The Feast of St. Francis was just ending the day I arrive in Assisi. Candlelight processions and merrymaking brought many pilgrims from far and near to take part in the celebration of their most beloved saint. Francis’ basilica flowed with heavenly music as choirs and orchestras let lose their poetic melodies. Souvenir booths lined the streets selling mementos while costumed revelers stroll the piazza in medieval attire. The Feast of St. Francis commemorated the saint’s transition from this life to the afterlife. It is Assisi’s biggest day of the year. Read more
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”
― St. Francis of Assisi
The flood of 1966 in Florence devastated millions of art masterpieces and rare books. The Franciscan Basilica of Santa Croce was one of many buildings left in terrible conditions. Swirling river bottom mud settled inside the church, causing heavy damage to valuable works of art. It took a long time and a lot of effort to remove all of the debris. Because of its geographical location, Florence often flooded, always leaving behind a muddy mess.
Volunteers from around the globe came to clean the city of refuse, mud, and oil. They removed works of art, books and other valuables from flooded rooms. Conservators worked tirelessly to restore these pieces to as close to their original condition as possible. These volunteers became known as Angeli del fango–angels of the mud.
On my first visit to the Basilica of Santa Croce, I passed Cimabue’s Crucifix, painted in 1272. It was heart wrenching to see the degree of water damage that had altered the painting. 60% of its paint was missing. Housed in the refectory of the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Croce, the flood waters had risen to twenty feet, taking most of the paint off of the over 700-year-old Christ figure.
The wooden crucifix absorbed so much water that it expanded by three inches and doubled its weight. It took years for the cross to shrink back down to its original size. I could see spots with sections missing. The wood had cracked, it grew mold, and paint began to flake off even after it was removed from the refectory. Later on, the cracks were filled in with prepared Poplar from the Casentino Forest, where Cimabue obtained the original Poplar. Little restoration which can be seen with the eye has been applied to the Crucifix, and it still bears the effects of water damage.
“What we were doing was dictated by the desire to give back the traces of the history of the past to future generations, so that it could be used for the spiritual growth of people who perhaps had yet to be born….it was the international community that worked to try to save Florence, this unique patrimony that belonged to the whole world.”
Mario Primicerio, Speciale Alluvione
As I continued my walk through the church, I felt a deep respect and appreciation for the many old works of art. They were all beautiful and rich with color, painted by famous art masters of the late medieval and early renaissance. I was touched by how an international community of caring people pitched in together to help in a time of crisis, to save a heritage that is precious to everyone. It can be said that Cimabue’s Crucifix is a part of us all.
People often ask me what my favorite Italian city is. Although I love them all for their unique aspects, I have to say that Florence is the one that completely captures my heart and soul.
Florence has its own vocabulary for the eye. It is a city that the Italians call an insieme, an all-of-it-together kind of place. It is the birthplace of the Renaissance and has the best Renaissance art in Europe. Florence is unbeatable for some of the very finest food, fashion, and street markets. Not to mention unrivaled gelato and superlative people watching.
Shopping is a full-time occupation in Florence. Inside the Mercato Centrale (Central Market) you will find everything imaginable. The huge iron and glass covered building is full of enticing food, colorful produce, generous free samples, pasta-making, eateries, meat counters, and gigantic stacks of pulled pork sold in a bun for a pittance. Rub elbows with the locals and visit this elegant Florentine market. Hours are Mon-Sat 7:00-14:00, closed Sun year around.
Surrounding the Church of San Lorenzo is Florence’s spacious open-air market. Leather is a popular item, from clothing to purses to boots. Here the prices are soft, so you can use your bargaining skills. Located between the Duomo and train station, the hours are daily from 9:00 to 19:00.
There are plenty of these pantomimists around. Actually, they are quite impressive with their ability to stand absolutely still for hours. Kids especially love these guys, and flock around them along with the birds. Occasionally the statue will acknowledge its admirers with a glance and a nod, but don’t count on it.
On the other side of the Arno River and up to the Michelangelo Park viewpoint, the hilly landscape reveals a long portion of the old medieval wall that encompassed the city at one time. Invaders from all directions found it pretty difficult to scale those walls and penetrate into the city. Florence remained fairly well protected throughout its earlier history. The walk up to Michelangelo Park Viewpoint is well worth it, and also provides vast views of Florence, giving opportunities for great photo taking. Nighttime is spellbinding.
Behind Michelangelo Park Viewpoint is this classic 12th century Florentine Romanesque church, stately in its green and white marble facade. One of the oldest churches in town, highlights within the church are the glazed terra-cotta panels on the ceiling by Luca delle Robbia, an exquisite Renaissance chapel, and radiantly preserved frescoes in the upstairs sacristy, showing scenes from the life of St. Benedict (painted 1350 by a follower of Giotto.) I loved these paintings, and spent a lot of time in this room. Behind the building outside is the oldest graveyard I have ever seen. It’s full of life-size statues dancing, crying, sporting wings, little children laughing, and so on. I found it very interesting to walk through, but I don’t recommend a night-time stroll.
Florence is very multi-layered, and although I have seen a lot I know that I’ve barely scratched the surface. There are magnificent churches, museums and other historical venues that are Florence’s landmarks and not to be missed. Florence beacons me to return time and again, with each visit an entirely new adventure.
“And it was this…..that beckons us back: not any particular building or painting or statue or piazza or bridge; not even the whole unrivaled array of works of art. It is the city itself–the city understood as a self; as a whole, a miraculously developed design.”
R.W.B. Lewis “The City of Florence.”
Buried underground and nearly invisible to the eye, the Marchesi Antinori Chianti Classico Cellar just north of Florence is introducing a new wave of architecture by using a design that merges delicately with nature. Every act in the building process of this state-of-the-art winery has considered the surrounding natural environment as a sacred responsibility to nurture and embrace. The results, the accomplishment of an eight year long project, is dynamic. This Hobbit-style complex embraces sustainability and green thinking on a grand scale, making it very unique in a world of mindless progress. Read more
I was captivated ~ the moment my eyes rested on this lovely view of the Oltrarno hillside from Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence. In fact, I loved it so much that I made it the header of my blog, Timeless Italy. The sun was setting over the land with gorgeous pastel colors. At first I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. But then I decided to investigate and learn what lay behind this gorgeous “villa.”
What I did find out is that this is so much more than a villa. It is the Forte Belvedere, the famous fortress built in 1590 to protect the ruling Medici family of Renaissance Florence. But as I continued to research, I discovered so much more.
Shaped like a star, this fortress is equipped with mysterious, medieval passageways. The Medici’s meant business when they had it built. They needed a quick and effective escape from the city that would provide adequate protection from invaders and those who posed a threat to this mega-wealthy banking family.
The drawing below gives some scope of the area and shows the Forte Belvedere in the upper left surrounded by the star-shaped walls. It is positioned at the edge of the Boboli gardens. The Palazzo Medici is at the bottom center.
Michelangelo himself engineered the Forte Belvedere’s strategic location and structure. Surprisingly, the architect who designed the Forte Belvedere, Bernardo Buontalenti, also invented gelato in 1565. A man of all trades! He supposedly gave the recipe and refrigeration techniques to Catherine de’ Medici. Lucky lady, and most likely envied among the ladies of Florence.
Galileo completed some of his important discoveries in astronomy here among stunning views of Florence and the surrounding countryside.
But probably the one event most of us relate to today that recently happened here is the wedding of Kayne and Kim Kardashian. Although the Forte Belvedere is not typically available for weddings, the Kardashian’s were convincing with a 300,000 euro rental fee.
I have not yet hiked up to the Forte Belvedere, but on my next visit to Florence it is a must. I’ve been told by others who have, that the views of the city are magical and even more so when enjoyed with a drink from the bar. There are few crowds here which often makes it a better viewing site than the better known Piazzale Michelangelo.
*Forte Belvedere, Via San Leonardo, 1
Have you been to the Forte Belvedere? If so, please share your thoughts below.