Monthly Archives: October 2009

Burnt to a Crisp – or not – No more traffic around the Duomo

Dante exhausted after all of the celebrations
Dante after all of the celebrations

SUNDAY (October 25, 2009) Dante was worn out after all of the “A Passo Duomo” celebration around the cathedral.

Balloons for all of those young or not so young
Balloons for all of those young or not so young

The new mayor of Florence had decreed that the entire piazza surrounding the Duomo would become a pedestrian mall instead of a busy thoroughfare where over 500 buses and thousands of taxis round the Duomo every day. To mark the renaissance of the city center, the mayor threw a party.

There were balloons and hot chestnuts and free entrance to the Baptistry.

The other Dante was there also
The other Dante

Notable figures from history – Dante, Galileo, Leonardo Da Vinci – made an appearance and wandered the square.

Ancient ambulance good for new pedestrian walkways
Ancient ambulance

A parade of costumed flag-throwers, drummers and trumpeters escorted an ancient bus on one last ride down Via Martelli.

The Misericordia (the volunteer emergency medical service), located near the bell tower, displayed an antique ambulance.

The day ended with  Mozart, Bach and Mendelssohn echoing off the walls of the 600-year-old cathedral to a standing-room-only crowd, courtesy of the Maggio Musicale orchestra and chorus, directed by Seiji Ozawa.

Concert for Florence in the Duomo
Concert for Florence in the Duomo

MONDAY (October 26, 2009) is a different wonderful life for those wandering the historic center of Florence. For one block in every direction of the cathedral, the streets are filled with tourists (and a few locals), not traffic.

New pedestrian mall on Via Martelli
New pedestrian mall on Via Martelli

It has been suggested this will increase shopping in the historic center. It certainly makes it more inviting to linger rather than rush along.

No cars or busses to the Baptistry
No cars or busses to the Baptistry

Some have tried to quantify the environmental impact, saying that it will reduce the 450 kilos of fine particulate matter and the exceedingly high levels of carbon monoxide trapped between the buildings that line the piazza. Florence is one of the most polluted cities in Italy – so every little bit helps. However, with the drastic changes in the bus routes, there are now over 2,000 bus traveling through Piazza San Marco every day.

Temporary bus stop in Piazza San Marco
Temporary bus stop in Piazza San Marco

Maybe the mayor’s other decision to cancel the clean electric tramline routes throughout the city should be reconsidered. And now that the buses aren’t griming the Duomo, the bishop should consider steam-cleaning the back side of the cathedral.

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Dark Water, a story of the 1966 flood

Outside Santa Croce
Outside Santa Croce

As the November 4th anniversary of the 1966 flood that devastated Florence approaches, it’s the perfect time to read Robert Clark’s Dark Water: Art Disaster and Redemption in Florence, which was just released in paperback.

As Angela Leeper writes in her concise review in bookpage.com:History and art criticism, with a dash of memoir thrown in, Robert Clark’s Dark Water chronicles how the flood of November 4, 1966—in which four million books, 14,000 works of art and 16 miles of documents were either damaged or destroyed—came to define the Italian city of Florence. Clark begins with a history of the city: its literary and artistic greats, its sins, its transformation into a tourist haven, and of course, its centuries of flooding. With each catastrophe, Florence’s residents were quick to place blame on God, their politicians or their immoral lifestyles.

Inside Santa Croce
Inside Santa Croce

“Clark continues his layered account with profiles of the residents, artists and volunteer ‘mud angels’ who began to salvage Florence’s treasures that November as the Arno River rushed by, improvising conservation and restoration on the spot. Throughout his evocative, detailed prose, he reflects on the city’s character and the ephemeral nature of beauty itself.”

A more detailed review was written by Michael Dirda in the Washington Post and can be found online.

For those who seeking more information about the 1966 flood, a website, florence-flood.com was created in 2006 on the 40th anniversary, to provide news, archives and photos.

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – The Luxury of Going Slowly

Il privilegio della lentezza” or “the luxury of going slowly” is the creed of the artisans at the Antico Setificio Fiorentino says director Sabine Pretsch. Seemingly untouched by time, workmanship characteristic of the Renaissance is central to this small Florentine silk fabric workshop.  Any visitor will linger in this unhurried, magical place tucked deep inside a historic garden in the San Frediano district of Florence, Italy, where the looms are centuries old and the detailed patterns for the silken cloth are older still.

The Courtyard of the Ancient Silk Factory
The Courtyard of the Ancient Silk Factory

Noble Renaissance families made their fortunes through the manufacture and trade of fine silks.  In the mid-eighteenth century, some of these families decided to create a single workshop to combine their looms, warping machines, patterns, and fabric designs.  Located first on Via de’ Tessitori (“Street of the Weavers”) and then moved in 1786 to its present location on Via Bartolini, the silk workshop has never ceased operation, even when the roof was destroyed by bombs in World War II or when the workshop and storerooms were devastated by seven-foot flood waters in 1966.

Hand-Dying over a Wood Fire
Hand-Dying over a Wood Fire

Today, the Antico Setificio operates with eight master weavers and two apprentices — all, but one, are Florentine by birth. The factory obtains raw spun silk primarily from Brazil. The silk is hand-dyed at the workshop, wound onto spools on a machine built in the 1850s, from which the thread is then transferred to quills for the shuttles or onto an orditoio (warping machine), one of which was designed by Leonardo di Vinci and the other is an 1872 Benninger orditoio — both are in perfect working order.  Six handlooms from the eighteenth century and six mechanical nineteenth-century looms are used to create fabrics from patterns dating back to the Renaissance.

Created from a Design by Leonardo Di Vinci
Built from a Design by Leonardo Di Vinci

Today, the production of the Antico Setificio Fiorentino is rarely made into fashionable clothing.  Instead, the fabric is used for the interior decoration of private homes and public buildings or the restoration of historic costumes, drapery and furniture.  Visitors are welcome in la sala di vendita (salesroom) where rolls of richly colored and patterned silks vie for space with finished products made of the supple fabric.

Renaissance Patterns Are Still Woven Today
Renaissance Patterns Are Still Woven Today

Recently the workshop began working with modern textile designers to develop new patterns using the antique handlooms to create unique fabrics.  The skill of Setificio artisans and the use of the eighteenth-century handlooms assure the superior quality of the modern fabric — a direct result of “the luxury of going slowly.”

For more information, contact Antico Setificio Fiorentino, Via Bartolini 4, 50124 Florence, Italy (tele. 055/213861; fax 055/218174),  web site: anticosetificiofiorentino.it

An excellent book,  published in Italy, entitled “Antico Setificio Fiorentino” by Sabine Pretsch and Patrizia Pietrogrande, published by Le Lettre, Firenze 1999, has English translation included.