Category Archives: Tuscan Traveler’s Tales

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Women Key to Italian Resistance in WWII

On April 25, 2015, Italy marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the country from Nazi domination. This year much of the focus is on the 200,000 partisans who helped bring about the country’s liberation.

staffettedellaliberta

Over one quarter of the participants in the Italian Resistance during World War II were women (55,000), many acting as couriers (staffette).

In 1943, the Resistance strengthened in Italy as many Italian men chose to join the Partisans rather than capitulate to the German policy requiring the Italian military to be incorporated into the German army or be rounded up and sent as laborers in Eastern Europe.

Women also joined the Partisans but their involvement in the Resistance was truly a voluntary one since they did not face these same consequences if they chose not to participate in the war effort.

staffetta_portaordini

The first female partisans were couriers and spies. They were known as Staffette, a word for relay or courier.  Initially they brought, along with assistance in the form of food and clothing, news from home and information on enemy movements. Shortly, this spontaneous work became organized, and every detachment created its own couriers, which specialized in shuttling between the city centers and the command of the partisan units. They relayed messages to and from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Operational Groups (OGS).

la_bicicletta_nella_resiste

Frequently, these women had to cross German lines to accomplish their missions. Each time, they ran the risk of discovery, which they knew could result in torture or death.  Their work was delicate, difficult, and almost always dangerous.

Even when they didn’t cross the lines during combat under enemy fire, they had to pass through the steep slopes of mountain on paths off main roads with dangerous, cumbersome material, covering kilometers on bicycle or truck, often on foot, in the rain or snow. Even traveling by train or car, the couriers passed long hours, often forced to pass a night in a station or in an open field, facing the dangers of bombardments or a German ambush.

MOGLIE

After a tactical operation, the retreating partisans were not always able to take those seriously wounded with them. If there were men too wounded to hide, the couriers remained to watch them, to give them the necessary treatment and to seek medical help. After a battle women partisans were frequently left in the occupied country in order to learn the enemy movements and to get the information to the partisan command.

During the transfer marches the women were the advance expedition. When the partisan unit arrived near a town, the courier was the first to enter in order to find out if there were enemy forces and how many there were, and if it was possible for the partisan column to continue on.

UnknownIn addition to taking part in partisan activity, women also volunteered to work in the Women’s Groups for Defense and for the Assistance of the Freedom Fighters (gruppi di difesa della donna e per l’assistenza ai combattenti della libertà) or GDD. The GDD collected food, money and clothing. If these women were discovered supporting the Partisans in even these ways, they would be arrested and sometimes tortured or killed. The women in the GDD also played a key role in motivating other women into public activism and recruiting them to participate in various Resistance functions.

The key to the success of women in the Resistance was their collective, almost anonymous character. These were not superhuman beings, but members of the community, belonging to all levels of society. The Resistance of women was born, not from the will of a few, but from the spontaneous initiative of the many.

After the war, 200,000 Italians were registered formally as active members of the Resistance, of which official records show 55,000 were women. More were never identified as part of the fight against fascism and the Nazis.

Ada Gobetti

A recent translation of Partisan Diary: A Woman’s Life in the Italian Resistance, by Ada Gobetti is a story of heroism, political courage and humanity. It was originally published in Italy in 1956.

Ada Prospero Gobetti
Ada Prospero Gobetti

The diary/memoir covers the resistance to the Nazis when they entry Turin on September 10, 1943 to the liberation of the city on April 28,1945.

Ada Prospero Gobetti recorded the events on an almost daily basis, a dangerous undertaking. She jotted down her entries in a cryptic English that only she could understand; at the war’s end she deciphered the jottings for publication. The act of keeping an anti-fascist diary during the Nazi occupation carried an automatic death penalty.

Her involvement in the resistance movement goes back to 1922. Ada’s husband, the anti-Fascist activist Piero Gobetti, founded the anti Mussolini/fascist pamphlet Rivoluzione Liberale. Gobetti was arrested and beaten to death by Fascist gangs at age 24.

Ada Gobetti and her husband Piero
Ada Gobetti and her husband Piero

Ada, who found time to translate Sir Francis Bacon and Alexander Pope while tending to her teenage son Paolo,vowed to continue his work, as did Paolo. Her pride in her son and at the same time her fears that he will be captured are central themes in this story.

This book reads like a thriller, it provides first-hand knowledge of how the partisans in Piedmont fought and who joined the struggle against the Nazis and the Fascists.

Ada prospero Gobetti
Ada Prospero Gobetti

Ada ran a network of safe houses in Turin for anti-Fascists in need of refuge. Among these was the sister of the Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi, Anna Maria Levi. She and Paolo smuggled weapons and explosives into the Susa valley, adjacent to the French border, over mule paths and dense forests.

“4 September. It had gotten dark by now and soon we left with the new Tommy gun and what was necessary for derailing the train. We did not know exactly at what hour it would pass, but by now it was certain that no more civilian trains would pass by before dawn. We had to make the preparations quickly in order not to miss the strike.” — Ada Gobetti

Partisan Diary by Ada Prospero Gobetti
Partisan Diary by Ada Prospero Gobetti

Irma Bandiera

Irma Bandiera was the treasured daughter of a wealthy family from Bologna. She became a partisan fighter in the VII Brigade Gruppi di Azione Patriottica (GAP) Gianni Garibaldi of Bologna. As was common with those who fought for the resistance she took a battle name: Mimma.

Irma Bandiera (center) with her mother and her sister
Irma Bandiera (center) with her mother and her sister

Captured with encrypted documents by the Fascists working with the German SS, after transporting weapons to her brigade near Castel Maggiore, she was tortured, blinded and then shot, having refused to give up the names of her comrades. On August 14, 1944, her body was left lying on the road near her home for a whole day as a warning to others who sought to join the resistance.

In her honor, a formation of partisans operating at Bologna was named First Brigade Garibaldi “Irma Bandiera”. She was awarded the Gold Medal of Military Valor (Medaglia d’Oro al Valor Militare).

After The War

After April 1945, Italian women began to participate in the politics of their country in unprecedented number. Fifty percent of the women elected to the postwar Parliament had a partisan background. The gains Italian women earned through their courageous work with the resistance resulted in them acquiring a seat at the table of Italian politics that they retain today.

Women who helped create the new constitution in 1946
Women who helped create the new constitution in 1946
More Information

Find videos here, here, here and here

And articles here and here

An evocative photo montage

Amazon.com for  Partisan Diary: A Woman’s Life in the Italian Resistance by Ada Gobetti

Tuscan Traveler’s Picks – Pietre Dure by Scarpelli

Pittura per l’eternità (painting for eternity”) is what painter Domenico Ghirlandaio deemed the art of Pietre Dure in the 15th century. Polychrome hardstone inlay uses delicately thin slices of highly polished colored stones that are cut and fitted together to create images; assembled so precisely that the contact between each section is practically invisible.

Rose trellis in stone
Rose trellis in stone

Semi-precious stones like coral, garnet, malachite, jasper, lapis lazuli and amethyst are arranged in compositions to look like paintings; the natural grain of the stones and marble is exploited to create incredible effects (clouds, leaves and petals, skin, fur, etc.) that at first glance look like paintings.

The art is known worldwide as a specialty of 16th century Florentine artists, but it was also practiced at the courts of Naples, Madrid, Moscow, Prague, Paris and elsewhere. The colorful stones were arranged on tables, large and small, jewelry chests and cabinets of curiosities, to create landscapes and flower scenes. While the common belief is that the art form originated in Italy, some scholars argue that it had an Indian origin, or at least an independent history in that country. A famous example of pietre dure is the Taj Mahal, finished in 1643. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan asked for precious stones to be inlaid in white marble. The result was some of the most impressive pietre dure architectural designs ever crafted.

Museo Opificio della Pietre Dure
Museo Opificio delle Pietre Dure

In 1588, the Medici Grand Duke Ferdinando of Tuscany founded a workshop for the purpose of developing pietre dure and other decorative art forms. The ducal workshop, renamed the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, which eventually became a museum and restoration laboratory, still exists today and it is the first place a visitor to Florence should go to learn more about the technique of inlaid stone. (Via degli Alfani 78r, Florence, tel. 055-218709; closed weekdays after 2 pm & on Sunday).

Scarpelli – Master Craftsmen

After leaving the museum go directly to Renzo Scarpelli’s store and workshop, Le Pietre nell’Arte on Via Ricasoli 59r. (tel. 055-212587; closed Sunday) There Renzo, his son Leonardo and their four collaborators create Florentine mosaics using traditional methods passed down from the Renaissance. Part art gallery, part laboratory, it is a huge fascinating place, where the old bricks, columns and stones of a 13th century stable have been brought to light after a painstaking restoration.

Delicate but everlasting rose by Scarpelli
Delicate but everlasting rose by Scarpelli

The Scarpelli Bottega d’Arte is open to all visitors wanting look around the workbenches, where the mosaic artists (mosaicist)  labor, creating the stone shapes, and thus discover a bit about the secrets of this ancient art. The staff and artisans are invested in helping their clientele understand the importance and intricacies of the art form. Shoppers can purchase a wall plaque, medallion or cameo here, or even commission a unique masterpiece based on custom drawings.

Renzo Scarpelli - Master Craftsman (photo antiquariatoearte.com)
Renzo Scarpelli – Master Craftsman (photo antiquariatoearte.com)

Renzo Scarpelli was born in Firenzuola (northeast of Florence) in 1947. Working in pietre dure was not his family’s business. His personal passion caused him to apprentice in one of the most ancient Florentine workshops when he was only 13 years old. After many years of training and art studies, he managed to open his own studio in Florence in the 1970’s and was thus able to design his first creations in pietre dure, known in Florence as mosaico fiorentino or commesso fiorentino.

He is now known internationally as one of the master craftsmen in the field and his works hang on museum walls as well as in fine private collections. Fearing the loss of the art form, he has a deep commitment to using his talents as a teacher and passing down the art of Florentine mosaic work.

Leonardo Scarpelli - Mastercraftsman of the new generation (photo antiquariatoearte.com)
Leonardo Scarpelli – The new generation  (photo antiquariatoearte.com)

His son Leonardo was fascinated by the laboratory from early childhood, showing not only a ready willingness to learn, but great skill in his designs and his work with the stone. After completing his studies in mosaics and pictorial decoration, he decided to join his father in the bottega. For over ten years now, Leonardo has been signing works of his own creation and is considered one of the finest artists of the new generation, especially when it comes to modern design. His “painting in stones” is a blend of arts and crafts, tradition and innovation.

A cat in stone made by Scarpelli
A cat in stone by Scarpelli

Renzo and Leonardo work together in the laboratorio and create artistic masterpieces of a very high quality indeed. Stefano and Pierpaolo, who boast many years of experience and a good grounding in painting, cooperate and support the laboratory production following instructions of the master craftsmen.

Gabriella supported her husband Renzo throughout his professional career and built up a business of her own in the unique design, fabrication and repair of pendants, earrings and necklaces in stones.

The Scarpelli workshop (photo fondazioneartigianato.it)
The Scarpelli workshop (photo fondazioneartigianato.it)

Catia, Renzo’s eldest daughter, after years of experience in other fields, has decided to follow the family tradition and is today responsible for running the business side of the company. She is assisted by Mayumi, who is key in sharing the pietre dure story with clients.

The Art of Pietre Dure

Craftsmen and artists worked together in an opificio delle pietre dure, or laboratorio, or bottega to create decorative artworks in stone. The painters play a fundamental part among them because they create the sketches. But in the beginning there is the stone.

A table of butterflies in inlaid stone
A table of butterflies in inlaid stone

The “stone seeker” (cercatore di pietre) is of prime importance. This is the person who knows everything there was to know about the raw materials and where to find them. In the time of the Medici dukes the maps of the cercatore di pietre were guarded and prized. (See this zen-like video of a cercatore di pietre going about his work.) The search for the right stones, carried out in the same places where Renaissance artists originally found their materials, is still a particularly painstaking job and a vital step in the production of pietre dure.

Stones for cutting at Scarpelli (photo fondazioneartigianato.it)
Stones for cutting at Scarpelli (photo fondazioneartigianato.it)

Many of the stones still come from the hills around Florence, among them “Paesina” stone and the “Gabbro” or granite from Impruneta or “Lilla” (quartzite) and “Alberese” (limestone) from Chianti, together with others from the river valleys near the Arno, including the grey “Colombino” stone and the “Green stone of the Arno”. These typical hues from the Tuscan territory are then combined with brighter colored stones like lapis lazuli, malachite and turquoises that are imported from abroad

The stones arrive at the laboratory, where each block of rough stone is cut into slices measuring about 3 mm thick. The commesso fiorentino then selects the colors needed from among the various stones, a process known as macchiatura or coloring, essential for the chromatic effect of the work.

Traditional cutting tool  for pietre dure
Traditional cutting tool for pietre dure

Then the hard work begins – the cutting and matching (commettere) of the various hues (the origin of the name commesso fiorentino), so as to create a perfect match between the individual pieces and complete the composition of the entire inlaid design. An enormous amount of stone is needed to choose the perfect hue and matrix, which only emerges during the cutting of the stone in its raw state.

The paper design created by the artist is cut into dozens of small pieces that are then pasted onto the thin stone slices to capture the perfect matrix and color. Using the centuries-old technique that employs a curved branch of chestnut or cherry wood and a piece of wire, the artist (mosaicista) cuts each tiny piece by rubbing the stone with scouring powder and water so as to be able to cut the small complicated shapes as precisely as possible.

Each pomegranate seed is a separate stone
Each pomegranate seed is a separate stone

The mosaicista uses a series of files to finish off the shapes of the pieces of stone until they fit together perfectly and then bonds them with a beeswax and rosin paste. A slab of slate is used as a backing and support for the composition. The last step is the polishing, done by hand, which brings out the colors of the natural stone.

 The Chapel of the Princes

“Painting for eternity” goes to the extreme in  the Cappelle Medici, also known as the Chapel of the Princes, a grandiose mausoleum attached to the Medici family church of San Lorenzo. This tomb/chapel/throne room was erected between 1604 and 1640 to celebrate the absolute power of the ruling Medici dynasty.

The Chapel of the Princes
The Chapel of the Princes

The octagonal room, where many of the Grand Dukes are buried in gigantic sarcophagi, is  encrusted floor to ceiling with semi-precious stone and marble inlay executed by the skilled workers employed at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure. An internal coating of lapis lazuli was meant to cover the vast dome, but even the Medici didn’t have enough money to procure the costly stones and, in the early 19th century, it was finally painted in fresco.

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Brunello Cucinelli, the Philosopher Businessman

The village of Solomeo is perched on the Umbrian hills ten minutes outside Perugia, about a two-hour drive from Florence. This is the home of Brunello Cucinelli cashmere luxury clothing.

Solomeo in the Umbrian Hills
Solomeo in the Umbrian Hills

Brunello Cucinelli, the son of a rural laborer, decided to drop out of engineering school in Perugia in the mid-70s. (A few years ago, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in Philosophy and Ethics from the University of Perugia). He got a loan from his local bank to try his hand dyeing cashmere a bright rainbow of colors.

Why cashmere? Cucinelli explains, “Because I never thought it would be thrown away. I wanted to manufacture something that theoretically never dies.” Other clothes may go to waste, but something made of cashmere goes from a piece of fine clothing, to every-day wear, to a favorite comfy knock-around-the-house outfit with holes or patches at the elbows. “You see the idea of guardianship; it all ties in together,” he has said. “[I]t has the fascination of eternity. You either pass it along, or find another use for it, but there is something eternal about it,” he told the men’s fashion magazine The Rake.

Brunello Cucinelli for Women Spring/Summer 2015 (www.bazaar.ru)
Brunello Cucinelli for Women Spring/Summer 2015 (www.bazaar.ru)

At the time there was no brightly colored cashmere being produced in Italy or elsewhere. He told the story to BusinessofFashion.com. “So I went to the dye shop and here we had the most famous dye expert, a young guy, who was wearing a ponytail and was very fashionable. … Alessio, he was 28 and I was 25, but he had such a taste and flair. I said, ‘I’d like this to be orange.’ ‘No, no. This is cashmere, you can’t possibly dye it. You’re crazy,’ he said. … [I said] ‘Alessio, you’re so young, how can you say we can’t possibly manage it? We can’t possibly do it? Yes, yes, come on, we can do it!’

“And I convinced him and talked him round. I took these six sweaters, three V-necks, three round [necks]… these six sweaters in six beautiful colors. In terms of the product, it was innovative. I was seeking perfection for one single thing. I was the man with the sweaters; the cashmere guy.”

Brunello Cucinelli (photo by  Davide Maestri)
Brunello Cucinelli (photo by Davide Maestri)

The business started with 90% knitwear. Now, knitwear is only 35%, but still 60% of the collection is made out of cashmere. (In the winter collection, nearly everything is all made of cashmere.)

As the brand grew, so did the headquarters. In 1987, Cucinelli moved the business to the village where his wife was born, Solomeo. Slowly the company took over responsibility for restoration of the entire town, which today also encompasses a theater, an amphitheater, and the Aurelian Neo-Humanistic Academy, which hosts seminars on philosophy, history, architecture and spirituality.

Solomeo in Umbria in the Evening
Solomeo in Umbria in the Evening

There’s also a vineyard, a library and a school of arts and crafts that teaches masonry, gardening and farming, tailoring, knitting, cutting and sewing, darning and mending. In the tailoring course, students are awarded scholarships of 700 euros ($891) a month. Cucinelli relishes the exchange between students, artists and workers.

“Ever since my very first employee, I always thought the work should be done in a healthy and pleasant environment, with better human relationships. I can’t ease the weight of the job, which is often repetitive, but I can help with nice big windows for a beautiful view and to see the light outside.” While working conditions are important, his workers are also paid around 20% more than their Italian peers. The working hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a 90-minute lunch break. (Many employees go home for lunch, but the company offers a lunch three courses daily for €2.80 – including wine and olive oil from Cucinelli’s vineyards and groves.)

Brunello Cucinelli for Men Winter 2014/2015 (brunellocucinelli.com)
Brunello Cucinelli for Men Winter 2014/2015 (brunellocucinelli.com)

To ensure the continuity of his company, the unity of the village—as well as for his daughters Camilla and Carolina who both work in product development for the brand—Cucinelli has set up an irreversible trust. In 2010, Cucinelli received the Cavaliere del Lavoro award, Italy’s top business recognition, from the president of Italy.

Restored Etruscan Arch in Perugia
Restored Etruscan Arch in Perugia

The trust is a separate entity from the Fondazione Brunello e Federica Cucinelli, whose goal is “the improvement and beauty of humanity.” This Cucinelli thinks is part of the Umbrian culture, with a philosophy stemming “from Saint Benedict and Saint Francis, to never turn your back on mankind.” In 2011, the Cucinelli Foundation donated $1.3 million to help restore the Etruscan Arch in Perugia, dating back to the third century B.C. This year work is scheduled to start on Un Progetto per la Bellezza— “A Project for Beauty”—a plan for the development of a series of parks in the valley beneath the village of Solomeo

The Model for "A Progect for Beauty" (brunellocucinelli.com)
The Model for “A Progect for Beauty” (brunellocucinelli.com)

In 2012, the company gave Christmas bonuses of 6,000 euros ($7,513) each to longtime employees to mark the listing of the company on the Italian stock market to thank them for their support and for helping make the IPO possible.

Brunello Cucinelli’s business philosophy? “First, it is important to make a profit because there is nothing wrong with that and that is the purpose of a business,” he told FT.com. “Secondly, to take some of that profit for myself and my family, because there is nothing wrong with making Brunello rich. Thirdly, the profit must go to the workers to give their work dignity and lastly, profit must also go towards the local community, whether that may be a hospital, a theatre, a monastery.”

Brunello Cucinelli (gq-magazine.co.uk)
Brunello Cucinelli (gq-magazine.co.uk)

His responsibility to the customer? Again to FT.com, “If you buy a sweater for €1,000 and you know that the funds you are paying are also going to help to build a hospital and a school, wouldn’t you think better about it? If I know a product is made well I will buy. I don’t want to buy something that has harmed anyone, this is my absolutely strongest belief, and I believe other people think this too. Or if they don’t now, they will”.

He goes on to tell The Rake, “Quality artisanship and creativity could be used to create a brand that expressed exclusivity through very refined details. Otherwise, what would be the point of manufacturing in Italy if we didn’t take advantage of the top-quality artisanal know-how available here? I want to provide you with a garment that, when you look at it or put it on, it expresses all that is best in Italy. I want to communicate our heritage to you.”

There are thirteen Brunello Cucinelli Boutiques in the U.S.

In Florence, the Brunello Cucinelli Boutique is at Via della Vigna Nova, 47

The Brunello Cucinelli website encompasses both fashion and philosophy.

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Italian Life Rules Has Launched!

At the beginning of 2014 I was so excited to hold my newly published book, Italian Food Rules, in my hands. I was even more pleased as the book was bought up by readers in bookshops in the US and Italy, ordered online in those countries and many more, and downloaded digitally anywhere a wifi signal could be found.

Italian Food Rules FINAL DIGITAL FRONT 500 PIXELSMany of the “rules” had first seen the light of day on TuscanTaveler. “Don’t Dip Bread in Olive Oil” has been the most controversial and received the most comments. “No Cappuccino After 10am” runs a close second.

Some readers used Italian Food Rules in preparation for their 2014 vacations in Italy. Other people bought it as  gifts for friends who were traveling to the peninsula. College students in Florence took a copy home to show their parents what they had to learn to “be Italian” for a semester. Expats in Tuscany put a copy on the bedside table of friends who were visiting, hoping to pass along the “rules” in a subtle way. Those long-time Italophiles got copies for themselves and more for friends to enjoy the memories of what is one of the most special and memorable aspects of Italy–the food.

Italian Food Rules FINAL DIGITAL FRONT 1000 PIXELS - Version 3Now, I am please to announce that almost a year later the companion book to Italian Food Rules has been published. Italian Life Rules is available this week from online vendors, both in digital and print versions. Soon it should be available in bookstores in the US and Italy, either on the shelves or by request.

Italian Life FINAL DIGITAL FRONT 750 PIXELSSome of the Italian Life Rules have also made their appearance in TuscanTraveler. The most popular are those about Italian superstitions and the “joys” of going to the post office in Italy. The mysteries of “Ciao” have been explained and the confusion of kissing the other cheek has been highlighted. The Renaissance beginnings of the Italian Life Rules has interested many readers.

As the holidays approach, I hope you have some quiets time in a comfortable chair in a warm corner, perhaps in front of a crackling fire, and that there is a copy of Italian Food Rules and a copy of Italian Life Rules to entertain you and give you a sense of being Italian for an hour or so.

Italian Scooters_large

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Mud Angels, Then and Now

Two days after the devastating Florence Flood, November 4, 1966, the twenty-foot torrent that swept through the city was gone, but the piazzas, streets, churches homes, and businesses were buried in mud, naphthalene heating oil, mountains of waste, household goods, wrecked cars and even farm animals that had been swept down the valley. There was no potable water or electricity. Food was in short supply because most of the stores, including the massive Mercato Centrale had been flooded.

Level of the flood water (photo:playingintheworldgame.wordpress.com)
Level of the flood water (photo:playingintheworldgame.wordpress.com)

The federal government was slow to act, but first the Florentines pulled together in solidarity, neighbor helping neighbor, and then as news of the enormity of the disaster spread, volunteers arrived from the neighboring hill towns. The stream of helpers soon became another kind of flood with thousands of people coming from every region of Italy, western Europe and America, pulled by the catastrophic loss of the historic and artistic patrimony of Florence, but also to support the Florentines in their time of greatest need.

Those that came were mostly young, in their teens, twenties and thirties. They filled the hostels and pensiones and even slept in rows of sleeping bags at the train station. With an extraordinary spirit of sacrifice this youthful multi-lingual army shoveled away tons of mud, wiped sticky oil off of marble statues, rescued sodden books, and distributed food and water. Thousands of young people dedicated their time to recover from the mud paintings, books, frescoes, carvings, statues and other works of art.

Mud Angels at rest in 1966
Mud Angels at rest in 1966

They went without warm showers, heated rooms, clean clothes and hot food. Because of their dedication and solidarity they were named “Gli Angeli del Fango” (The Angels of the Mud). The name was apt also because mud was a constant companion at work, while asleep and at meals.

As Robert Clark wrote in his book Dark Water:

“You could call them volunteers, except they hadn’t volunteered or been recruited: they’d simply appeared as though from thin air and set to work.

“It was always cold and always damp where they worked, and often where they ate and slept. There was, of course, a surfeit of Chianti dispensed from immense demijohns just as there was limitless talk and laughter. People fell in love: with art; with one another; with themselves, because how often did you get to be a hero, much less an angel.”

Edward Kennedy in Florence after the 1966 flood
Edward Kennedy in Florence after the 1966 flood

Senator Edward M. Kennedy said in 1966:

“I remember that I was in Geneva at a conference on refugees and I wanted to see what had occurred, so I flew in to Florence for the day. I got to the library about 5 PM and I looked down into the flooded area. There was no electricity and massive candles had been set up to provide the necessary light to rescue the books.

“It was terribly cold and yet I saw students up to their waists in water. They had formed a line to pass along the books so that they could be retrieved from the water and then handed on to a safer area to have preservatives put on them. Everywhere I looked in the great main reading room, there were hundreds and hundreds of young people who had all gathered to help.

“It was as if they knew that this flooding of the library was putting their soul at risk. I found it incredibly inspiring to see this younger generation  all united in this vital effort. It reminded me of the young people in the United States who responded with the same determination as they became involved in the civil rights movement.

“I was still shivering as I boarded the plane that took me back to Geneva, but I couldn’t stop thinking of the impressive solemnity of that scene – of all those students, oblivious to the biting cold and the muddy water, quietly concentrating on saving books in the flickering candlelight. I will never forget it.”

Angelli del Fango in Genoa (photo: http://italia-24news.it)
Angeli del Fango in Genoa in 2014 (photo: http://italia-24news.it)

“[It] was the international community that worked to try to save Florence, this unique patrimony that belonged to the whole world,” said Mario Primicerio, former mayor of Florence on the 30th anniversary of the Florence Flood.

Cleaning up in Genoa (photo: unionesarda.it)
Cleaning up in Genoa (photo: unionesarda.it)

The fall of 2014 has been one of the wettest on record throughout northern Italy. The Arno is rising, but the cities that have seen the worst floods are Genoa and Massa Carrara. Genoa now in the eye of the storm is where a new generation of Mud Angels is coming to the aid of the port city.

Mud Angels in Massa Carrara (photo: lanazione.it)
Mud Angels in Massa Carrara (photo: lanazione.it)

Each day more Mud Angels are joining the struggle in the Liguria region. Most are high school and university students living in Genoa, but they are also from Eastern Europe and Africa and Italy.

Unlike the word-of-mouth organization of the Angeli del Fango of 1966, the modern angels are using social media, Facebook and Twitter, to put out the word about where the needs are greatest. As the rain moves east the Mud Angels will be helping  in the hamlets and towns along the Po Valley. The spirit of world’s youth is answering the call of people in distress and once again they are saving great works of artistic and historical significance.

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – The 1966 Florence Flood

November 4, 2014 will be the 48th anniversary of the Florence Flood of 1966. The memory is still vivid in the minds of most Florentines; either they experienced the flood and/or its aftermath, or they have been told stories of the disaster by their parents or grandparents.

The question in the minds of many who live in the city split by the Arno River is: Can it happen again?

Piazza Signoria 4 November 1966 (Balthazar Korab)
Piazza Signoria 4 November 1966 (photo by Balthazar Korab)

Timeline of the Flood

3 November 1966

In 1966, heavy rains began falling in Tuscany in September. Soon, the earth of the Casentine Forrest, southeast of Florence, was saturated. The rains increased in October and November. It rained the first three days of November.  On the 2nd alone, seventeen inches of rain fell in twenty-four hours on Monte Falterona southeast of Arezzo where the Arno is born. The early snow on the mountain melted and rivers of water flowed north and west toward Florence.

The Levane and La Penna dams in Valdarno, north of Arezzo began to emit more than 2,000 cubic meters (71,000 cubic feet) of water per second toward Florence.

At 2:30 pm, the Civil Engineering Department of Florence reported “an exceptional quantity of water.” Cellars in the Santa Croce and San Frediano areas began to flood. Streets failed to drain as the Arno backed up into the city’s drainage system.

The path of the Arno River
The path of the Arno River

Police received calls for assistance from farms and tiny towns north past Florence. The walls along river in the city still held, but floodwaters poured over roads and bridges, cutting off the little villages and forcing people to the roofs of their homes.

A worker died at the Anconella water treatment plant. In A Tuscan Trilogy, Paul Salsini writes: “At the aqueduct, a workman named Carlo Maggiorelli, fifty-two years old, had arrived at 8 o’clock Thursday night, carrying a thermos of coffee, half a loaf of bread and a pack of cigarettes. In a telephone call to officials in Florence, he reported that “everything’s going under.” But he refused to leave; he was responsible for the plant. Later, his body was recovered in a tunnel choked with mud. He was the first victim of the flood of November 4, 1966.”

By midnight on November 3, the Arno River in Florence had risen twenty feet from its normal level, but it still flowed between the high walls through the city.

4 November 1966

At 4:00 am, engineers, fearing that the Valdarno La Penna dam would burst, discharged a mass of water that eventually reached the outskirts of Florence at a rate of 60 kilometers per hour (37 mph). The wall of water overflowed the Levane dam and rushed toward Florence.

Florence’s newspaper, La Nazione, printed during the night, had a banner headline: “L’Arno Straripa a Firenze” (The Arno overflows at Florence). The article went on to report (translated by Salsini): “The city is in danger of being flooded. At 5:30 this morning water streamed over the embankments, flooding the Via dei Bardi, the Borgo San Jacopo, the Volta dei Tintori and the Corso dei Tintori, the Lungarno delle Grazie and the Lungarno Acciaiuoli. Many families are evacuating their homes. The river banks at Rovezzano and Compiobbi were overtopped shortly after 1 a.m. The Via Villamagna and the aqueduct plant at Anconella were invaded a short time later, and certain areas of the city are in danger of losing their water supply. There are indications that the day ahead may bring drama unparalleled in the history of the city. At 4:30 a.m. military units were ordered to stand by to cope with a possible emergency situation.”

The night guard on the Ponte Vecchio notified the jewelry store owners of the rising tide of water. Prudent vendors who rushed to move their wares were the only shopkeepers in the flooded areas to save their inventories. Later, the stores on the bridge were gutted by the water.

The Ponte Vecchio as the water recedes in 1966
The Ponte Vecchio as the water recedes in 1966

At 7:26am electric power failed in Florence. The Arno flowed over the parapets of San Niccolo bridge, as well as Ponte alle Grazie and the Ponte Vecchio. By 9:00am, hospital emergency generators (the only remaining source of electrical power) failed.

Landslides obstructed roads leading to Florence, while narrow streets within city limits funneled floodwaters, ever increasing in height and velocity.

After breaching its retaining walls on both sides, the Arno flooded the city. On the north side, it swept through the National Library, the Piazza Santa Croce and the church itself. Water filled the Piazza della Signoria, the basement of the Uffizi and the Palazzo Vecchio.

By 9:35 a.m. it reached the Duomo and the Campanile. Ten minutes later, the Piazza del Duomo was flooded. A twenty-foot vortex of water tore three panels from Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gate of Paradise on the east side of the Baptistry and two from Andrea Pisano’s panels on the south.

At the San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale the refrigeration units located below street level were destroyed and the main floor and all of the food stands were awash.

At the Accademia, water inched across the floor toward Michelangelo’s David although the statue was never in real danger.

On the south side, in the Oltrarno, where the land sloped uphill from the river, the damage was less.

Map of the depth of flood waters in Florence
Map of the depth of flood waters in Florence

The catastrophe was not only caused by the amount of water. The powerful flood ruptured heating oil tanks stored under or at ground level of most of the buildings, and the oil mixed with the water and the tons of muddy topsoil washed down the agricultural Arno Valley, causing far greater damage than that attributed to the water alone.

Santa Croce in the days following the flood
Piazza Santa Croce in the days following the flood

Twenty thousand families lost their homes, fifteen thousand cars were destroyed, and six thousand shops went out of business. At least thirty people were confirmed fatalities, but some reports put the toll at more than a hundred.

At its highest, the water reached over 6.7 meters (22 ft) in the Santa Croce area, more than twice as high as the flood of 1557.

By 8:00 pm, the water began to recede.

Treasures Damaged or Destroyed

Records after the flood estimated that 1,500 works of art in Florence were disfigured or destroyed. Of these, 850 were seriously damaged, including paintings on wood and on canvas, frescoes and sculptures. Among the casualties were Paolo Uccello’s Creation and Fall at Santa Maria Novella, Sandro Botticelli’s Saint Augustine and Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Saint Jerome at the Church of the Ognissanti, Andrea di Bonaiuto’s The Church Militant and Triumphant at Santa Maria Novella, Donatello’s wooden statue of Mary Magdalene in the Baptistry of the Duomo, Baccio Bandinelli’s white marble Pietà in Santa Croce and Filippo Brunelleschi’s wooden model for the Cupola of the Duomo, in the Duomo’s Museum.

The Cimabue Crucifix in 1966
The Cimabue Crucifix in 1966

Many considered the greatest loss to be the painted wood Crucifix by Giovanni Cimabue, the Father of Florentine Painting, in the Santa Croce Museum. The water there rose thirteen feet. The heavy wooden crucifix had taken on so much water that it had grown three inches and doubled its weight. The wood cracked and paint chips floated out on the water. After it was removed from the refectory, the cracks widened, mold grew, and the paint continued to flake off. It was years before the cross had shrunk down to its original size. The crevices were later filled in with poplar from the Casentine Forest, where Cimabue obtained the original wood, the same forest where the flood began. The Cimabue Crucifix became the symbol of both the tragedy of the flood and the rebirth of the city after the waters receded.

The Cimabue Crucifix in 2014
The Cimabue Crucifix in 2014

Archives of the Opera del Duomo (Archivio di Opera del Duomo): 6,000 volumes/documents and 55 illuminated manuscripts were damaged.

National Central Library (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale Firenze): Located alongside the Arno River, the National Library was cut off from the rest of the city by the flood. The flood damaged 1,300,000 items, including the majority of the works in the Palatine and Magliabechi collections, along with periodicals, newspapers, prints, maps and posters. This was a third of the library’s collections.

Gabinetto Vieusseux Library (Biblioteca del Gabinetto Vieusseux): All 250,000 volumes were damaged, including titles of romantic literature and Risorgimento history; submerged in water, they became swollen and distorted. Pages, separated from their text blocks, were found pressed upon the walls and ceiling of the building.

The State Archives (Archivio di Stato): Roughly 40% of the collection was damaged, including property and financial records; birth, marriage and death records; judicial and administrative documents; and police records, among others.

Can It Happen Again?

Residents of Florence think of the 1966 Flood every year when the winter rains begin – even if they weren’t alive or living in Florence 48 years ago. The Arno still has a shallow riverbed. Each year the water climbs the Ponte Vecchio and covers the rose beds at the nearby Rowing Club, located under the Uffizi Gallery.

Not much space left in November 2012 (Majlend Bramo/Massimo Sestini)
Not much space left in November 2012  (Majlend Bramo/Massimo Sestini)

The plaques on Florence walls in the historic center remind us of the many floods that happened over the centuries.

The long plaque measures the 1557 flood. The smaller plaque above is for 1966.
The long plaque measures the 1557 flood. The smaller plaque above is for 1966.

The Arno flooded in a catastrophic manner eight times since 1333 – at a rate of about one a century (the one before 1966 was in 1844). Minor floods occur frequently – 13 times in the last 20 years alone.

The same Santa Croce corner on 4 November 1966
The same Santa Croce corner on 4 November 1966

In the 18th century, engineer Ferdinando Morozzi dal Colle compiled a list of all the floods registered from the year 1177 to 1761.  He recorded 54 floods in 600 years: Once every 24 years there was a ‘medium’ flood, every 26 years a ‘big’ flood, and every 100 years an ‘extraordinary’  flood.

1547 Historic Flood Measurement (FM Boni)
1547 Historic Flood Measurement (FM Boni)

Two other disastrous floods, those of 1333 and 1844, both happened on the same day of the year, the day of the 1966 flood: November 4th.

The 1966 flood was the worst of them all.

Measuring the Arno floods through history (FM Boni)
Measuring the Arno floods through history (FM Boni)

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) believed that the Arno could be tamed…but complex bureaucracy prevented any action, and by time the city government approved his plan he had moved on to something else.

“The Arno has been a problem since antiquity,” said Prof. Raffaello Nardi, who headed a special commission responsible for safeguarding the Arno river basin. “And even the old floods were caused as much by human error as by the forces of nature.”

Some believe it is only a matter of time. The Cimabue Crucifix is now hung on a metal device that can be raised far above the level of the 1966 Florence Flood if the waters start to rise again. 

Other links for Florence Flood 1966:

florence-flood.com  (English)

Historic Video (Italian)

aboutflorence.com  (English)  aboutflorence.com  (Italian)

lastoriasiamonoi.rai.it  (Italian video)

saci-art.com (English)

florin.ms (Photographs, English)

tuscantraveler.com (book review)

 BalthazarKorabPhoto (photo)

NYTimes.com (30 Year Anniversary)

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – 5 Questions for Joanna Penn

Joanna Penn is one of Tuscan Traveler’s favorite authors, both as a blogger on all aspects of writing and publishing, and as J.F. Penn, the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the ARKANE thriller series and the London Mysteries, starting with Desecration. Joanna runs TheCreativePenn.com, one of the Top 10 Blogs for writers and was voted as one of The Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013.

Mysteries and Thrillers of J.F. Penn
Mysteries and Thrillers of J.F. Penn

Your fast-paced ARKANE thrillers weave together historical artifacts, secret societies, psychological and religious references, global locations, a fearless female protagonist and hints of the supernatural. You’ve used Venice and Rome as settings. Your three short stories in A Thousand Fiendish Angels riff on Dante’s Inferno. Do you plan to return to Italy in a future book? How do Italy and/or the Italians inspire your writing?

I do love Italy, and how can one fail to be inspired by the architecture and cultural history of Europe in general! I especially like the use of the ossuaries and the Palermo Capuchin crypt in Prophecy, with the mummified bodies of monks and children. Creepy indeed! I do have an idea for a story set within the walls of the Vatican itself, catnip for a student of Theology like myself, so definitely more to come.

I also have Pentecost and Desecration coming in Italian language in the latter half of 2014, so I hope to expand my readership that way.

Desecration, your latest novel, is not part of the ARKANE series. Are you starting another series? Will you go back to the ARKANE characters in a future book? Is it possible that there will be a tie-in where Jamie and Blake from Desecration visit ARKANE?

You read my mind! In my next fast-paced novella, Day of the Vikings, out in May 2014, Dr Morgan Sierra is researching a Viking staff at the British Museum. When Neo-Viking terrorists take hostages and demand the staff of power, Morgan is aided by Blake Daniel, the reluctant psychic from Desecration, and together, they must work out how to stop Ragnarok, the Viking apocalypse.

The next full-length ARKANE book has a working title of Inquisition, and will delve into Morgan Sierra’s Spanish Jewish heritage. Desecration is the first in The London Mysteries, and the next one, Delirium, will be out in July 2014, opening with the murder of a psychiatrist in Bedlam, the London hospital for the mad.

Joanna Penn writes complex mysteries & international thrillers as J.F. Penn
Joanna Penn writes complex mysteries & international thrillers as J.F. Penn

Your books take the reader to many countries (Israel, Italy, Hungary, Turkey, India). You know the saying some people eat to live and others live to eat. Do you travel to write or write to travel? Do you see a travel memoir in your future?

I think you know me very well, Ann!

I am a travel junkie and the books have been fuelled by my own experiences, but part of the reason I now do this full time is to be able to travel more, and make every trip research for another story. I am heading to Barcelona in June for research into Inquisition, and a visit to the Morbid Anatomy museum in New York in July will definitely give me some story ideas. I also plan to visit Mexico for Day of the Dead sometime, as well as heading back to India for a book around Kali. By combining the two, I can reinvest the book income into more travel, fuelling more books – a happy life!

I do intend to write a travel memoir at some point, as I would like to share the diary side of my trips and especially the spiritual places I have been. That is a way off though!

You are exceedingly generous in providing information to writers, especially those who wish to indie-publish, through your website and your podcasts. You also work as a public speaker on all aspects of indie-publishing and book marketing. You are either exceptionally organized or don’t require a lot of sleep. Does your work as an entrepreneur and your writing on TheCreativePenn.com help to promote your J.F. Penn novels? Do you want to keep up this pace or do you want to settle into a fiction writer’s life at some point in time?

I always wanted to be a self-help writer, and so TheCreativePenn.com and my non-fiction books, as well as my speaking, are ways in which I can help others on the journey of being a writer in this ever-changing market. I also find that I need the public speaking side to balance out my natural tendency to be an introverted hermit in my writing cave! It does me good to get out and have a conversation with real people.

I also started TheCreativePenn.com before I started writing fiction, and it was only the freeing aspect of blogging that enabled me to write stories in the first place. So I could never give it up entirely! That said, I am slowing down the pace of content on that side of things to focus more on the fiction as my readership grows.

Career Change, Book Marketing & Public Speaking: The topics addressed by Joanna Penn
Career Change, Book Marketing & Public Speaking: The topics addressed by Joanna Penn

A last question about your first book, Career Change: Many of the readers of TuscanTraveler.com dream of leaving their jobs, selling their home, buying a plane ticket and moving to Italy to create a new life and perhaps write their version of Under the Tuscan Sun. What are three ideas from your book that may help them fulfill their dream or, at least, assist them in making the correct decision?

The most important thing to think about is what really makes you happy. So for me, I had to reach the point of understanding that freedom of place (a rented 1 bedroom flat and no car) and a lower income made me happier than a higher income and a four-bedroom house and a car. By giving up my secure day job to become a writer, I sacrificed what most people consider to be “success,” for a risky entrepreneurial career with no guarantees. Lots of people thought I was crazy, as the definition of success for most people is a high status job, a big house and a nice car with lots of ‘stuff.’ If you can escape that mentality, you can downsize and suddenly have a lot more choice in your life.

So my 3 ideas are:

a) Decide what REALLY makes you happy

b) Make time to investigate options e.g. get rid of your TV, freeing up several hours a night; go to four days a week at work and focus on testing your ideas out part time

c) Eliminate debt and save a financial buffer – any new move takes a while to get going financially

Joanna Penn’s books are available at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, as well as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, ITunes, and Audible. Soon to be available in Italian on Amazon.it.

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – All About Giotto’s Bell Tower

I have a favorite take on the façade of the cathedral in Florence, which I turned into a Tuscan Traveler’s Tale. After reading the post, my father asked for the story on Giotto’s bell tower. (Note to father: I won’t be writing a piece on the dome, so please read the National Geographic article, Mystery of Florence’s Cathedral Dome May Be Solved by Tom Mueller, that just came out and pay special attention to the video embedded in it.)

Photo credit: mikestravelguide.com
Photo credit: mikestravelguide.com

Of course I had a take on the bell tower, too. It went something like this: The Florentines chose Giotto to design the bell tower because he was the most famous artist at the time (circa 1330). Giotto was a fresco painter, not a bell tower builder, so they gave him a good contractor and said “go for it.” Giotto died before the first layer was finished, so a guy named Pisano was hired. He almost finished the next layer with the sculpture-containing niches when he, too, died. Then a man named Talenti was brought in and he lived through the completion of the bell tower, so to be Florence’s bell tower builder wasn’t a completely cursed job.

Now all I had to do was figure out the true story.

As most people know, Giotto’s Campanile (Bell Tower) is a free-standing tower that is part of the complex of buildings that make up the Florence Duomo. Standing adjacent the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore and the Baptistry of St. John, the tower is one of the showpieces of the Florentine Gothic architecture with its rich sculptural decorations and the polychrome marble encrustations. This slender structure stands on a square plan with a side of 47.41 feet (14.45 meters). It is 277.9 feet tall (84.7 meters).

The Giotto Groundfloor

On the death in 1302 of Arnolfo di Cambio, the first Master of the Works of the Cathedral, and after an interruption of more than thirty years, a successor was chosen in 1334. The lucky man was the celebrated painter, 67-year-old, Giotto di Bondone. Although he was charged with the entire cathedral building project, Giotto concentrated his energy on the design and construction of a campanile for the cathedral. His design was in harmony with Arnolfo’s polychrome theme for the cathedral.

Photo credit: belltowerproject.blogspot.com
Photo credit: belltowerproject.blogspot.com

The first stone was laid on 19 July 1334. When Giotto died in 1337, he had only finished the lower floor with its external marble decoration of geometric patterns of white, green and pink marble. His painter’s ethos led him to proceed with the external revestment while the building was going up, thus slowing down its completion. White marble from Carrara, green marble from Prato and light red marble from Siena decorated the surface and a series of hexegonal tiles in relief divided the bottom layer in a classical manner.

This lower floor is decorated on three sides with bas-reliefs in hexagonal panels, seven on each side. When the entrance door was enlarged in 1348, two panels were moved to the empty northern side and only much later, five more panels were commissioned from Luca della Robbia in 1437.

Here is my favorite Giotto tale: Vasari, drawing on a description by Boccaccio, who was a friend of Giotto, says of him that “there was no uglier man in the city of Florence” and indicates that his children were also plain in appearance. Vasari adds a story that Dante visited Giotto while he was painting the Scrovegni Chapel and, seeing the artist’s children underfoot asked how a man who painted such beautiful pictures could create such plain children, to which Giotto, always a wit, replied “I made them in the dark.”

There are a couple of stories that Giotto died of grief for having given the bell tower as he said, “a too small bed for your feet.” It was also rumored that Giotto died of a heart attack because he feared that he designed the base too small to support the weight and the height. In reality, the base of the tower is more narrow than it should be, perhaps to give the effect of greater vertical momentum. But Giotto died at age 70, a ripe old age for the 14th century. (Later designs sustained the height and weight of the tower by constructing four internal polygonal buttresses at the corners.)

The Pisano Part

Andrea Pisano, a goldsmith who learned to sculpt, was famous already for the South Doors of the Baptistery when he succeeded Giotto as Master of the Works in 1343. (Why didn’t the Woolmaker’s Guild, which was charged with paying for the construction, find an architect for the Master of the Works?) Pisano continued the construction of the bell tower, reportedly scrupulously following Giotto’s design, especially for the bas-relief hexagonal panels.

Photo credit: museumsinflorence.com
Photo credit: museumsinflorence.com

On the tower facade looking toward the Baptistery, the reliefs in the lower row depict the creation of man and woman, the beginnings of human work, and the “inventors” (according to the Bible) of various creative activities: sheep-herding, music, metallurgy, wine-making. In the upper register are the seven planets, beginning with Jupiter at the north corner. On the other facades, in the lower register are depicted astrology, building, medicine, weaving and other technical and scientific endeavors. In the upper registers with diamond- shaped panels are: on the south, the theological and cardinal virtues; on the east, the liberal arts of the Trivium and Quadrivium; to the north, the seven sacraments. (The originals of all these works are in the Museum of the Opera del Duomo.)

Pisano built two more levels, with two rows with four niches on each side and each level, but the niches on the second row are empty and covered in marble. The four statues on the west side were sculpted by Andrea Pisano and date from 1343. These Gothic statues are rather high-reliefs, left unfinished at the back. They represent the Tiburtine Sibyl, David, Solomon and the Erythraean Sibyl.

Photo credit: antoniohernandez.es
Photo credit: antoniohernandez.es

The four Prophets on the south side are already more classical in style and date between 1334 and 1341. The statue of Moses and the fourth statue are attributed to Maso di Banco.

The four Prophets and Patriarchs on the east side date from between 1408 and 1421: the beardless Prophets by Donatello (probably a portrait of his friend, the architect Filippo Brunelleschi), the Bearded Prophet (perhaps by Nanni di Bartolo), Abraham and Isaac (by Donatello and Nanni di Bartolo) and Il Pensatore (the thinker) (by Donatello).

The four statues on the north side were added between 1420 and 1435: Prophet (probably by Nanni di Bartolo, however signed by Donatello), Habacuc (a masterpiece of Donatello, a tormented and emaciated prophet, portraying Giovanni Chiericini, an enemy of the Medicis), which the Florentines called “lo Zuccone” or pumpkin, because of his bald head, Jeremias (by Donatello, portraying Francesco Soderini, another enemy of the Medicis), Abdias (by Nanni di Bartolo).

Photo credit: antoniohernandez.es
Photo credit: antoniohernandez.es

For me, the best attribute of Donatello’s statues is that he knew they would be positioned in high niches so he made them with bowed heads so they would seemingly make eye contact with the passersby down below. (All the statues and hexagonal bas-relief panels on the campanile today are copies. The originals were removed between 1965 and 1967 and are now on display in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, behind the cathedral.)

Now, as far as I can tell, Pisano did not die on the job. It seems that he was busy building the bell tower from 1343 until sometime in 1346 when there may have been financial problems that stopped the work on the cathedral site. In 1347, he is listed as the Master of the Works for the cathedral in Orvieto. But in 1348 Pisano disappears. He was 58. The best guess is that he was a victim of the Black Death. Two thirds of Tuscany’s city dwellers died in 1348.

Talenti’s Top

The Black Death, for obvious reasons, slowed work on the Duomo to a standstill for a few years. Francesco Talenti was named the Master of the Works for the Florence cathedral project in 1351. He actually was an architect, as well as a sculptor. He also had worked on the Duomo in Orvieto.

Talenti designed the top layers of the bell tower. Each level is larger than the lower one and extends beyond it in every dimension so that the difference in size counters the effect of perspective. As a result, the top three levels of the tower, when seen from below, look equal in size to the lower levels.

Photo by Ann Reavis
Photo by Ann Reavis

The vertical windows open up the walls in a motif borrowed from the Siena campanile. These pairs of two-light windows (on the third and fourth storys), together with the single three-light window (on the fifth), give the entire structure a delicate and elegant aspect, typical of the Gothic style, but do not suffocate its overall “classical” effect. Instead of a spire, as designed by Giotto, Talenti built a large projecting terrace that not only forms a panoramic roof-top but also substitutes the cusp that was usually found on most Gothic bellowers. This lowered Giotto’s original design height of 400 feet to 277.9 feet. (Giotto was right; it was too tall.)

The top, with its breathtaking panorama of Florence and the surrounding hills, can be reached by climbing 414 steps.

Photo by James and Damaris Clayburn
Photo by James and Damaris Clayburn

The bell tower was finally finished after twenty-five years of construction in 1359. Reportedly, when Emperor Charles V of Hapsburg saw the bell tower, he said that it was such a precious work of art that it ought to be preserved under glass.

For Bell Fanatics

Since I live in the Duomo neighborhood, I have a love/hate relationship with the bells. Usually I don’t notice them. And then there is the rest of the time.

The original bells:

1)  The main bell is named for Santa Reparata and was made in 1475. Damaged, it was recast by Antonio Petri in 1705. It weighs 15,860 lbs.

2)  The bell called ‘della Misericordia’. Damaged, it was recast by Carlo Moreni in September of 1830 and weighs 6,414 lbs.

3)  The bell called the ‘Apostolica’, fused in April of 1516 by Lodovico di Guglielmo and weighing 5000 lbs.

4) The bell called ‘la Beona’. There is no information as to when or by whom it was cast. Its weight is estimated at 2760 lbs.

5)  The bell used for the office of Terce; it bears the name ‘Maria Anna’ and again nothing is known of its history. It weighs 2152 lbs.

6)  A small bell cast November 4, 1513, weighing 1400 lbs.

7)  The smallest bell, cast in December of 1514 and weighing 1000 lbs.

Total weight: 34,586 lbs.

In 1956-1957, following the replacement of the old wooden armature that supported the bells with a metal structure, and the shift to motor-operated ringing, the Commission appointed to oversee these innovations decided to exclude future use of the five smallest bells, four of which were deposited in the space corresponding to the big windows of Giotto’s Tower, while the fifth – the so-called ‘Apostolica’ – was set on the pavement of the bell cage itself.

Photo credit: museumsinflorence.com
Photo credit: museumsinflorence.com

In place of the bells thus ‘pensioned off’, five new ones were cast by the firm of Prospero Barigozzi. These are decorated with bas-reliefs by well-known sculptors, illustrating episodes from Mary’s life and illustrating Marian privileges.

The bells presently in use have the following characteristics:

1)  The ‘Campanone’ or ‘Santa Reparata’, of c. 5000 kg. And a diameter of 2.00 m., sounds the note LA;

2)  The ‘Misericordia’, of c. 2500 kg., has a diameter of 1,500 m. and sounds DO:

3)  The ‘Apostolica’, of c. 1800 kg., sounds RE. It has a diameter of 1.45m. and reliefs by Mario Moschi;

4)  The ‘Assunta’, of 846 kg. And a diameter of 1.27m, sounds MI and has reliefs by Bruno Innocenti;

5)  The ‘Mater Dei’, of 481 kg., has a diameter of 1.16m. and sounds SOL;

6)  The ‘Annunziata’, of 339 kg., sounds LA and has a diameter of 0.95m.

7)  The ‘Immacolata’, of 237 kg., sounds SI, has a diameter of 0.75m.

Each of the recast bells bears its own name and, in bas-relief, the arms of Cardinal Archbishop Elia Dalla Costa, who consecrated them in the Baptistery on June 10, 1956. They also bear the emblems of the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore and of the City of Florence. On the last four there are in addition Latin verses.

The electric motor that controls the ringing of the bells was completely renewed by the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore in 2000-2001. (Thank goodness for this.)

Photo by Srabs683, Nov 2012
Photo by Srabs683, Nov 2012

The ancient ringing style, going back to when the bells were four in number, is documented in the fourteenth-century codex, “Mores et consuetudines Ecclesiae florentinae” (to be found in the Riccardiana Library), and varied according to the importance of the religious occasion, just as today:

1) “ut in dominicis” (on Sundays);

2) “ut in ferialibus diebus et in festis III lectionum” (on weekdays and feasts having three readings);

3) “ut in festis IX lectionum” (on feasts with nine readings);

4) “ut in summis solemnitatibus” (on the most important solemn feastdays).

At present several bells are rung together only for liturgical celebrations involving the archbishop or the canons. Bells rung singly indicate, every day, the “Angelus” (at 7AM, noon and at sunset, the penultimate hour of the day according to the ancient canonical way of computing the hours (11PM), which invites all to recite the ‘Credo‘ for the dying, and the first hour of the following liturgical day (one o’clock), which recalls the custom of reciting the ‘Requiem‘ for the dead. A bell is also rung to indicate the suspension of work for the lunch break (11:30AM) and the death of a Guard Captain of the Confraternity of Mercy.

Following tradition, ‘double minors’ are in addition rung for several of the more important devotional moments in the life of the Cathedral: the solemn rosary in the months of May and October, the Stations of the Cross on Fridays in Lent, the Christmas Novena and for other occasions, as the Chapter may determine. The bells are not rung for single daily Masses or for other devotional functions.

In any event, there are plenty of bells heard throughout the day and night in the historic center of Florence.

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Duomo Façade, a Lesson in Italian Construction Projects

Recently, a photograph from the 1850s in Florence was posted online. It’s one of my favorite photos of the Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore, and it got me thinking once again about the wedding cake façade of the cathedral because once upon a time it looked like this.

Florence Duomo in 1850
Florence Duomo in 1850

I always tell people that even though the Duomo was finished in the 1400s, the ornate façade wasn’t added until the late 1800s. The way I put it is: In the 1400s they held a competition for the design of the façade and nobody won … and then they ran out of money and then one hundred years passed … and then another century and then another and four-hundred years later, Florence was going to be the capital of the new Italian state and they couldn’t have an ugly Duomo, so they held a competition … and nobody won … so they put a committee together and came up with the present façade that everybody, except for architectural purists, loves.

But I wasn’t completely sure this was absolutely accurate. I decided to dig around in my library and online.

Florence Duomo Façade - 400 years in the making
Florence Duomo Façade – 400 years in the making

The façade of the Cathedral in pink, white and green marble, the statues, rose windows, mosaics and cusps of Gothic inspiration is the fruit of the historic and romantic taste of the architect, Emilio de Fabris (1808-1883), who, until his death, designed and directed the construction that went on for a decade (1876-1886) with input from several architects who had attempted to produce acceptable earlier designs, among them Giovanni Silvestri (1822), Nicola Matas di Ancona (1842) (who just finished the design of the façade of Santa Croce), and Gian Giorgio Muller (1843-44).

The 19th century project was the second façade for the Duomo. The first only covered the bottom third of the front exterior wall of the cathedral. It was conceived by Arnolfo di Cambio and left unfinished at his death (circa 1302-1310). We can get an idea of what Arnolfo’s façade looked like from a drawing by Bernardino Poccetti found in the Museum of the Opera del Duomo. Poccetti’s sketch was created in 1587, when the decision was made to dismantle Arnolfo’s half-finished façade and substitute it with a more complete and modern one.

The sketch by Pocetti of Arnolfo's façade
The sketch by Poccetti of Arnolfo’s façade

Between 1302 and 1587, there was another attempt to clothe the front of the cathedral. In 1490, the cathedral was declared to be in unsound condition. In the records of the Woolmaker’s Guild, which was responsible for the Duomo’s original construction, is a notice that the design for the original façade was contrary to all architectural rules and orders. The authorities resolved on its reconstruction. This decision was zealously supported by the most influential citizen of the day, Lorenzo de’ Medici. A meeting to consider the matter was convened within the cathedral itself, but, though many eminent artists attended, the discussion ended without coming to a satisfactory conclusion.

The first competition for its completion was announced in 1491, but the jury put off choosing the winner because they did not find any of the presented projects particularly convincing. In one of the upper floors of the Museo Opera del Duomo there are various models and architectural drawings proposed for the new façade to replace the one by Arnolfo.

The façade was left in its unfinished state until the reign of the Grand Duke Francesco I (1575-1587). Finally, the Gothic façade of Arnolfo was torn off in 1587. The court architect Bernardo Buontalenti proposed that the Medici Grand Duke undertake the project by including it in the program intended to modernize the city that had already been started in Vasari’s time. Buontalenti took part in the 1586 competition with a model of classical Baroque inspiration, which we are probably lucky was not carried out. Other participants in the competition included the sculptor Giambologna and Don Giovanni Medici (1566-1621), the illegitimate son of Cosimo I and Eleonora degli Albizzi (he was the architect of the Chapel of the Princes in San Lorenzo).

Madonna and Child by Arnolfo
Madonna and Child by Arnolfo

As part of the removal process, some of the original marble Arnolfo elements were integrated into the new flooring that was being laid in the interior of Santa Maria del Fiore.  A few statues were transported out of Italy and ended up in museums in France and England. But most of the sculptural elements and statues were stored inside the Opera del Duomo, later converted into the present Museum.

These statues can still be seen today in a room on the ground floor. Five were sculpted by Arnolfo himself: St. Zanobus, St. Reparata, the Madonna and Child (1296) with unusual glass eyes, the Madonna of the Nativity and the interesting Pope Boniface VIII, a solidly constructed sculpture whose partial rigidity seems to emphasize the impression of power and authority of the personage. (Dante would have argued against the inclusion of the hated Pope who he reserved a place in the eighth circle of hell in the the Inferno.)

Pope Boniface by Arnolfo
Pope Boniface by Arnolfo

The 1586 competition resulted in no decision, no construction.

A new competition was held in 1633, this time won by the Academy of Fine Arts. The execution was entrusted to the Opera del Duomo’s architect, Gherardo Silvani. The first stone was laid in 1636, but two years later everything was suspended because of the fierce criticism of the project by Silvani himself, who had also unsuccessfully presented a model of his own in the 1633 competition. At this time there was also some sort of scandal that erupted over the project. The new unfinished façade was condemned and removed.

Early 19th century postcard
Early 19th cent. postcard with painted columns

In 1689, on the marriage of Prince Ferdinando, the second son of the Grand Duke Cosimo III, with Duchess Violante Beatrice of Bavaria, the rubble and cement on the front of the cathedral were covered with a coating of paint, representing columns and other architectural decorations.  These eventually faded away, worn by time and weather, over the hundred and sixty years that passed before the Cathedral project was revived.

In 1843 Nicola Matas di Ancona proposed a design for the façade. Other architects argued for their own designs. In 1859 a new competition was held. Politics intervened and another competition was commenced in 1861. The judges were dissatisfied with all of the proposals. In 1863, another competition was held.  In 1865, the year Florence became the capital of Italy, a new panel of judges awarded the prize to Emilio de Fabris.

But, subsequent discussion rendered that decision null and void.

Another competition was called for. This time, the panel was chaired by Pietro Salvatico. He liked Emilio de Fabris’s design, but wanted some changes. A bit of back and forth ensued and in 1876, five years after the capital of Italy moved to Rome, the work on the present façade of the Duomo began. Ten years later, it was completed.

Florence Duomo as night falls
Florence Duomo as night falls

Then the critics began to weigh in, viewing the design and execution as those that would be expected from a committee, which attempted a modern concept while having to incorporate four hundred years of architectural history in the design. Architectural purists may not like the Duomo’s façade, but most of us are in awe every time we see it.

When a Florentine speaks of anything which was destined never to be completed, he would compare it to the cathedral, “La non sarà; già l’opera di Santa Maria del Fiore.”  (“It will never be finished; yes, indeed, like the works of Santa Maria del Fiore.”)

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Happy New Year in Florence

New Year's Celebration in Florence
New Year’s Celebration in Florence

Tuscan Traveler believes that 2014 is going to be the best year yet in Florence. So now we need to get 2013 to give up the ghost and move on.

Time to visit the classics
Time to visit the classics

Everybody, especially the Chinese and Russians tourists, are coming to visit. As the U.S. economy climbs to the top again, we look forward to Americans giving up their “staycations” and coming back to where the food and views are the best in the world! Florence and Tuscany!

Snow on the Florence Duomo
Snow on the Florence Duomo

We are ambivalent about snow in Florence, but for a day or two in January it gives us something to talk about. And the museums are empty so we will catch up on the new exhibits.

Fireworks in Florence at the New Year
Fireworks in Florence at the New Year

So be sure to check into what Tuscan Traveler has to offer in the coming year. If you or friends and family are coming for a visit, visit Friend In Florence for tours and services.

Danta & Guido send best wishes for 2014
Dante & Guido send best wishes for 2014

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Italian Life Rules (the book) is coming in Summer 2014. Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

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Italian Food Rules: The BookAmazon. com (U.S.) paperback

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