great opportunity for them to discover his works as well as encourage others and tourists from all Italy to visit the exhibition.

 

The impact of the Sichuan earthquake of 2008 which killed roughly 70,000 people is still present with his ‘Snake Bag’ exhibit of 360 kids backpacks sewn together alongside coffins, in memory of over 5,000 children crushed beneath school buildings. In the film ‘Never Sorry’ the list of children’s names, gathered by Wei Wei’s volunteers is papered on the wall of his studio and on the anniversary of this tragic event the public are invited to read a name out loud, continuing the condemnation of the inadequate building materials and structure.

While his career took off after his bird nest stadium for the Chinese Olympics in 2004, Wei Wei has since regretted the building and snubbed the Olympics as being purely party propaganda. Fellow Chinese artists consider him different from those who normally graduate from the Art Academy as he persists with a ‘slap in the face’ style that continues to irritate the Chinese government. His love of his own culture yet his need to break from tradition and conceive images and projects of social significance have set him apart.

wei wei Renaissance men

 

His use of Lego continues in his series on political dissidents, curiously I think taken from Renaissance Italy.

The delicate bamboo and silk figures from Chinese culture – the Birdman, Flying Fish and the Great Wind inspired by kites from his childhood adorn another room.

ai wei wei selfies

Wei Wei selfies

The film shows a very personal side – as a great foodie (which shows!), his love of cats, (keeping around 40 cats and dogs at his studio), his playful side as a father, his organisation of craftsmen, artists and volunteers involved in his projects,  and his constant filming. All gave me a clearer picture of where this artist is coming from.

Free speech puzzle

Free speech puzzle

 

His brand of liberal thinking and use of social media will continue to raise criticisms both inside and out of China and while Wei Wei may be more insecure than what he appears he sure knows what he wants to say with his Art. Wei wei leg gun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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Summer in full spin – Florence

And Summer is in full spin in Florence as around 500 cyclists braved the 30+degree heat to do a marathon cycle in one of the most panoramic piazzas of Florence – Piazzale Michelangelo.

 

Michelangelo’s David was aghast and had to turn away before he fainted, while us lazy onlookers enjoyed the tension, the rousing cries, and the stamina of the cyclists pounding away to the beat of the music. What a way to go!

Florence Merry-go-round

 

For the families there’s the classic Merry-Go-Round in Piazza della Repubblica that never seems to go out of fashion. And the wonderful bubble maker who delights the kids from the world over.

Florence rickshaw

To take you on a tour around town is Matteo ( and others) with his electric rickshaw from Velotours, for a quick jaunt of 20mins or a full immersion in the labyrinth of Florence while hearing its history and legends.

Past popular pork snack bars, now an all time favourite for tourists in Via dei Neri – All’ Antica Vinaio or La Prosciutteria, although I cannot understand why one would queue for a sandwich and wine to eat sitting on the pavement! Or rest tired feet under one of Florence’s most dramatic statues – Perseus while listening to a sentimental busker.

Then as dusk falls look for a place to have an aperitif – a spritz is still the most popular cocktail, although on a hot Summer day a chilled beer or wine goes down well too.

Florence Reale Cafe

Florence boasts new bars this season, one of which is right next to the train station and looking very snazzy. – Reale Firenze. I understand it’s run by the promoters of the Central Market food mall and soft music wafts across the fountains as the sun goes down.

A contrast along the Arno river is the Wood bar with recycled warehouse crates and benches, and the music is lively.

And nearby, still on the river, is the open air dance venue of Summer Suites, so if you are around on Tuesdays that’s salsa night! Free dance workshops and it rocks on until dawn.

And while some clubs are new, some things never change – like the Red Garter club, which has been the haunt of American students ever since I came to Florence 30 years ago and is still going strong by the looks of the crowd spilling out onto the street. I have to admit I have never been inside as under 21yrs pour down alcohol like water enjoying the freedom of Italian regulations….not like back home!Florence Re Garter clubHowever if you’re after some peace and quite, head for the hills outside Florence as it’s been shooting Summer moonstar time, and quite dreamy waiting to make a wish on the forever elusive meteoroid burning up on it’s way to earth!

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Changing Faces of David

Black David statueA black statue of Michelangelo’s David lay in the main square in Florence, as in mourning, “a symbol of the pain and suffering of mankind today. A world that is prey to blind hatred and madness.” The Mayor of Florence dedicated the statue to the victims of Nice as while the life size replica of David had been planned months earlier its unveiling during the Michelangelo week coincided with the tragic terror attack in Nice.

It would be one of the rare occasions that tourists could lie in the arms of David, a rather odd pose for such a famous work of art, created yet again by the skilled workers from the Carrara marble area.Black David statue

It brought to mind the many faces of David that we are exposed to, apart from the obvious masterpiece in the Accademia.

In the panoramic square overlooking the city – Piazzale Michelangelo, an elegant bronze copy of David adorns the square keeping a watchful eye on the city and the hoards of tourists at his feet.

I must add that one of my historian guides did suggest that she considered the copy a poor one as she felt David had a ‘floppy’ bottom….which I leave you to judge for yourselves!

Florence CathedralThe original David was commissioned to demonstrate the virtues of a good government, forever victorious against the enemy, represented by the biblical figure of David who killed Goliath with a stone from his slingshot. Many of you may not know that it was originally to be placed on a side chapel of the Cathedral hence the slightly oversized head and hands to cater for viewing from below. However on seeing the finished statue it was agreed that it was too beautiful to be placed so high up and better placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio ( the Town Hall) as the defender of civil liberties and a warning against intruders.

It was only moved to the Accademia in 1874 after being damaged more than once in the public square, and it remains there today continuing to awe its viewers.

Curiously David was carved from a block of marble previously abandoned by another sculptor who considered it of poor quality, while Leonardo da Vinci contested Michelangelo for use of the same block. Legend has it when the Minister Soderini who had ordered the purchase came to inspect it, he criticised the big nose, so Michelangelo pretended to chisel away at the nose letting some marble dust fall to keep the Minister happy. Other more modern criticisms I have heard from many unabashed tourist who asks – Why do these sculptures always have small penises? “…small penises were more culturally valued… large penises were associated with very specific characteristics: foolishness, lust and ugliness ” For those interested in the full article click here.

And so this magnificent sculpture, probably the most famous in the world is also used and abused:

In an anti junk food campaign – Mivchelangelo's David

before and after Big Macs!

Or in trashy souvenirs –

aprons, magnets, statuettes

that abound in Florence,

and not so trashy magnets, that animate my fridge!

Still Michelangelo’s David survives it all and in his serene beauty remains the most spectacular sculpture in history and we are forever blessed with his presence here in Florence.

Davide Michelangelo


 

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Bridge of love – Florence

 

Florence Bridge preparation

Bridge of Love in preparation

A mix of luxury and love has created the new Bridge of Love installation over the Arno River in Florence. Designed by Florentine  Claudio Nardi Architectssymbolizing the desire to give hope to people living in severe hardship. The work stands as an element of public awareness on the refugee crisis and is part of the program of events of World Refugee Day 2016.’Un Donation scheme

 

Promoted by  Luisa Via Roma fashion designer to coincide with the Pitti Uomo fashion week it has easily enticed International VIP’s and jetsetters to participate in a rather expensive Gala evening at €1000 donation per head for an Invite, followed by an  encouragement to contribute on a regular basis to the United Nations Refugee Scheme.Bridge of Love evening

 

 

‘Beauty that is ethereal but yet tangible, emotional and habitable, both to one’s body and one’s sight. White clouds lying down on the water surface, traversed by mist and profume, by the light from the very sunrise till sunset, by breeze and by sound’.(Claudio Nardi Architects)

 

Just stunning the way Italians can make tent-like constructions on plastic rafters sound so amazingly stylish and elegant!?

Bridge of Love

 

Bridge of love Design

Project design:credit Claudio Nardi Architects

The opulent Gala evening of dining and ‘Underwater love’ entertainment will leave these white clouds then open to the public for the exhibition on the ‘interpretation of water as a symbol of destruction and renewal, hope and solidarity”.

The Bridge seen during the day appears less ethereal and romantic but as the sun sets it takes on a rather heavenly appearance afloat in the midst of a glittering Arno. And while the Gala evening oozed wealth and frivolity, some of that was gleaned off to help Refugees, so in the end it has been worthwhile. Besides local Florentines always protest fiercely when the Council rents out their public monuments – ie. Ponte Vecchio,  Ponte Santa Trinita, Uffizi, Boboli Gardens for such events,  so creating a new Bridge was a better alternative.Bridge in Evening

Florence San Niccolò towerIt’s in a favourite area of mine, near Clet’s studio and just below the Piazzale Michelango at the  San Niccolò tower. One bridge down from the Ponte Vecchio.Florence Arno river

 

And while the Arno River may appear innocuous today it certainly raged out of control on the 4th November 1966, engulfing Florence. So the Bridge of Love exhibition also incorporates the memories of the flood 50 years ago.

Florence water level 1966

 


 

 

 

 

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Tuscany’s own Arabian Nights

Sammezzano Castle

Photo credit – Stefano Berti

“Nothing is More Beautiful” is the motto inscribed in the stunning oriental decorations found in the exotic Sammezzano Castle only 30kms from Florence and just a hop skip and jump from my place. Perched high among its secular tree park and oblivious to the thousands of tourists that visit The Mall shopping outlet below, it is something of a tragic icon.

The inspiration of the Marchese – Ferdinand Panciatichi Ximenes of Aragon who transformed and extended the existing building in 1843-1889 into the Oriental paradise that we know today. An architect, engineer, artisan, disillusioned politician, a visionary and lover of Art and History,  a man who donated significantly to our famous Art Galleries – Uffizi, Accademia, Bargello – financing the 18 statues in the niches of the courtyard of Uffizi, yet would die alone in serious debt over the Sammezzano Castle project.

A step inside and the explosion of colours takes your breath away, it’s truly amazing, overwhelmingly exotic, bizarre, beautiful beyond words! Like walking into a film set of ‘Arabian nights’ , each room unique and enchantingly named – Room of Stars, Lovers Room, Room of Butterflies, Lily Room, and the famous Peacock room and more….

All Photo credits to Save Sammezzano members

Castle Sammezzano rooms

Despite the obvious Arab Spanish influence Ferdinando Panciatichi had never been to Spain, Egypt or Turkey and the workers on site were all local Italians even less likely to have ever travelled outside of the country. Yet the decorations reflect his passion for the mysterious and rather outlandish styles (for the period) and his vision of creating something entirely different.Room of ButterfliesSammezzano decorations

 

 

 

 

Peacock Room

Peacock room

 

 

 

 

 

Every decoration, from floor to ceiling done to exquisite perfection and each room designed to utilise the sunlight to reflect on the elaborate patterns and mirror fragments for illumination.

 

Sammezzano hallwaySammezzano castle decorations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The  eccentricity of Ferdinando Panciatichi is shown in many of the Latin inscriptions incorporated in the decorations, one in particular showing his disillusionment with politics and on his resignation in 1870 inscribed- ‘Italy is in the hands of thieves, tax collectors, prostitutes and middlemen who control it and devour it. But not for this I grieve, but for the fact that we deserve them.’ !

After his death the Sammezzano Castle was kept in the family until the 1970’s when it was bought by the Palmerston Hotel group and converted into a luxury Hotel which remained in operation until 1990. It was during this period that I was fortunate to make a visit with my parents on the pretext we were interested in making a booking!

In the 1990’s the Castle was bought by an Italo-English Company – Castle Sammezzano SRL – who initially intended to expand the complex with a golf course, pool and tennis courts as the Castle is surrounded by around 250 acres of parkland, 100 acres of which are woodlands with secular native and foreign trees personally selected by Ferdinando.

Sammezzano damage

Graffiti scawled across the decorations

But the project was put aside and the company has done nothing to the site since they bought it. So the Castle is in a state of abandonment, left open to vandals who have defaced some of the decorations and stolen various pieces of furniture and statues. In 2015 the company agreed to place the Castle up for auction but there were no buyers. At a hefty cost of €15 million plus the cost of renovations that would be required it is not that enticing, nor do the present owners feel any responsibility to preserve what is a truly exceptional building and parkland.

Two voluntary associations –  Comitato FPXA and Save Sammezzano have been created to take up the cause, putting pressure on the Government to buy the building (but they declined), and even tried via a crowdfunding project to raise money for its protection and upkeep but were unsuccessful. On occasions the Comitato has been allowed to take visitors through.

A beautiful video on the Castle on the Castle was created by Francesco Esposito for the  Kickstarter project.

Sammezzano lionThe two histrionic lion statues that guarded the façade have been stolen, the last one only recently on1st  April 2016. The only recompense for their disappearance will be the curse that is said to now go onto the thieves – who will die a long slow death by paralysis as did the owner of the house – Ferdinando Panciatichi of Aragon

My only hope is that the curse may extend to it’s current owners, for allowing such a unique masterpiece of Florence go to ruin!Google map

If anyone is interested the next auction is on the 24th May, 2016 so start saving!!!

 


 

 

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Some things never change in Florence

Dante Alighieri I have been doing a course on the history of Florence during the time of Dante (1265-1321) and Boccaccio (1313-1375) and found they were surprisingly modern…or we are still incredibly medieval!!  The more I learn of Florentine history the better I understand  the power and beauty of this magnificent city along with its lurks and perks!

A peek behind the scenes reveals that Florence was a significant economic influence in Europe, minting the first gold florins, being  bankers to the great monarchies and Popes, and creators of the modern day cheque. It was the 4th largest city of Europe after Paris, Milan and Venice with a population of around 100,000, due to the constant migration from the countryside and nearby cities. A population that had doubled  in size creating new social, political and economic issues which had to be addressed. However city dwellers did not look favourably on the influx of these ‘outsiders’, a mix of noble families, ‘snobs’ seeking to consolidate their wealth and power, together with workers required for the new industries and continuing construction. In fact some of the most important buildings of Florence were begun in this period – Palazzo Vecchio, the Cathedral, Giotto’s bell tower, Bargello Museum, Palazzo Spini- Ferroni (home to Ferragamo) although many were not completed until centuries later.

With the minting of the gold florin came a complex tax system collecting 300,000 florins per year most of which (200,000!) was spent on military expenses – mercenaries, arms etc. Being a major commercial city the main Council income came from the tax on goods entering and leaving the city, like an early VAT tax, and the management for the collection of this tax was given to merchants, who stood at the doors of the city – a type of medieval outsourcing.

Florence Wine door

Wine window, Via delle Belle Donne

The second highest tax revenue came from the sale of wine to the public, with a hefty 30% tax on each glass sold! On average 1 litre of wine was  consumed each day and the city had numerous taverns. Aside from the taverns many noble families with country estates sold glasses and flasks from small wine windows in the wall of their Palazzi. “This cellar remains open for sales from Nov 1 until all of April from 6am – 2pm and 5-8pm From May 1 through all of Oct from 8am -3pm and from 6-9pm. On holidays it remains open for sales until 3pm”

Salt and Tobacco signThe salt tax was the third highest revenue and a public monopoly which continued until the 1970’s as can still be seen in the black or blue ‘T’ signs outside todays Tabacchi stores.

But when the city tried to introduce a tax on property there was a general revolt by citizens, so it was only imposed on country estates. Curious that this has been an election issue for political parties over the past 20 years and even our current Prime Minister Renzi has abolished it again on first homes!

Solicitors sanctioned all contracts, and everything was so well documented that it was common practice to declare less than the actual value, and families avoided the tax on public land by building extensions to their homes only from the first story up. So tax evasion, endless  paperwork and bureaucracy are nothing new!

Women were expected to dress in a sober fashion with little or no jewellery and could be fined for boasting their newly acquired wealth by a specific officer assigned to controlPalazzo Vecchio Florence their attire. The list of officials was endless and the system of governors complex, who while elected were oligarchic in nature, and to avoid being bribed or corrupted remained locked inside the Palazzo Vecchio for their entire term of 2 months!

 

Bargello Museum

Palazzo di Podesta (foreign officials)

 

 

 

After the military expenses, the revenue was spent on “foreign officials or magistrates and their entourage”  who managed the city’s affairs and were employed from outside the city to ensure their impartiality.

Each citizen was required to will a small sum of their estate to the building of the Cathedral and maintenance of the city’s walls. While maintenance of the city’s bridges, roads and public buildings appears to have been very low on the Council’s list of priorities.

700 florins were given each year in alms for the maintenance of the hospital Santa Maria Nuova which remains in operation to this day.

Via dei LeoniAnd 500 florins for the upkeep of the 24 lions kept in cages behind the Palazzo Vecchio. Florence, street of lionsYou may stroll along the street bearing witness to the fact.Marzocco lion

 

 

 

 

Many Marzocco lions can be found around Florence as a symbol of the free Republic of Florence of this time.

As a multinational style of society Florence suffered its own Global Financial Crisis when the influential bankers like Frescobaldi, Bardi, and Peruzzi families loaned too extravagantly to the Kings of England who were unable to repay their debts and the word soon spread to creditors who came knocking on their doors. The English barons revolted thus taking the banking power away from these ‘foreigners’.

So much of this explains the snobbery of Florentines, their resilience and their cheekiness of character which I have grown to love.

How much we owe to these medieval ancestors for our current political, economic and social system….both for better and worse!

 

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Happy Festive season

Florence nativity scene

Nativity scene in front of Florence Cathedral

It’s that time of year again and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Wonderful 2016 ahead, full of happiness, good health and new ventures!

I hope it has been a good 2015 for you with lots of travels, stories and good memories to share.

Florence Cathedral

 

Florence is even more beautiful at this time of year and the English magazine ‘The Florentine’ has some interesting Christmas stories and events to tempt  you in case you are in the area.

Florence Baptistery

 

 

 

Christmas reindeer

 

 

 

Florence Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio – Florence

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Il Rinascente

Il Rinascente Department store

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Tree Florence

 

Baptistery Christmas

Baptistery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am off to Oz for a month so will catch up with you all again in February……Ponte Vecchio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

….and leave you with a little Leunig wisdom!

Michael Leunig Christmas

Reproduced with the kind permission of Michael Leunig

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