The birth of the Italian language and the medieval Florentine
Dante Alighieri is one of the most important Italian poets who also had a fundamental role in the birth of the Italian language. He was the first to believe in Italian. That’s the truth. In fact, they called him, appropriately, the “father of the Italian language”. Why? Because Dante did more for Italian than all other writers combined. This is the reason why Dante’s tomb is celebrated in Santa Croce, the most famous church of Florence. In the XIV century, the century he lived in, everyone considered Latin the perfect language, and new languages born from Latin were considered worthless. However, Dante wrote that Italian was worth as much as Latin, and could serve for writing high literary works.
The Divine Comedy and Florentine
In the new language he wrote the most beautiful and famous opera in Italian literature: The Divine Comedy. Dante wrote in his mother tongue, which was 13th century Florentine. He used elegant expressions as well as vulgar ones. In certain parts of the Divine Comedy, Dante even used bad words! The people, who weren’t educated, used the vulgar language (which means those languages which aren’t Latin). So today we say something is vulgar if it isn’t refined. Dante writes in vulgar Florentine. The style varies according to the theme. In fact, it varies from a more colloquial register (in Inferno) to a more refined register (in Paradiso).
Florentine and the birth of the Italian language
The Divine Comedy was so successful that Dante’s Florentine, with some transformation, became the base for today’s Italian. Just think that 90% of the words we use today in everyday Italian were already around in the Divine Comedy! Of course, some of these words have changed meaning over time. For example, the word gentile, or kind, for Dante meant nobile di sentimenti, or nobile sentiments, which today means a polite person. However, most words and their meanings have remained the same! Dante transforms words deriving from Latin into common-use words that we still sat today. And not only Italian, since many words deriving form Latin passed through other languages, like English!
For example, the word “fertile”, fertile: it was the Divine Comedy that introduced this Latinism into the common language. The word derives from “ferre”, or “portare, produrre”—carry, produce. Dante uses it in the XI canto of Paradiso. The celebrated passage by Saint Francis, where the “fertile costa” (fertile coast) indicates the place where the saint was born. That’s how it contributed to the birth of the Italian language!
Dante’s tomb in Ravenna
The Santa Croce Basilica in Florence is home to the tombs of the most illustrious Florentines. But what’s the story behind Dante’s tomb? Is the poet’s body inside the sarcophagus? The answer is no. On September 14, 1321 Dante Alighieri died in Ravenna falling ill (probably malaria) as he was travelling back from the embassy in Venice. Not even in death was Dante able to enjoy the stability he had so yearned for during his last, most tormented years in exile. The day after his death, his body was buried in a sarcophagus in the San Francesco convent. After a few years, the Florentines began to demand the remains of their most illustrious citizen from Ravenna. This “risk” became more certain when two Florentine popes ascended the pontificate throne. Both were from the Medici family: Leo X (1513-21) and Clement VII (1523-35).
The Florentines claim Dante’s tomb
In 1519, Leo X, following a plea by the very famous Michelangelo, gave his co-citizens permission to remove the bones of the poet in order to take them to Florence. However, when the Tuscan delegation opened the sarcophagus the bones were no longer there. In fact, the Franciscan friars had shortly before put a hole in the wall of the sarcophagus from the cloister behind it. They put the poet’s bones in a safe place. Useless attempts were made to have the bones returned. Dante’s tomb was then heavily guarded. Imagine that when maintenance on the tomb was done in 1692, the workers had to work under surveillance by guards!
Ravenna’s monks hide Dante’s tomb
The bones were closed up in a box in 1677 (today conserved in the Dante museum) by the prior of the convent Antonio Sarti. Only in 1781 were they put in their original urn when the current mausoleum was built. The monks hid them again during Napoleon’s time when the convent was closed. This was to keep the occupational troops from taking them and selling them as spoils of war. They were closed in the wall of the adjoining oratory. The monks subsequently left the city and nothing more was learned about the box. So, from the 1800s, everyone who went to Ravenna to pay homage to Dante ignored the fact that his tomb was empty.
The mystery of Dante’s tomb
The bones of the great poet were found by accident by a worker on May 27, 1865. They were doing restoration for the seven hundredth anniversary of his birth. Thanks to a young student, who read and translated the phrase on the box, the bones didn’t end up in a common grave. “Dantis ossa a me Fra Antonio Santi hic posita anno 1677 die 18 octobris”. They were the bones of Dante Alighieri. The remains were reassembled and put on public display for a few months in a crystal urn. Then entombed again inside the small funeral temple. During the Second World War the box was again hidden to keep it from being destroyed during bombing. It was removed from the temple on March 23, 1944 and relocated on December 19, 1945. During this period it was buried close to the mausoleum under a mound covered by greenery, which today is marked with a gravestone. In 1829, in hopes that the relics would be returned, a large neo-classic cenotaph was erected in Santa Croce in Florence. It portrays the poet seated and pensive, raised in glory by Italia, as Poesia weeps over the sarcophagus.
Dante Alighieri and Florence politics
Dante Alighieri and Florence are deeply linked. Besides being the city where he was born, Florence is also the theatre of his education and literary work. Dante Alighieri was born in March (or perhaps June) 1265 in Florence. He belonged to a Guelph faction, the party in Medieval times which supported the power of the Pope over the Emperor (Ghibellines). He grew up during years of great economic growth and culture in Florence. When he was twenty he married Gemma di Manetto, who belonged to a secondary branch of a large noble family. They had four children—Jacopo, Pietro, Giovanni, and Antonia. In 1295 he went into politics finding Pope Boniface VIII as opposition. The pope was supported by the Black Guelphs who represented the richest Florentine families. They accepted the Pope’s control over the state’s internal affairs. Dante, however, was part of the White Guelphs. They vindicated instead the independence of Florence from the Papal power.
The Exile of Dante
In 1301, just as Charles de Valois was arriving in Florence and the Black party (supported by the pope) was gaining the upper hand, Dante was called to Rome to Boniface VIII’s court. The political trial thus began. Dante, accused of corruption, was suspended from public office and sentenced to pay a heavy fine. Since Dante, just like his peers, didn’t lower himself to stand in front of the judges, he was sentenced to the confiscation of his assets. If he was found in the territory of Florence, he would be turned over to the executioner. So he was forced to leave his city aware that Boniface VIII had tricked him by holding him in Rome while the Blacks took power in Florence. This is how Boniface VIII gained an important place in the circles of “Inferno” in the “The Divine Comedy”. This was the end of the love between Dante Alighieri and Florence. He never forgave his city for having abandoned him. Dante died prematurely in Ravenna between September 13 and 14, 1321, probably due to a malarial fever contracted in Venice where he had been on a diplomatic mission.
The Divine Comedy
However, it was during his exile that he began writing his great work The Divine Comedy. Dante chose the title because even though it begins tragically (Inferno), it ends pleasantly (Paradiso). Thereafter, it was defined as “Divine” by Boccaccio to highlight the work’s celestial inspiration and its theological nature. The work is an allegory and describes the divine voyage taken at Easter in 1300. Dante finds himself in a “dark woods” (period of personal misdirection) and is rescued by Virgil. Dante chose Virgil because he studied his works during his formative years. Virgil becomes his guide down to the infernal circles and the climb up Mount Purgatory. He’s then accompanied by Beatrice, always portrayed as an angelical figure, upon his arrival at the gates of Paradise. Saint Bernard guides him in the final part — the Empyrean. The voyage ends with God’s contemplation. The work is divided into 3 cantiche, subdivided into 33 canti each and an introduction. The recurrence of the number 3 is importance as it symbolizes the Trinity.
The BBC Travel Show in Florence!
Hi, I’m Keith Wallace with the BBC. I’m going to be in your city for a few days working on a piece for The Travel Show in Florence. How about taking me around the city?
I thought about it for a second, then….Yes, sure!
The starting point for The Travel Show’s piece on Florence was the Uffizi Gallery entrance fee hike. It’s one of the most important museums in Italy. Keith wanted to show that Florence has a lot more to offer than the Uffizi. You can visit other places that are just as beautiful without paying to get in. After all…Florence is an open-air museum! He asked me to take him to a couple of lesser-known places in town that are free. I immediately proposed the Oratory of Buonomini di San Martino and Cimitero delle Porte Sante, or The Sacred Doors Cemetery.
The Oratory of Buonomini di San Martino
The Confraternity of the Buonomini di San Martino was founded in 1441. It aimed to rescue “I poveri verghognosi”. They were the wealthy fallen in disgrace because of political conflict, economic upset, or other misfortunes. These people never asked publicly for charity because they were ashamed (vergognosi in italian). The twelve brothers (the so-called Buonomini, “good men”) still help these kinds of people today. At that time they wore a black cape and red hat, as they are easily recognizable in the oratory’s frescoes. These frescoes were painted in the XIV century by Ghirlandaio, a great Renaissance painter and Michelangelo’s teacher, and his workshop.
The Sacred Doors Cemetery
The idea of a burial place near San Miniato came around 1837, even though the cemetery was inaugurated eleven years later in 1848. The project was initially given to the architect Niccolò Matas (the creator of the Santa Croce façade). Simultaneously, the architect Giuseppe Poggi, creator of Viale dei Colli and Piazzale Michelangelo, was developing the new road network. In addition to many tombs in the neo-gothic, renaissance, and oriental styles, the cemetery houses the remains of many illustrious personalities, such as Carlo Collodi, the inventor of the famous puppet Pinocchio.
Florence off the beaten path
It was a lot of fun shooting The Travel Show in Florence! Keith Wallace and his troupe are really great people! I confess that I was a little nervous because I had spent the last few months being a full-time mom, far away from my job as a tourist guide, but it was a fantastic experience! I hope I contributed to introducing two fairly unknown places in Florence because there’s more than the Uffizi, the Accademia, and the Duomo – the best sellers. There are many squares, markets, neighborhoods, and museums that are waiting to be seen! And with a tourist guide taking care of you….it’s a different story!
Curious about discovering Florence as a movie set? With the help of its immortal beauty, Florence has always been an extraordinary open-air filming set. From comedies to dramas, from thrillers to war movies, Florence is often the choice of many movie directors. Recently, the city has hosted by the set of a TV series about the Medici family, called “Medici. Masters of Florence“. Why Florence as a movie set? Because it offers medieval corners, Renaissance palazzi, breath-taking views and pictoresque streets. Beautiful Firenze is the theatre of the “banquets” of Hannibal the Cannibal, the adventures of Robert Langdon and is the city of the famous A room with a view.
The saga of the famous symbolist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) continues with the colossal “Inferno”, from Dan Brown’s book. Langdon is working with a series of clues linked to Dante Alighieri. He wakes up in a Florentine hospital with amnesia and thus begins his adventure with Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), the doctor who helps him recover his memory. Together they travel all over Europe in a race against time. They have to stop the madness of a man who intends on unleashing a global virus (the lethal Zobrist virus), that could kill half the world’s population. Many places in Florence were shot in the movie including: Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, The Vasari Corridor, The Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza Duomo, and the Baptistery.
The Best of Youth (2003)
On the giant canvas that recounts 40 years of Italian history, Marco Tullio Giordana also arrives in the Tuscan capital. Many scenes take place in Florence, where the director shot Piazza della Signoria, The Uffizi Gallery, The National Library, and Santo Spirito Church.
Florence is where Doctor Lecter decides to hide under a false name. In the second chapter directed by Ridley Scott we find him on the brink of becoming the curator of the Palazzo Capponi library in via de’ Bardi. Scott also immortalizes Palazzo Vecchio, Santa Croce, the Mercato Nuovo Loggia, and the shops on Ponte Vecchio.
Tea with Mussolini (1999)
Starting from Piazza Santo Spirito, Franco Zeffirelli’s film shows us the more cultural side of Florence. Memorable scenes were filmed in The Uffizi Gallery, Piazza Signoria, and also the “Gipsoteca”, or plaster cast gallery, at the Art Institute at Porta Romana.
Portrait of a Lady (1996)
Here we see a young Nicole Kidman in the lead role of one of Jane Campion’s best films. Straight from the Henry James novel, the film tells the story of Isabel. She is an American who arrives in Florence in the late 1800s after receiving a sizeable inheritance. The Tuscan setting wouldn’t be complete without the “Duomo”— or Cathedral of Florence.
Room with a View (1986)
Based on E.M. Forster’s novel of the same name, the city here plays a fundamental role. Together with the breathtaking panoramas and “Lungarni”, the streets along the Arno river, you can even see the meadows in Fiesole. That’s because Florence is a city where “it’s such a shame that you have to have a room without a view”. Choosing Florence as a movie set was the best!
Florence appears in the fourth episode of this Rossellini masterpiece. The director shows us a sadly empty Piazza San Giovanni patrolled by Germans, as his two protagonists make a frenetic run through the Vasari Corridor.
Florence San Giovanni Fireworks
The origins of Florence San Giovanni holiday
The San Giovanni holiday has ancient origins. Once nobles and lords donated large candles to the cathedral to celebrate Florence’s patron saint. As the city and its lords became more powerful, the candles became richer and more and more beautiful. Some were destined for the Baptistery, others were sold and the money was used for the church.
Even today, on the morning of June 24, a small parade of citizens, including the mayor and other officials, leave Palazzo Vecchio and symbolically carry a large candle to donate to the patron of the candles in the baptistery. Here Florence’s bishop celebrates high mass (at 10:30). The long day of celebration of Florence’s patron saint ends with a gigantic fireworks display. The fireworks are set off between 10 and 11 p.m. from Piazzale Michelangelo, the ideal place so that the fireworks can be seen from all over.
The best places to watch Florence San Giovanni fireworks
One of the most frequented places to see Florence’s San Giovanni fireworks is undoubtedly the Arno beach. The Florentine word for fireworks is “fohi”, which comes from fuoco, the Italian word for fire. Since we Florentines have a hard time pronouncing the “c” in words, it becomes an “h” and makes us easily recognizable! Everyone in the rest of the country makes fun of us for it. Anyway, from the beach you can see the San Giovanni “fohi” as you stick your feet in the sand and relax on a beach blanket, with the Torre San Niccolò as the backdrop. The Arno’s banks are the most crowded place on the night of June the 24th. This is in fact the place to see the reflection of the fireworks on the river. If you want a guaranteed breathtaking view, find a place on Ponte Santa Trinita so you can see them go off over Ponte Vecchio.
Lesser known places to see Florence San Giovanni fireworks
Anyone who’s looking for an exclusive place to see the fireworks will be spoiled for choice. There are many beautiful luxury hotel terraces from which to enjoy the show. You can watch them while sipping cocktails and enjoying a candlelight dinner! Some of fantastic terraces are at the Grand Hotel Baglioni, Plaza Lucchesi, and the Westin Excelsior.
Orti del Parnaso Garden is the best solution for watching the fireworks for those who don’t love crowds. It’s at the highest point of the Giardino dell’Orticultura, Florence’s Horticulture Garden. You’ll enjoy a fabulous panoramic view with the cathedral’s dome in the background and the lighted Roster Tepidarium in a beautiful part of the city that’s ignored by tourists.
Another quiet place is Fiesole. The panoramic view of Florence from the hill of Saint Francis is romantic and ideal for enjoying the “fohi fiorentini”.
The Florence Experiment
Palazzo Strozzi is hosting The Florence Experiment from April 19 until August 26. The experiment unites art and science by studying the interaction between plants and humans through two monumental slides. It’s a new site-specific project by the artist Carsten Höller and the scientist Stefano Mancuso, and curated by Arturo Galansino. They give visitors the chance to slide 20 meters down from the palace’s second floor loggia to the courtyard. There is also a lab for analyzing data in the “Strozzina” [basement of Palazzo Strozzi].
Höller and Mancuso
Carsten Höller is famous for his deliberation of the relationship between art, science and technology. Stefano Mancuso, founder of plant neurobiology, studies plant intelligence. He analyzes them as complex beings endowed with extraordinary sensitivity. The plants might be able to communicate with the outside through chemical composites and perceive and emit. The Florence Experiment proposes a consideration of the relationship between humans and plants. Palazzo Strozzi thus becomes a scientific and artistic space for the communicative and emotional abilities of all living beings.
Two big slides in the Palazzo Strozzi courtyard
The first part of the project is made up of the two big slides in the courtyard of Palazzo Strozzi (The Florence Experiment). Every week a random number of visitors go down the slide carrying a bean plant. Afterwards, the plant is delivered to a team of scientists who analyze its photosynthetic parameters and the molecules it emitted in reaction to the slide. Results are compared with plants that slid down alone, and others that did not go down the slide.
The air of fear and fun
The second part of the experiment is called “Plant Decision-Making Based on Human Smell of Fear and Joy”. Two cinema theaters are used. A horror film plays in one and comedy film shorts in the other. The visitor’s fear or joy releases different chemical compounds into the air. Through two vacuum ducts, these compounds are transported onto the facade of the palace. Here they can influence the growth of the wisteria plants positioned on the palace in a Y shape. The “air of fear” is released from one arm of the Y, while “the air of joy” is released from the other.
The Florence Experiment: how and where
The Florence Experiment is open every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Thursday to 11 p.m. until August 26 at Palazzo Strozzi. To participate to the project it is necessary to read and accept the warnings in the ticket office and available online at this link. The minimum age is 6, minimum height between 130 and 195 cm, and weight below 120 kg. Signed approval from an adult is necessary for children under 14.
Firenze Rocks 2018, June 14-17
It’s been years since a rock festival like this was organized in Italy, but Firenze Rocks 2018 has brought Italy up to the European standard. Last year the festival was deemed a success then renewed for this year. In 2017, the three-day concert hosted supergroups such as Radiohead, Placebo, Aerosmith, Eddie Vedder, and System of a Down. 212,000 concert-goers in all, with 23,000 foreigners. The city saw 8% more tourists than in 2016. The second edition this year, a four-day festival from June 14-17, 2018, will put to the test what was learned in the first edition. The organizers want to change Firenze Rocks into the most important festival in Italy, right in the cradle of the Renaissance.
The artists of Firenze Rocks 2018
The legends of rock live on stage at the Ippodromo del Visarno are: June 14 Foo Fighters, June 15 Guns N’Roses, June 16 Iron Maiden, and June 17 Ozzy Osbourne. At least two bands will open for each headliner. Avenged Sevenfold and Judas Priest will open for Ozzy Osbourne. The Kills, Wolf Alice, and Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes will open for Foo Fighters. Volbeat, Baroness, and The Pink Slip will open for Guns N’Roses. Helloween, Jonathan Davis, and Shinedown will open for Iron Maiden.
What’s new in Firenze Rocks 2018
Two big changes for 2018. First, a four-day festival pass will be on sale for €235 general admission and €280 for the pit. The total for the four individual concert dates is €250 for general admission and €290 for the pit plus the pre-sale fee for each concert. The festival pass is recommended for those who want to see all four concerts. The second is about the payment options inside Visarno. They are designing a “cashless” area where you can pay using a rechargeable chip bracelet.
The origins of the Uffizi Gallery
The Uffizi Gallery is Florence’s most famous museum and one of the most famous in the world, thanks to its Renaissance collection.
In 1560 Cosimo I de’ Medici decided to place the city’s administrative and judicial offices in a new building on the banks of the Arno. Uffizi means actually offices in old Italian. The plan was designed by Giorgio Vasari. He completed it a few years later with the addition of the corridor (The Vasarian Corridor) connecting it to Pitti Palace, the Medici family’s residence.
The Uffizi Gallery was designed to exalt the power of the monarch that had recently taken office in Palazzo Vecchio. In 1574, Francesco I, Cosimo I’s son, handed over the unfinished construction to Bernardo Buontalenti. Francesco I decided to designate the loggia on the top floor as his personal gallery. It had to keep his collection of 15th-century paintings, cameos, stones, jewelry, statues, bronzes, miniatures, scientific tools, and natural rarities.
The Uffizi Gallery and its collections
Between the 1500s and 1600s the Hall of Maps was dedicated to the maps of the domains of Florence, Siena, and Elba Island. The Stanzino delle Matematiche (Little Room of Mathematics) was created to conserve innovative scientific tools of the period.
Vittoria della Rovere enriched the Gallery with splendid works of art by Titian, Piero della Francesca, Raphael, Federico Barocci, and others. She was the wife of Ferdinand II de’ Medici and the last descendent of the Dukes of Urbino.
Some of the most important acquisitions of the Gallery were part of Cosimo III’s collection, like the beautiful Flemish paintings (Rubens). The Gallery also housed works such as mummies and taxidermy animals. These aroused the curiosity of the monarchy and the intellectuals of the Renaissance.
At the end of the Medici dynasty, the Uffizi Gallery remained integral thanks to the bequest of the last heir Anna Maria Luisa to the Asburgo Lorenas. They became the new sovereignty of Tuscany. With the famous Family Pact, Anna Maria Luisa ordered the entire collection to remain intact and to never leave the city of Florence.
The Uffizi Gallery becomes a museum
The Lorenas were the ones to open the Uffizi Gallery to the public in 1789. They also reorganized the collections according to Enlightenment criteria, separating the major from the minor arts. Thus the armory, the majolicas, and the scientific tools were moved. The Gallery then gave privilege to the Italian paintings collection. In the 1800s the Uffizi was enriched with sculptures of illustrious characters placed under the loggia outside. The Uffizi was characterized more and more as a gallery of paintings. It actually saw the transfer of many sculptures to other museums. Collections from churches and religious institutions were also purchased. Today an addition to the Uffizi museum is being built. New installations are being planned. This will give the public a chance to admire the many precious works conserved in the building’s depository.
Today I want to tell you where you can eat the best Florentine steak in Florence (bistecca alla fiorentina). Succulent, rare and thick. In one of the last articles I talked about the bistecca alla fiorentina and its characteristics. Here you have a little summary of restaurants personally tested… it’s a hard job, but someone has to do it!
Antico Ristoro di Cambi (via Sant’Onofrio 1R) is a little bit bigger than a typical trattoria (130 seats—a trattoria is usually smaller). However, despite its size, a lot of attention is given to quality. Their Florentine steak is matured perfectly and cooked just right, so that it’s well-done on the outside and rare on the inside. Tripe and the local dish lampredotto are other highlights on the menu.
Just around the corner from the blazoned via Tornabuoni is the Florentine steak at Buca Lapi. This restaurant is characterized by its traditionally elegant décor. Featured also are other typical Tuscan dishes served tastefully, without the haughtiness of TV chefs. The bill is worthy of the nearby fashion street, but the restaurant is always full. Book in advance.
The best Florentine steak in Florence outskirts
Burde is another part of Florence’s history, open since the early 1900s. Trattoria Da Burde is still today a must for those who want to try their Florentine steak, peposo (peppery beef stew), bollito (boiled mixed meat in vegetable broth), and other typical Tuscan dishes, like pasta and beans, l’acquacotta alla maremmana (mixed vegetable and bread soup), spelt, and other soups. Historically run by the Gori family, the family sommelier promises to impress you with their wine cellar without putting on airs.
First place goes to Perseus, a city establishment frequented by Florentines, assuring quality and quantity. Perseus is a short walk beyond Piazza della Libertà. This is not one of the most popular tourist attractions, but easy to get to on foot. Their specialty is meat. Here you can find really the best Florentine steak in Florence! Their first courses and desserts will surely satisfy. If you’re on a romantic vacation, you can try out Fiesole, the restaurant on the hill. The entrance is in front of Teatro Romano). Try their fillet with green peppercorns if you want something different (or if your partner doesn’t indulge in the bistecca alla fiorentina). Delicious!