Monthly Archives: January 2010

Dove Vai? – Piazza del Capitolo, Library #5

Through a small ally the grand Piazza del Duomo, about half way along the south side of the cathedral, there  is a little square, Piazza del Capitolo, at one time known as Corte dei Visdomini for the noble family whose tower still stands near by. The Capitolo was (and is today) the Chapter of the Florence Duomo and has governed the actions of the priests, canons, provosts and other dignitaries of the cathedral and its predecessor church, Santa Reparata, since the before the 8th century.  Some say the Chapter goes back to Bishop Saint Zanobius in the 5th century.

Facade of San Piero Ciel D'oro - Inside the Capitolo Library
Façade of San Piero Ciel D'oro - Inside the Capitolo Library

In the tiny square there was an ancient parish church called San Piero Ciel D’oro, dating from the 8th century – long before the cathedral was conceived. After the building of the Duomo, the parish church was turned into a place of study. It was by decree of Pope Nicholas V (15th century) that Archbishop Saint Antonius Pierozzi created one of the first “public” libraries in Florence and placed it under the control of the Cathedral Chapter.

Illuminated manuscript from the 14th century
Illuminated manuscript from the 14th century

“This house of wisdom” as it is called in a Latin inscription over the doorway was used for meetings of the Cathedral Chapter and served as the Chapter’s archive. Documents show that the Chapter was very active in city government and in the powerful artistic and business guilds that virtually controlled Florence throughout the Renaissance.

Over 300 years old - archival books wait on open shelves
Over 300 years old - archival books wait on open shelves

The hegemony exercised by the Florentine upper classes on canonical appointments is clear in the frequent recurrence of noble family names such as Medici, Strozzi, Corsini and Albizi. Giovanni de’Medici (later Pope Leo X), was a member of the Cathedral Chapter.

A plaque in Latin, higher on the façade, recalls the visit to the Cathedral Chapter of Pope Pius VII, on June 1st 1815, on his way to Genoa to negotiate peace in Italy.

Today, the library contains 5, 500 books printed after 1500 and 85 manuscripts from earlier centuries. Most of the original books and documents have since been relocated. The library books first went to the Opera del Duomo and then, in 1778, the collection of many of the early manuscripts were transferred to the Laurentian Library and the printed volumes (post 1500) went to the Magliabechiana Library (now the National Library).

Dramatic sky fresco arches over the library reading room
Dramatic sky fresco arches over the library reading room

The library is used for research on religious and historical subjects. Letters of request and reference must be presented to use the facility.

Eye of Providence at the center of the ceiling fresco
Eye of Providence at the center of the ceiling fresco

But for the lucky few who are granted access, they will sit under a frescoed sky, watched by the all-seeing Eye of Providence.

Dove Vai? – Galileo First Editions at Biblioteca Biomedica, Library #4

The Year of Astronomy was celebrated in 2009 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s invention of the telescope. It was also a special opportunity to see the Florence Biomedical Library and its collection of first edition books published by the scientist, including the volume that brought him before the Inquisition.

Exhibition of Galileo First Editions at Florence's Biomendical Library
Exhibition of Galileo First Editions at Florence's Biomedical Library

The Biblioteca Biomedica is located in the Careggi Hospital complex. Galileo’s books came to the library from the collection stored at the ancient (built in 1288, but still in use) Santa Maria Nuova Hospital, located near the Duomo. It was a bit disconcerting to realize that over a million dollars worth of books and manuscripts were on such casual (though securely locked) display.

Galileo writes the handbook for his calculating compass
Galileo writes the handbook for his calculating compass

The oldest book I saw was the Operazioni del compasso. Written in Galileo’s workshop in Padua and printed in Bologna in 1609. Only 60 copies were printed. (One was just sold at auction for over $500,000.) Galileo may have issued the Operazioni del compasso in order to establish his sole priority as the inventor of the “geometrical and military compass,” a calculating and observation device that he had begun manufacturing in 1597. It was a mathematical device – a sort of calculating ruler based on the principle of proportional magnitudes – that brought speed and accuracy to computations about armaments and their trajectories. Galileo’s compass remained unsurpassed until the advent of the slide rule in the mid-nineteenth century. His pamphlet is the first published work on an analogue calculator. The success and popularity of Galileo’s instrument naturally made it attractive to imitators, and Galileo deliberately omitted any illustration of the compass in his treatise as a deterrent to unauthorized copying.

Discoursing with the Pisans over water displacement and other things
Discoursing with the Pisans over water displacement and other ideas

Galileo’s important (and unendingly titled) treatise on hydrostatics, Discorso al serenissimo Don Cosimo Il Gran Duca di Toscana intorno alle cose, che stanno in su l’acqua, o che in quella si muovono (“Discourse to the Serene Don Cosimo II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, Concerning the Natation of Bodies Upon, Submersion in, the Water”). Written in 1612, the “Discourse” constituted Galileo’s first direct attack on Aristotelian science. Written in the context of an ongoing dispute on the nature of buoyancy between Galileo and a group of pro-Aristotelian Pisan professors, the Discourse on Bodies in Water represented an attempt by Galileo to transfer the dispute from a narrowly focused to a more general and systematic approach. In it Galileo refuted the Aristotelian view that a solid body’s ability to float is a function of its shape, demonstrating instead the truth of the Archimedean principle that flotation depends on the relative densities of the floating body and the fluid.

Galileo in dialogue with Copernicus and Ptolemy
Galileo in dialogue with Copernicus and Ptolemy

DIALOGO”, now known as the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo), written by Galileo in 1632, compared the Copernican system with the traditional Ptolemaic system. In the Copernican system the Earth and other planets orbit the Sun, while in the Ptolemaic system everything in the Universe circles around the Earth. The first edition at the Biomedical Library has a beautiful woodcut frontispiece of Galileo, Copernicus and Ptolomy discussing the universe. This was the book that, in part, led to Galileo’s Inquisition trial and subsequent excommunication by the Pope.

Galileo’s formal use of the term and title Dialogo allowed him to explore his Copernican theories fully within the rubric of the “equal and impartial discussion” required by Pope Urban VIII, thus getting around the initial scrutiny of the Inquisition, which, in fact, granted it a formal license to be printed, believing it to be a book discussing tides, not knowing that the subtitle would reference “two chief world systems”. (The name by which the work is now known is extracted from the subtitle.) The book was dedicated to Galileo’s patron, Ferdinando II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and was a bestseller.  The fact that so many copies went into circulation throughout Europe was its salvation because within a year Galileo was convicted of “grave suspicion of heresy”, and the Dialogo was then placed on the Vatican’s Index of Forbidden Books, from which it was not removed until 1835.

Biblioteca Biomedica

Viale Morgagni, 85 · 50124 Florence
Tel. 055.4598055, Fax 055.4221649

Director: Dr. Laura Vannucci

Burnt to a Crisp – Love Padlocked to the Ponte Vecchio

In these hard economic times, the best business to have is the guy selling padlocks at the little cart on the Ponte Vecchio. It’s a return business that beats all others in Florence.

Locks of Love circle Benvenuto Cellini on the Ponte Vecchio
Locks of Love circle Benvenuto Cellini on the Ponte Vecchio

Locks of love, or lucchetti dell’amore, are the padlocks fixed by loving couples on to part of the Ponte Vecchio, usually to the fence around the statue of Cellini located in the center of the bridge, to symbolize their eternal love. The symbol is further enhanced by the fact that the bridge unites two sides of the city (unites/joins/attaches/holds together – get it?). The enamored twosome locks the padlock after inscribing their names or initials and/or the date on it and throws the key into the Arno so that their love is locked forever.

Lovers' Locks along the Great Wall of China
Lovers' Locks along the Great Wall of China

Some say the practice started in China where the Juyongguan, Sanbu and Badaling sections of the Great Wall (those closest to Beijing) are the most popular sections with thousands of locks of various sizes attached to the rows and rows of steel chains along the wall. (I’m not sure where they throw the key – an important part of the ritual.)

The lamp poles along Ponte Milvio in Rome can't take much more love
The lamp poles on Ponte Milvio in Rome can't take much more love

Reportedly the practice in Italy was born in Rome, when in 2006, a romantic movie based upon the novel “Ho Voglia di Te” was released. In the book a young man tries to win the heart of his true love by telling her that their love will last forever, preserved by the lock attached to Ponte Milvio and the key lost forever in the Tiber. Supposedly, the movie – not the book- started a wildly popular ritual among young Romans.

The Italian story I like the best about the lucchetti dell’amore also relates to attaching padlocks to bridges. It is said that the tradition began when young men had to leave their hometowns to do military service. They attached a lock to one of the local bridges before their departure as a promise to return home, essentially a promise to survive their enlistment.

Signed and date with hope of forever love
Signed and date with hope of forever love

But back to the mess of locks closing in around the venerable Benvenuto Cellini. About once every four months, a city worker with huge lock cutter arrives to denude the fence. One wonders what happens to the love of those now not so immortalized there. Do they feel a instantaneous heart pang when their lock is snipped? Do they suddenly look at each other for some unexplicable reason, realizing that their love is over/false/fading/mistaken/doomed?

The City battles lovers
The City of Florence battles lovers

The powers-that-be in Florence have called for more policing on the bridge to stop the locks, which some find unsightly and others claim are damaging historic artifacts. They hung a sign in front of poor Cellini that states in both Italian and English (why not also in Japanese, Russian, French and Spanish?) that the fine for attaching locks to the railing is 50 euros. The threat seemed to work for awhile, but love will not be denied. Also, they failed to stop the vendor on the Ponte Vecchio from selling cheap padlocks and felt-tipped pens.

Is Love recycled still Love?
Is Love recycled still Love?

I have a suggestion for that enterprising fellow: sell locks that come with two keys, but keep one key. With a little soapy water or, at most, a dab of benzine, and the shiny second key, you will be able to lure two sets of lovers to the fantasy of love everlasting, pocketing twice the price.

The Romans are working on a more high tech solution – Lucchetti dell’Amore Ponte Milvio Virtuale – virtual locks of love suitable for FaceBook – never in danger of the lock cutter.

Burnt to a Crisp – New Year in Florence is a Wash Out

The tourists and the Florentines always hope that the New Year will come in with a bang. For 2010 it came in with a wet whimper.

Fireworks in drier years
Fireworks in drier years

The 2010 fireworks were rained out.

To celebrate the end of 2009, the new mayor, who made a splash with the grand pedestrian zone around the Duomo (wrecking havoc with the bus system), wanted to have four concerts at various venues, including one that started at the train station in Bologna and then taking the 37 minute trip on the new Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) high speed train to Florence for the second half of the concert at the train station. Note: this train unfortunately spent 90 minutes in a tunnel the week before. On New Year’s Eve the train made a successful run, but the Florence concert was soggy.

It has been raining for a week. From 9am on the the 31st to 11am on the 1st the rain was non-stop. Thus, the river is rising…

Highest Arno in ten years
Highest Arno in ten years

The Arno, which flooded in 1966, was never adequately dredged or walled. Therefore, the Florentines are spending the first day of 2010 watching the bridges.

Ponte Vespucci can hardly span the roiling river
Ponte Vespucci can hardly span the roiling river

This is not a new pastime. Acqua Alta in Arno happens almost every winter. Books have been written about it.

 The Arno frozen - January 10, 1985
The Arno frozen - January 10, 1986

Another 24 hours of rain is expected and then the temperature is to drop below zero.  Maybe Florence will get the same ice rink it enjoyed in the Winter of ’85 -’86.

January 10, 1985 the Arno froze
Ice on the Arno in 1985