Reciting Dante in Florence. Unexpected travel experiences
Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate.
Abandon all hope, ye who enter.
Okay, the truth is he didn’t say that. But it’s the only verse of the Divine Comedy I remember. The inscription above the entrance of Hell. No comment.
Last evening in Florence
Our last evening in Florence after a week tour in Tuscany (Pisa, Lucca, Siena, San Gimignano and Arezzo). We thought that our experience from the trip was over. The next morning we would leave for Ancona, to take the ship back home.
But Florence is inexhaustible. She had a farewell surprise in store for us.
We sat at the restaurant we knew from last time, three years ago. The Sasso di Dante, Dante’s rock. It’s next to the stone of the same name. Dante was supposed to be sitting there for years, watching the Duomo being constructed.
The Duomo, with the largest dome ever built before the invention of concrete. Feel free to be ecstatic
I don’t know if you understood from that that we sat opposite the famous cathedral of Florence, the Virgin Mary of the Flower (Santa Maria del Fiore). The most famous monument, in the city’s heart.
Like sitting opposite the Eiffel tower. Yet, it was not what you imagine. That’s why we chose it again for our last night in Florence.
An unexpected experience
And while we were eating, there comes a guy dressed in medieval clothes. Being opposite the cathedral, we imagined the worst. We armed ourselves with patience and prepared to bear it. But we were wrong.
Eventually, we listened to about a half-hour recitation of the Divine Comedy in perfectly poetic language.
And not only that. It was accompanied by acting. The Divine Comedy is like a play, with many persons and dialogues. Well, the guy did it all in a one-man-show.
The official Italian is the Tuscan dialect. And not by chance. Tuscany owes this to Dante. The success of the Divine Comedy, considered since centuries the leading Italian literary work, transformed the hitherto insignificant dialect into the official Italian language.
Therefore, a quality recitation of the Divine Comedy was the greatest communion with Italian culture we could imagine. And it cost only what one had the pleasure to give.
Even without understanding a word of Italian, eating well opposite the Duomo at night, while listening to the Divine Comedy, is the most complete package of Florentine experience you can have.
Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance
To get serious for a while (only), Florence, being the cradle of the Renaissance, is so rich in monuments, that there’s no sense in listing them. Whichever touristic guide you open, you will find them.
You will say that I become too academic, but I just can’t skip that… Santa Maria Novella, near the railway station. A work of Alberti, the leading theorist of Renaissance architecture. He built only three buildings, but what buildings! The geometric designs of the facade are considered the quintessence of Renaissance harmony (golden ratio etc.). From here started, if not all, at least much
Church of the Holy Spirit. I show it to you because it’s the strangest church of Florence. But it also happens to be the work of Brounelleski, who built the dome of the Duomo
What you will not read, is related to the experience at Sasso di Dante. Even in the heart of such a tourist town, at point 0 of Duomo and the surrounding streets, one can find quality food.
Which is NOT true for all Italian cities. Another time I will tell you some gruesome stories of tourist exploitation. See Venice , this beloved-hated city.
Back to Florence, though.
Florence and the Florentines
Sitting opposite the Duomo, I remembered a story that shows not only how big the cultural wealth of Florence is. This is a cliché. The striking thing is how this wealth is a conscious part of the inhabitants’ daily life.
Recently, it was the fiftieth anniversary of the disastrous flood of November 1966. The worst in the history of Florence.
Many statues and paintings found themselves wallowing in the mud of the overflowed Arno. Today, nothing reminds the visitors of that disaster.
The Old Bridge (Ponte Vecchio), from the Uffizi Gallery. The Arno river, which flooded in 1966
But this is not the case with the city’s old inhabitants. In an earlier visit I paid alone, I had decided to “comb” the cradle of the Renaissance and not leave even the most remote chapel out.
I went to the convent of Santa Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi to see the famous Crucifixion of Perugino, the teacher of the Renaissance giant Raphael.
I know, you have heard neither of the famous Crucifixion nor perhaps of Perugino. But as I said, I had decided to comb Florence and to know her better than most locals.
But that’s not the point. The point is the old guard of the hall containing the mural. As you can imagine, the Crucifixion of Perugino, the only work of art in this place, is NOT the focus of tourist activity in Florence.
The tale of a momentous event
You understand that the old gentleman would not waste the opportunity to chat. If you consider that for the HALF HOUR he spoke to me not a soul appeared except us two, he did well not to miss the chance. Very likely he had not seen all day another crazy guy who would go there for a mural. Or all week, or …
The Crucifixion of Perugino in the Pazzi chapel. It’s here that the old guard seized me. But I learned a lot
The conversation soon went (or rather he turned it) to the flood of 1966. You would think it had happened last year, so vividly did he remember it. He produced (from nowhere) a photo album. And he proudly showed me himself (decades younger), in the uniform and helmet of a volunteer rescuer.
From what he told me, the whole city was mobilised to save the art treasures of Florence from the mud. The photos in the album proved it. Crowds of people had got themselves into the mud pulling out works of Michelangelo or Raphael.
And speaking of Michelangelo … If you are wondering how David was transferred from the square to the museum
Of course, not all works of art were lucky. The most famous victim was the Crucifix of Cimabue, the leading 13th-century painter.
Don’t worry if it doesn’t impress you. After having seen so many similar paintings, it’s normal. But considering its date, it was one of the very works that prepared the Renaissance.
The crucifix of Cimabue, a witness of the disaster of 1966. The flood moved it from high on the wall into the river
Then why do I mention it when you have seen countless works of art in the museums of Florence? To make you understand the height reached by the water. It hung high on the wall, in the Franciscan monastery of the Holy Cross (Santa Croce).
When Florence run the risk of being extinct
If you don’t see THAT, then you must worry you didn’t see Florence. It’s a huge church, the second in Florence after the Duomo and quite central. Even Michelangelo is here. So, don’t miss it.
Santa Croce. On the left Dante, in the inside Michelangelo and many other celebrities
So if you see the state of the Crucifix, after years of conservation, and think that the flood took it off the wall and brought it into the mud, away from the church, you will understand what disaster we are talking about. And you will admire the heroic efforts of the inhabitants to save their beloved city.
During the whole year 2016, Florence hosted events commemorating the flood’s 50th anniversary, honouring the victims and those who helped to save the city. Locals and foreigners, for the mobilization was global.
Useful lessons to everyone.
Back to Florence’s present
And while I was meditating on all this, the recitation of Dante finished. Meanwhile, we had finished our dinner.
And then we met Papi. The restaurant’s owner who sat with us for a while. And here I revert to what I said previously. In Florence, in the very heart of the city, you can find friendly owners, who are willing to sit down with you and talk to you, even if you have already eaten and they already know that you are leaving tomorrow. Let’s not start again with you know who…
So we engaged ourselves in conversation with the likeable Papi. And we learned that he had undertaken the restaurant only a year ago. That is, three years ago we had eaten practically in another restaurant. And we were so sure of the quality, we sat like silly tourists without checking anything. Fortunately, it had remained good. We were SO lucky!
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It’s not far away. The view from INSIDE Florence (you just have to climb up to the Palazzo del Belvedere. It’s worth the trouble)
Again, from INSIDE Florence
In Florence, even the youth hostel is a Renaissance palazzo. But that’s from another trip when I was much more of a youth
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