ITALY, Sep. 2008

Photos © Ruud Leeuw

In September we drove down to Italy and visited some cities in this beautiful country.
After visits to Bologna, Perugia and Siena (Sienna) we arrived at Firenze.

Click on the thumbnail images to view a larger image



I had made no advance arrangements for a hotel and by driving around we ended up at the Hotel Royal. Inside it looked like a stately home, the hotelroom was large and the breakfast buffet was excellent. The location on the Via delle Ruote 50-54 made for a bit of a walk to the center of town but not too far.


Walking down the Via delle Ruote and the Via San Gallo, we came to the Piazza del Mercato Centrale, where the first thing we bought were umbrellas since the weather had changed to an almost constant drizzle..

Mercato Centrale, or central market, has a variety of stalls which offer a variety of products. Since the stalls also offered a shelter from the rain, we had a long close look at what was on offer.

A distinctive feature of Florence's skyline is the dome of the cathedral (Duomo), Santa Maria del Fiore.
It is located due north of the Piazza della Signoria and was begun by the sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296. Numerous local artists continued to work on it during the following century and a half.

The 3 huge bronze doors date from 1899 to 1903. They are adorned with scenes from the life of the Madonna. .


We did not go inside as we could not stomach the crowds, there seemed no end to them.


I forgot where this was. We walked and walked, so much to see..


Florence (Italian: Firenze, Old Italian: Fiorenza, Latin: Florentia) is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany, and of the province of Florence.
The city lies on the Arno River and is known for its history and its importance in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance, especially for its art and architecture. A centre of medieval European trade and finance, the city is often considered the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance; in fact, it has been called the Athens of the Middle Ages. It was long under the de facto rule of the Medici family. From 1865 to 1870 the city was also the capital of the Kingdom of Italy.
The historic centre of Florence continues to attract millions of tourists each year and was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1982.

Florence was originally established by Julius Caesar in 59 BC as a settlement for his veteran soldiers. It was named Florentia ('Flourishing') and built in the style of an army camp with the main streets, the cardo and the decumanus, intersecting at the present Piazza della Repubblica.
Of a population estimated at 80,000 before the Black Death of 1348, about 25,000 are said to have been supported by the city's wool industry: in 1345 Florence was the scene of an attempted strike by wool combers (ciompi), who in 1378 rose up in a brief revolt against oligarchic rule in the Revolt of the Ciompi.
After their suppression, Florence came under the sway (1382-1434) of the Albizzi family, bitter rivals of the Medici. Cosimo de' Medici was the first Medici family member to essentially control the city from behind the scenes. Although the city was technically a democracy of sorts, his power came from a vast patronage network along with his alliance to the new immigrants, the gente nuova. The fact that the Medici were bankers to the Pope also contributed to their rise. Cosimo was succeeded by his son Piero, who was shortly thereafter succeeded by Cosimo's grandson, Lorenzo in 1469.

Lorenzo was a great patron of the arts, commissioning works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli. Lorenzo was also an accomplished musician and brought some of the most famous composers and singers of the day to Florence, including Alexander Agricola, Johannes Ghiselin, and Heinrich Isaac. By contemporary Florentines (and since), he was known as "Lorenzo the Magnificent" (Lorenzo il Magnifico).

The extinction of the Medici line and the accession in 1737 of Francis Stephen, duke of Lorraine and husband of Maria Theresa of Austria, led to Tuscany's temporary inclusion in the territories of the Austrian crown. It became a secundogeniture of the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty, who were deposed for the Bourbon-Parma in 1801 (themselves deposed in 1807), restored at the Congress of Vienna; Tuscany became a province of the United Kingdom of Italy in 1861.


We had a very interesting and enjoyable visit to the 'Palazzo Medici-Riccardi'.
The Medici family was a powerful and influential Florentine family from the 13th to 17th century.
The family produced three popes (Leo X, Clement VII, and Leo XI), numerous rulers of Florence (notably Lorenzo the Magnificent, patron of some of the most famous works of Renaissance art), and later members of the French and English royalty.
Like other Signorie families they dominated their city's government. They were able to bring Florence under their family's power, allowing for an environment where art and humanism could flourish. They led the birth of the Italian Renaissance along with the other great signore families of Italy like the Visconti and Sforza families of Milan, the Este of Ferrara, the Gonzaga of Mantua, and others.

Of the splendour inside I particularly liked the paintings on the ceilings.

The booklet 'The Medici' (subtitle Story of a European Dynasty) by Franco Cesati, for sale in the shop, is certainly recommended reading.



Chiesa di San Margherita-Detta, also known as Chiesa di Dante... Dante's Church

Detail inside the church, depicting the entrance centuries ago.



More about Dante Alighieri




Piazza della Signoria is an L-shaped square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy. It was named after the Palazzo della Signoria, also called Palazzo Vecchio.
It is the focal point of the origin and of the history of the Florentine Republic and still maintains its reputation as the political hub of the city. It is the meeting place of Florentines as well as the numerous tourists.
Piazza della Signoria certainly has tales to tell.. Girolamo Savonarola plays a bizar role in one.

Girolamo Savonarola (September 21, 1452 – May 23, 1498), was an Italian Dominican priest and leader of Florence from 1494 until his execution in 1498.
Savonarola was born in Ferrara; he initially studied at the University of Ferrara, where he appears to have taken an advanced Arts degree. His stance against morally corrupt clergy was initially manifested in his poem on the destruction of the world entitled 'De Ruina Mundi' (On the Downfall of the World), written at the age of 20.
Savonarola became a Dominican friar in 1475 and entered the convent of San Domenico in Bologna. He immersed himself in theological study and in 1479 transferred to the convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli. In 1482 the Order dispatched him to Florence, the 'city of his destiny'...
Savonarola was lambasted for being ungainly, as well as being a poor orator. He made no impression on Florence in the 1480s, and his departure in 1487 went unnoticed.
Savonarola returned to Florence in 1490, he began to preach passionately about the Last Days.
Lorenzo de Medici, the previous ruler of Florence and patron of many Renaissance artists, was also a former patron of Savonarola. Eventually, Lorenzo and his son Piero de Medici became targets of Savonarola’s preaching.
After Charles VIII of France invaded Florence in 1494, the ruling Medici were overthrown and Savonarola emerged as the new leader of the city, combining in himself the role of secular leader and priest.
In 1497, he and his followers carried out the Bonfire of the Vanities. They sent boys from door to door collecting items associated with moral laxity: mirrors, cosmetics, lewd pictures, pagan books, immoral sculptures, gaming tables, chess pieces, lutes and other musical instruments, fine dresses, women’s hats, and the works of immoral and ancient poets, and burnt them all in a large pile in the Piazza della Signoria!
Florence soon became tired of Savonarola because of the city’s continual political and economic miseries, where God did not seem to intervene to come to the city's aid, and the Last Days did not seem to arrive...
During his Ascension Day sermon on May 4, 1497, bands of youths rioted, and the riot became a revolt: dancing and singing taverns reopened, and men again dared to gamble publicly.
On May 13, 1497, the rigorous Father Savonarola was excommunicated by Pope Alexander VI, and in 1498, Alexander demanded his arrest and execution. On April 8, a crowd attacked the Convent of San Marco; a bloody struggle ensued, during which several of Savonarola’s guards and religious supporters were killed: he surrendered along with Fra Domenico da Pescia and Fra Silvestro, his two closest associates.
During the next few weeks all three were tortured on the rack. All three signed confessions; the torturers spared only Savonarola’s right arm, in order that he might be able to sign his confession.
On the day of his execution he was taken out to the Piazza della Signoria along with Fra Silvestro and Fra Domenico da Pescia. The three were ritually stripped of their clerical vestments, degraded as 'heretics and schismatics', and given over to the secular authorities to be burned. The three were hanged in chains from a single cross; an enormous fire was lit beneath them; they were thereby executed in the same place where the "Bonfire of the Vanities" had been lit...


From the square we walked past the Uffizi gallery, in the direction of the river Arno. History left and right..


Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio, charming even in this kind of weather.


We visited the Palazzo Pitti; of this visit I have mixed emotions.
One has to buy ticket in a little seperate, crowded building; there are 3 or 4 options for a visit. Ideally I would say to put up a credit card machine for the tickets but instead there were only 2 ticket booths and while the tickets are not cheap, one cannot buy them with a credit card.. All this is stupid and inefficient, and I hate that.
When one walks back to the entrance visible in the photo, the ticket is checked and the bags have to go through an x-ray machine. I don't mind. I do mind when I am not allowed to take my small camerabag in, even after being checked, but have to give it up in safekeeping. There was no warning whatsoever when I bought the tickets. This really riled me.
What is on display is impressive, but also over the top. One cannot but feel that extravagant riches have been collected at the cost of ordinary people. But at a time when bank directors take millions in grants while the bank itself and savings of millions of people face oblivion, I see that greed has always been among us.
Anyway, I thought it only fair to ignore the photography prohibition in this palace and in spite of the spying eyes of the wardens I managed to snap a series of photos to illustrate the gold and glitter here.

An illustration here.


The ceilings are richly decorated


Best to take a look outside every now and then, to get the gold out of your eyes...

The Palazzo Pitti, in English sometimes called the Pitti Palace, is a vast mainly Renaissance palace in Florence. It is situated on the south side of the River Arno, a short distance from the Ponte Vecchio.
The core of the present palazzo dates from 1458 and was originally the town residence of Luca Pitti, an ambitious Florentine banker.
The palace was bought by the Medici family in 1539 and became the chief residence of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It grew as a great treasure house as later generations amassed paintings, plate, jewellery and luxurious possessions.


Note the portrait of the Queen of England, Elizabeth I, in the center of the photo.


I am not entirely sure, but I think this is a portrait of Cosimo I de'Medici. The story of this family reads like a novel (one of the 'truth-is-stranger-than-fiction variety'..).


crowds on Ponte Vecchio
Outside, we had to face the crowds again. But through all ages things here haven't been much different in Firenze and on this spot on the Ponte Vecchio crowds have always pushed themselves past the sellers, bargaining for a good deal..

We had enjoyed a good deal on history and after 2 nights in the 'cradle of the Renaissance' we moved on..



Zona Traffico Limitato
Zona Traffico Limitato: beware of this one!
In an increasing number of Italian cities there is this limited access, only for pass holders, and fines are hefty (over 100 euros). Pass this sign without a permit and you will have you licence plates photographed and will see a fine issued months after the event. These restricties can be for a certain set of hours, such as on this sign but without the hours it is valid for 24 / 7.
Driving around for a place to park the car in an unknown city, trying to get close to the historic center, you well may overlook this sign as I did and I got two fines sent from Firenze 5 months after the event!
You may want to double check if the hotel you have booked is in a 'ZTL'.




ITALY 2008