Monthly Archives: January 2009

Dove Vai? – American World War II Cemetery Near Florence

When a visitor tires of the noisy teeming crowds amid the gray stones of Florence, he or she should board the SITA bus or travel by car to the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial, located south on the roads to Siena and Greve. In the green silence, this historic location is a place to learn about the importance of the American sacrifice in World War II and the reason most Italians still hold the U.S. in high esteem, as well as it is a spot to contemplate the beauty of the Tuscan countryside while thinking of its turbulent past.

American Cemetery in the Tuscan Hills
American Cemetery in the Tuscan Hills

Don’t merely stop at the base of the hillside monument in the fragrant rose gardens.  Climb or drive to the very summit to the high stele (pillar) topped by the carving of a woman clutching olive branches while flying on the back of an eagle – a symbol of peace that seems ready to soar over the gravesites. There is a Memorial Center with a multi-denominational chapel with a star-filled ceiling to one side and a map created in stone (pietra dura), showing the progress of the allied troops on the other. In between is the wall of the Missing – those brave pilots and seamen whose final resting place was never found.

A Short History of the Allied Italian Campaign

Following the capture of Rome on 4 June 1944, the Allies pursued the enemy northward toward the Po River and the Alps. On July 23, they entered Pisa. Florence fell to the U.S. Fifth Army on 4 August 1944. But some of the worst fighting was left to come.  The Gothic Line, north of Florence, was the final German defensive effort in Italy.

Map of Allied Troop Movements in Northern Italy
Map of Allied Troop Movements in Northern Italy

In October 1944, a final bid to capture Bologna brought the U.S. Fifth Army to within nine miles of that city. Forced by harsh weather conditions and shortages of personnel and supplies, the advance stalled for the winter, but fighting continued on in the mountains north of Lucca. The segregated African-American troops, known as the Buffalo soldiers, fought valiantly over Christmas 1944 to protect the small hill towns of Sommocolonia and Barga. A fictionalized version of these battles was the subject of the James McBride book and a Spike Lee movie in 2008.

Preceded by massive air and artillery bombardment, the offensive proceeded northward on 9 April 1945. Although the offensive met stiff opposition, Bologna fell to the U.S. Fifth Army on 21 April 1945. With the establishment of a bridgehead across the PoRiver on 23 April 1945, the fleeing forces were pursued rapidly northward. The final week of the war saw wide advances throughout northern Italy. On 2 May 1945, the enemy troops in northern Italy surrendered.

View of the Memorial at the Summit of the Cemetery
View of the Memorial at the Summit of the Cemetery

The Florence American Cemetery and Memorial

The Florence American Cemetery is one of fourteen permanent American World War II military cemetery memorials erected on foreign soil by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

The countryside and small towns around the cemetery were liberated on 3 August 1944 by the South African Sixth Armored Division, and later became part of the zone of the U.S. Fifth Army. The seven-acre site, a gift of the city of Florence, is located astride the Greve River, and is framed by wooded hills.

4,402 servicemen and women are interred in the cemetery. Most died in the fighting which occurred after the capture of Rome in June 1944. Included among them are casualties of the heavy fighting in the Apennines, shortly before the war’s end.

Pure White Marble Gravestones
Pure White Marble Gravestones

In the memorial are many maps of the progress of German occupation of Europe, as well as two maps of the Italian Allied Campaign. The larger of the maps depicts Northern Italy and portrays military operations to the end of the war from the vicinity of the cemetery northward. The military operations as well as the general topography of the area are depicted in a mosaic of colored marbles, known as intarsia, an art form for which Florence is famous. The map is embellished in its upper left-hand corner by twelve shields, each bearing the shoulder insignia of American ground and air units that participated in the fighting in Northern Italy.

The smaller map illustrates the broad outline of military operations that took place in Sicily and then, throughout Italy, beginning in July 1943. The map was executed in scagliola by Emilio Martelli of Florence, a process consisting of drawings in colored artificial compositions that are inlaid in marble and glazed.

The Wall of the Missing behind the Monument to Peace
The Wall of the Missing behind the Monument to Peace

The Tablets of the Missing, which connect the north and south atria of the memorial, inscribed with the names and particulars of 1,409 Missing in Action in the region or lost or buried at sea, are constructed of travertine stone. Running the full length of the Tablets of the Missing above the names is the following inscription: HERE ARE RECORDED THE NAMES OF AMERICANS WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE SERVICE OF THEIR COUNTRY AND WHO SLEEP IN UNKNOWN GRAVES.

Within the graves area, the pure white marble (quarried north of Lake Como) headstones radiate in soft arcs, curving inward, following the shape of the gently sloping hills. Two rows of tall plane trees border a walkway that divides the cemetery.

The 69-foot pillar at the top of the walkway is inscribed in English and Italian:

1941-1945
IN PROUD MEMORY OF HER SONS AND
IN HUMBLE TRIBUTE TO THEIR SACRIFICES
THIS MEMORIAL HAS BEEN ERECTED BY
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Travertine Symbol of Peace
Travertine Symbol of Peace

The Florence American Cemetery and Memorial is situated approximately 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) south of Florence, Italy, on the west side of the Via Cassia, the main highway between Florence and Siena. The SITA bus from Florence to San Casciano stops at Falciani for visitors to the cemetery.

The Cemetery and Memorial are open daily to the public from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm except December 25 and January 1. A staff member is on duty in the Visitors’ Building to answer questions and escort relatives and groups to grave and memorial sites.

Dove Vai? – Museo Casa Siviero, an Unknown Jewel

In the Oltrarno of Florence, upstream from the Ponte alle Grazie, is a small jewel of a museum that is open free to the public. The Museo Casa Siviero is located at the ground floor of the fine 19th century building on the banks of the river Arno, where the sophisticated collector and wartime “James Bond of Art”, Rodolfo Siviero lived from 1944 until his death in 1983. He left his home and its contents to the Region of Tuscany.

Lungarno Serristori
Lungarno Serristori

Siviero played a very important role in protecting Italy’s cultural heritage. Thanks to his efforts, most of the works the Germans wanted to take from Italy during the Second World War were either hidden away or found and returned.

Poet and Collector

Born in the Province of Pisa in 1911, Silviero’s family moved to Florence in 1924. It was here that Rodolfo received his education, frequenting the city’s artistic and literary circles and cultivating his ambition to become a poet and art critic.

A keen collector and refined intellectual, Siviero managed to collect many works of ancient art among which Etruscan findings; ancient Roman busts; 14th and 15th century wooden statues; Medieval paintings on gold backgrounds, Renaissance and Baroque pictures, bronzes, terra-cottas, liturgical objects, beautiful furniture. He befriended a group of important Italian modern artists such as Giorgio De Chirico, Giacomo Manzù, Ardengo Soffici, and Pietro Annigoni, and collected their works.

Della robia Copy by Fabbrica Zaccagnini
Della Robbia Copy by Fabbrica Zaccagnini

Saving Florentine Masterpieces

During WWII, with the German occupation following the armistice on September 8, 1943, a special military corps, the Kunstschutz, was initiated by Hermann Goering, Hitler’s Reich Marshall. The Kunstschutz, under the pretext of saving Italian works of art from the bombings, requisitioned them and transported them to Germany. Siviero, already working with Florentine partisans, sought to thwart the flow of art out of Florence and Tuscany

Annunciation by Fra Angelico saved by Siviero
Annunciation by Fra Angelico saved by Siviero

The most important work of art saved by Siviero during the German occupation is Fra Angelico’s Annunciation. The painting was originally kept in the Franciscan monastery of Montecarlo near San Giovanni Valdarno. In early 1944, Siviero heard that Goering wanted the masterpiece for his own collection and that the Kunstschutz had been ordered to take the painting to Germany. Siviero turned to two Franciscan friars in Florence and the masterpiece was removed and hidden the day before the Germans arrived. (The painting is now in the Museo della Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie in San Giovanni Valdarno.)

After the war, having succeeded in obtaining the return nearly all the works of Italian art found in a deposit in Munich, Siviero turned his attention to the hunt for missing masterpieces and works, which were stolen or illegally exported from Italy to collectors and museums throughout the world. Siviero continued his work until his death, but over the years the role of the delegation for the return of works of art began to loose importance. In his last years, Siviero expressed bitterness about the scant attention paid by Italian government to the problem of recovering the country’s cultural heritage.

Library with 14th Century Madonna
Library with 14th Century Madonna and Painting by Annigoni

The Museum

Museo Casa Siviero is located on the corner between Lungarno Serristori and Piazza Poggi, at the foot of the steps leading to Piazzale Michelangelo. Its Neo-Renaissance architectural style, is typical of Giuseppe Poggi, the architect who was responsible for the urban redevelopment of Florence at the time when the city was Italy’s capital, and who was probably involved in the design of the house. The ground floor was Siviero’s home.  His sister and parents lived in an apartment on the second floor. The museum occupies only the first floor, but there are plans to restore and include the second floor in the future.

Bedroom for Siviero's Guests
Bedroom for Siviero's Guests

Rodolfo’s small library is one of the most interesting rooms with its made-to-measure bookshelves climbing to the ceiling around a modern-looking 14th century wooden Madonna. The dining-room’s frescoed ceiling vies with the guest-room’s canopied bed for the honor of most ornate decoration.

Italian web sites are not known for their clarity or appearance.  The site for the Museo Casa Siviero is a pleasant surprise, providing an attractive, information-packed site. It is in English, with video tours of the rooms, a full online catalogue of the museums artistic contents, histories of Siviero and his house, and even a game for students to play.

More Information

Website:
 Visit the website of Museo Casa Siviero.

Address:
Lungarno Serristori, 1-3; enter through the garden. 

Opening Hours:
Saturday, 10.00 am – 6.00 pm (from October to May); 10.00 am-2.00 pm and 3.00 pm-7.00 pm (from June to September);

Sunday and Monday 10.00 am -1.00 pm (all year round).

Check the web site for holiday opening hours.

A certain number of people are allowed to be in the small museum at a time.  There may be a short wait.

Cost:
Entry is free of charge. 

Dove Vai? – The Castle Town of Montefioralle

The village of Montefioralle is one of the most well-preserved medieval villages in all of Tuscany. Originally a walled castle, it is located in the heart of the Chianti Classico region on a low ridge above the town of Greve.

Castello di Montefioralle
Castello di Montefioralle

Castello di Montefioralle, first mentioned in 1085, was built with two parallel octagonal walls. The stone walls still exist, but the outer defensive wall evolved through the ages as houses were built against it, using the existing structure.  Now a ring of homes and a narrow circular cobblestone street fills the space between the original walls. The four original gates still exist, but without the two descending doors at each guarded post that once provided security.

Houses & Cobblestone Street between two Walls
Houses & Cobblestone Street between two Walls

During the Middle Ages, Montefioralle, then known as Monteficalle (so honored in an epic poem by Boccaccio in 1344), was one of the largest military and administrative settlements of the area. It belonged to well-to-do Florentine families – Ricasoli, Benci, Gherardini and Vespucci. Amerigo Vespucci, the Tuscan adventurer and mapmaker, who “discovered” the harbor of New York and gave his name to America, lived here in the late 1400s. 

Vespucci Coat of Arms in the Key Stone
Vespucci Coat of Arms in the Key Stone

In 1325, the castle was sacked by Castruccio Castracani, the Duke of Lucca. (An interesting tale of the life of Castracani was written by Machiavelli over 150 years after the Duke’s death from a malady feared most by Italians: raffreddore – a chill caught from the dreaded draft in 1328 after his greatest victory over the Florentines).

At the highest point of the village, in one corner of the inside wall, stands the church of S. Stefano, rebuilt in the 17th century and then again in the18th century. A large manor house across from the church was once the original castle keep.

One of the Minor Gateways
One of the Minor Gateways

In the 18th century, when Montefioralle was not necessary for its original defensive purpose, the village lost its predominance to the local market town of Greve.

Today, Montefioralle is know for its Kodak moments, its sagras (festivals) (the Sagra delle Frittelle (small fried balls of rice with a variety of other ingredients) in mid-March, among others), and as a location for picturesque weddings. There is an excellent osteria (Taverna del Guerrino) inside the walls, a wine tasting room for local vintages, but not much else.

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Wishing for Snow in Florence

Snow in Florence is rare. But it does frost the Duomo every few years for a day or two.

Duomo in the snow December '05
Duomo in the snow December '05

While Tuscan Traveler was enjoying the sun on the Pacific Ocean on the coast of Chile in 2005, snow fell on Florence.

Let it snow in 2009
Let it snow in 2009

Again in 2008, this time the sun, but not the warmth, was in Santa Fe, NewMexico, and snow amazed tourists on the Ponte Vecchio.

Of course, the locals say, “This is nothing like the time in 1985 – the Arno froze solid that year, you know.”

Ponte Vecchio December '05
Ponte Vecchio December '05

Now in the first days of 2009, Tuscan Traveler is waiting for snow in Florence.

HAPPY NEW YEAR ! 

 

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