I recently met a friend in front of the church in Piazza Sant’ Ambrogio, near Santa Croce, in a spot that is the terminus for 3 streets : via de’ Pilastri, via di Mezzo, and Borgo la Croce e via Carducci.
While waiting, I noticed for the first time, although I’ve been in this piazza a hundred times before, something new.
Looking a bit higher than I normally do, I saw a glazed terra-cotta tabernacle, in the style of the Della Robbia, of a figure that I assumed was a priest or even a pope, making a sign of blessing.
I ventured nearer to photograph the inscription below, and was rewarded with this information:
Loosely translated, the inscription reads: “Stop, you passers by, and read this. Know that 2 neighborhoods were passed by the immortal Pope Pius VII on 8 May, 1807, where he devotedly and humbly gave an apostolic blessing to the inhabitants.”
I seldom have occasion to discuss the Catholic Church, that foundational stone of Italian culture, in my blog, so let’s do a little something about that now.
Who was Pope Pius VII?
Portrait of Pius VII painted by Jacques-Louis David
He was born in 1742 as Barnaba Niccolò Maria Luigi Chiaramonti. He would rise all the way to head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 1800 until his death in 1823. Chiaramonti was also a monk of the Order of Saint Benedict in addition to being a well-known theologian and bishop throughout his life.
Chiaramonti was born in Cesena, about 30 miles south of Ravenna, in 1742, the youngest son of Count Scipione Chiaramonti (1698 – 1750) and Giovanna Coronata (d. 1777). His mother was the daughter of the Marquess Ghini; though his family was of noble status, they were not wealthy.
Like his brothers, he attended the Collegio dei Nobili in Ravenna but decided to join the Order of Saint Benedict at the age of 14 on 2 October 1756 as a novice at the Abbey of Santa Maria del Monte in Cesena. In 1758, he became a professed member and assumed the name of Gregorio. He taught at Benedictine colleges in Parma and Rome, and was ordained a priest on 21 September 1765.
In 1789, as the French Revolution took place, a series of anti-clerical governments came into power. During the French Revolutionary Wars, troops under Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Rome and took Pope Pius VI as a prisoner. He was taken as prisoner to France, where he died in 1799. The following year, after a sede vacante period lasting approximately six months, Chiaramonti was elected to the papacy, and took as his pontifical name Pius VII, in honor of his immediate predecessor.
He was crowned on 21 March 1800 in a rather unusual ceremony, wearing a papier-mâché papal tiara as the French had seized the tiaras held by the Holy See when occupying Rome and forcing Pius VI into exile. Pius VII then left for Rome, sailing on a barely seaworthy Austrian ship, the Bellona. The twelve-day voyage ended at Pesaro and he proceeded to Rome.
Pius at first attempted to take a cautious approach in dealing with Napoleon. He signed the Concordat of 1801, through which he succeeded in guaranteeing religious freedom for Catholics living in France, and presided over his coronation as Emperor of the French in 1804. Pius VII presided at the coronation of Napoleon I in 1804.
Once again, in 1809, Napoleon invaded the Papal States during the Napoleonic Wars; this earned him ex-communication. Pius VII was taken prisoner and transported to France. He remained there until Napoleon abdicated in 1813 and Pius VII returned to Rome. He was greeted warmly as a hero and defender of the faith and immediately revived the Inquisition and the Index of Condemned Books.
His works, some notable, some to be regretted:
Pius VII joined the declaration of the 1815 Congress of Vienna, represented by Cardinal Secretary of State Ercole Consalvi, and urged the suppression of the slave trade. This pertained particularly to places such as Spain and Portugal where slavery was economically important. The pope wrote a letter to King Louis XVIII of France dated 20 September 1814 and to the King John VI of Portugal in 1823 to urge the end of slavery. He condemned the slave trade and defined the sale of people as an injustice to the dignity of the human person. In his letter to the King of Portugal, he wrote: “the Pope regrets that this trade in blacks, that he believed having ceased, is still exercised in some regions and even more cruel way. He begs and begs the King of Portugal that it implement all its authority and wisdom to extirpate this unholy and abominable shame.”
Under Napoleonic rule, the Jewish Ghetto had been abolished and Jews were free to live and move where they would. Following the restoration of Papal rule, Pius VII re-instituted the confinement of Jews to the Ghetto, having the doors closed at nighttime.
Pius VII was a man of culture and attempted to reinvigorate Rome with archaeological excavations in Ostia which revealed ruins and icons from ancient times. He also had walls and other buildings rebuilt and restored the Arch of Constantine. He ordered the construction of fountains and piazzas and erected the obelisk at Monte Pincio.
The pope also made sure Rome was a place for artists and the leading artists of the time like Antonio Canova and Peter von Cornelius. He also enriched the Vatican Library with numerous manuscripts and books.
The so-called “miracle” of Pius VII. On 15 August 1811 – the Feast of the Assumption – it is recorded that the pope celebrated Mass and was said to have entered a trance and began to levitate in a manner that drew him to the altar. This particular episode aroused great wonder and awe among attendants which included the French soldiers guarding him who were in disbelief of what had occurred.
Relationship with the United States. On the United States’ undertaking of the First Barbary War to suppress the Muslim Barbary pirates along the southern Mediterranean coast, ending their kidnapping of Europeans for ransom and slavery, Pius VII declared that the United States “had done more for the cause of Christianity than the most powerful nations of Christendom have done for ages.”
For the United States, he established several new dioceses in 1808 for Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia. In 1821, he also established the dioceses of Charleston, Richmond and Cincinnati.
Pius VII died in 1823 at the age of 81. He was later buried in a monument in Saint Peter’s Basilica by the leading sculptor of the day, the Danish Bertel Thorvaldsen.
How’s my goal of living in Italy working out? Pretty well. It hasn’t been easy or fast, but it has been steady.
I came to Florence at the end of November in 2016. I arrived with a student Visa, which let me live in Italy beyond the 90 days any American can stay in Europe as a tourist. I stayed in Florence for 11 months and successfully obtained the all important Permesso di Soggiorno with that Visa. The Permesso expired after 8 months, regardless of the fact that I had already paid for Italian language school for 12 months. Lesson 1: there is no logic.
I returned to the states in October of 2017, going from Florence to Chicago where it was necessary for me to go to the Italian Consulate to apply for an elective residency Visa. Such a Visa allows Americans like me, if we are fortunate enough to receive the Visa, to live in Italy under certain circumstances. Chicago was necessary for me because my home is in Denver and that’s the way that cookie is divided. I filed the myriad documents needed to show my eligibility for the elective residency Visa, and then went to Denver to wait its hoped-for arrival.
Fortunately, I received the Visa. But, it has certain conditions. I won’t enumerate them all, but one of the most important ones is that I am not allowed to have gainful employment in Italy. I cannot receive any payment from anyone in Italy. Doing so could result not only in my Visa being revoked, but the Italian government could prohibit me from ever setting foot in Italy again. It’s a powerful rule.
I returned to Florence in December of 2017, armed with my new elective residency Visa. The first step, then, once within the country, is that within 8 days, one must apply for the Permesso di Soggiorno. I applied for this before Christmas in 2017 and then began to wait for its arrival.
Some people will receive their Permesso within a month, or so they say. Others, like me, are not so lucky. I waited for 8 months to receive word that my new Permesso was ready for me to pick up at the police station, or the dreaded Questura.
In July of 2018, I received a text message telling me to appear at the Questura on a certain date in early August, at a certain time. I did as I was asked. I turned in my old, expired, student-based Permesso, and received my new one. Unfortunately, my new Permesso was already expired when I received it. You read that right. Welcome to Italy.
The true impact of this situation on my daily life was nil. As long as one re-applies for a new Permesso within a short period, and keeps the receipt of that application with them at all times, typically no problems will result. Fortunately, I have never been stopped by the police in Italy and asked to show my documents. Theoretically, even if the police did stop me and ask for my documents, the receipt of the new Permesso application would suffice.
I filed my new application for a new Permesso in late September of 2018. Of course I kept a copy of the receipt for fees paid for that application with me at all times.
And then I began the wait for my new Permesso.
So, what is the importance of this waiting period on my life? Again, on a daily basis it is unnoticeable. However, there are other steps that one needs to do to truly function in present day Italy after one receives the Permesso.
For example, I tried to open a bank account in Italy in the winter of 2017, while I had my student Visa and my related Permesso. With the assistance of an Italian friend, we could not find a bank that was willing to open an account for me. I suppose I was considered to be too transient to bother with.
At that time, I was warned about opening an Italian bank account in any case. Still not having one, I cannot tell you exactly why people recommended I NOT open an account, should I ever find a bank that was willing to let me. Why? As I understand it, bank accounts here are very different from what I’m used to in the USA. For starters, it is quite costly to maintain an account here. In any case, no bank would open an account for me if I didn’t have a current Permesso di Soggiorno. Although I never tried to open an account with just my receipt, perhaps I could have done so. It just didn’t seem worthwhile to try, so I didn’t. For months I expected to receive my new Permesso and then I would try. That was my plan
Once I received my elective residency Visa and had an actual, unexpired Permesso di Soggiorno, I could follow other steps. First among these is applying for a Certificato di Residenza. I still don’t understand why this is important to have, but it is. There are certain things I just accept here and just accept that it makes no sense to me. The Serenity Prayer comes in handy.
After obtaining the Certificato di Residenza, one can apply for the Carta d’ Identita, which is necessary to have before applying for an Italian health care card which would allow me to seek medical treatment in Italy should the need arise. Up until such time, it is incumbent upon me to maintain a private traveler’s health insurance policy to cover unforseen events. As a matter of fact, proof of such a policy is a necessary document needed to apply for both the elective residency Visa and also for the Permesso di Soggiorno.
So, I’ve been waiting since last September (2018), for my new Permesso di Soggiorno. Six months went by, 7 months, 8 months, 9 months, 10 months and then, finally, I received a text message telling me my new Permesso would be ready for me to pick up at the Questura last week. I went with baited breath, wondering if it would already be expired again.
This time, I got lucky. True, I had to wait 11.5 months for the thing, but at least I got one that does not expire for 12 months! I’m suddenly completely legal, not needing any receipts for anything, at least for a year! Then I get to do the whole thing over again.
So, how did I celebrate? I did so by immediately (the next week) applying for my Certificato di Residenza. I was informed by knowledgeable people and blogs that this would arrive 45 days after I applied for it. Then I could apply for the Carta d’ Identita.
Imagine my surprise, after going to the correct government office in Florence, when the clerk told me she could produce and give it to me that same day! She asked me if I wanted to apply for the Carta d’ Identita and I mostly certainly did. She gave me the forms to sign and submitted them. She said I should receive it within a week (I’ll expect it within a month, if I’m lucky).
Once I have that in hand, I intend to apply for the Italian health care card which, if I understand things correctly, will allow me to seek medical assistance if the need were to arise, which I obviously hope it will not!
And, bonus, in the meantime I met an Italian who works with a lot of English speakers, and she told me that she thought I could apply for a “bank account” with the Italian postal system. Say what?
It turned out, she was correct. I went into the Post Office in Florence last week and opened an account that seems to be something like a bank account…even if it is with the postal system. I have a new debit card and the ability to wire money into this account from the US. For the first time since I arrived in Italy in November of 2016, I will be able to pay my rent to my landlord’s bank account. Up until now, I’ve had to take cash out of the ATM over the period of a few days to get enough money together to pay my rent.
All of a sudden, I feel like I’m living in the 21st century again. However, I’ve been in Italy long enough to know that any number of things could and may still go wrong. I’ll check in again once money has successfully been wired from the states to my post office bank account and I’ve paid my rent. Fingers crossed.
And, next week, I’ll apply for a health insurance card. Step by slow step, my life in Italy is becoming complete.
The rich history of Padua was only partially discussed here. This post continues the story.
Beginning with the 12th Century in Padova:
The Carrara Family, also called Carraresi, was a medieval Italian family who ruled first as feudal lords about the village of Carrara in the countryside near Padua and then as moderately enlightened despots in the city of Padua.
Having moved into Padua itself in the 13th century, the Carraresi exploited the feuds of urban politics first as Ghibelline and then as Guelf leaders and were thus able to found a new and more illustrious dominion. The latter began with the election of Jacopo da Carrara as perpetual captain general of Padua in 1318 but was not finally established, with Venetian help, until the election of his nephew Marsiglio in 1337.
For approximately 50 years, the Carraresi ruled with no serious rivals except among members of their own family. Marsiglio was succeeded without incident by Ubertino (1338–45), but Marsigliello, who succeeded Ubertino, was deposed and murdered by Jacopo di Niccolò (1345–50).
Jacopo was then murdered by Guglielmino and succeeded by his brother Jacopino di Niccoló (1350–55), and Jacopino in turn was dispossessed and imprisoned by his nephew Francesco il Vecchio (1355–87). Such a nice family to call your own.
Despite this chaos, the Carrara court was one of the most brilliant in all of the Italian peninsula. Ubertino in particular was a patron of building and the arts, and Jacopo di Niccolò was a close friend of Petrarch.
Only with the exception of a brief period of Scaligeri (the ruling family in Verona) overlordship between 1328 and 1337 and two years (1388–1390) when Giangaleazzo Visconti held the town, Padua was pretty much owned by the Carraresi.
The many advances of Padova in the 13th century naturally brought the commune into conflict with Can Grande della Scala, lord of Verona. In 1311, Padua had to yield.
But, even under the Carraresi, it was a long period of restlessness, for the Carraresi were constantly at war. Under Carraresi rule, the early humanist circles at the University of Padua were effectively disbanded: Albertino Mussato, the first modern poet laureate, died in exile at Chioggia in 1329, and the eventual heir of the Paduan literary tradition went to the Tuscan Petrarch.
In 1387, John Hawkwood won the Battle of Castagnaro for Padua, against Giovanni Ordelaffi, for Verona.
The Carraresi period finally came to an end as the power of the Visconti and of Venice grew in importance. Padova came under the rule of the Republic of Venice in 1405, and mostly remained that way until the fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797.
There was just a brief period when the city changed hands (in 1509) during the wars of the League of Cambrai. Padova was held for just a few weeks by Imperial supporters, but Venetian troops quickly recovered it and successfully defended Padua during a siege by Imperial troops (Siege of Padua).
As a part of the Venetian Republic, Padova was governed by two Venetian nobles, a podestà for civil affairs and a captain for military affairs. Each was elected for 16 months. Under these governors, the great and small councils continued to discharge municipal business and to administer the Paduan law, contained in the statutes of 1276 and 1362. The treasury was managed by two chamberlains; and every five years the Paduans sent one of their nobles to reside as nuncio in Venice; this elected official was in place to watch out for the interests of his native town.
The City Walls:
For more information see: https://digilander.libero.it/clapad5/padova/mura.html
1. The Romans would seem to be the first to surround Padova with walls. Of the walls built during the ancient Roman era, the only traces to survive are those incorporated into the foundations of certain palazzi. The route of these walls corresponded to a meandering line formed by the river Medoacus (now the Brenta). Inside the walls, Padua’s first urban center developed.
2. The Mura Duecentesche (“13th century walls”; aka the mura comunali or mura medievali) were built at the start of the 13th century by the Comune of Padua. Their route was delimited by the two branches of the Bacchiglione, the Tronco Maestro and the Naviglio Interno, which came to be used as defensive ditches. There are several remains of them around the Castello and near Porta Molino. More minor remains are to be found in the Riviera Tito Livio and Riviera Albertino Mussato; the only gates to remain from this wall are the main north gate, Porta Molino (or Molini, after several mills in the area which functioned up to the early 20th century), and the main west gate, Porta Altinate (named after the road to Altino which began here).
(The Porta Molino‘s upper stories were used at the end of the 19th century as a reservoir for the town’s first drinking water system; tales of the tower being used as an observatory by Galileo Galilei during his time in the city are probably false. The Porta Altinate fronted onto the Naviglio Interno, crossed by an ancient Roman three-arch bridge, and in 1256 this gate was stormed and destroyed by crusaders fighting against Ezzelino da Romano [as recorded in an inscription recorded by Carlo Leoni]. It was rebuilt in 1286. The Naviglio and the bridge were buried in the 1960s.)
3. 14th century, the Mura Carraresi were built by the Carraresi in the 14th century and followed a route that would be followed almost by the later 16th century wall. Almost nothing remains of them the Mura Carraresi, since they were demolished during the War of the League of Cambrai to create the Renaissance wall. However, some sections can be seen in via delle Dimesse, near the Prato della Valle.
4. The Mura Cinquecentesche (16th century Walls; aka the Mura rinascimentali or Mura Veneziane) were built to protect Padova by the Venetian Republic during the first decades of the 16th century. It was a project of the condottiero Bartolomeo d’Alviano.
Canaletto, View of Padua from outside the city walls with the Church of San Francesco and the Palazzo della Salone
The Mura rinascimentali were protected on their west flank by a canal known as the fossa Bastioni, which still exists. The Renaissance walls survive to this day, almost entirely unbroken apart from sections demolished in the 1960s to build the new Ospedale Civile.
The City Gates:
Nearly all the walls’ gates survive. For even more information, see: http://digilander.libero.it/clapad5/padova/porte.html
Porta Savonarola – Completed in 1530. Designed by the architect Giovanni Maria Falconetto, this gate was built with a frieze showing the Lion of Saint Mark, symbol of the Venetian Republic, which still survives. Picture below:
Porta san Giovanni – Completed in 1528. Designed by the architect Giovanni Maria Falconetto, this gate originally had a frieze showing the Lion of Saint Mark, symbol of the Venetian Republic (the frieze here was destroyed during the Napoleonic Wars). Picture below:
Porta Ognissanti (or Portello, Portello Nuovo or Portello Venezia) – Originally entitled Portello or Little Port, the gate was built at the terminus for the river trade along the Brenta between Padua and Venice. The present building replaces the Portello Vecchio, on what is now via San Massimo, but is rather different from the city’s other gates of this date – the external facade is adorned with shining rocks from Istria, with four pairs of columns surmounted by an architrave embellished with four trachyte cannonballs. The three-arch bridge carrying the road over the Canale Piovego and through the gate is guarded by two white stone lions. Stones in the gate (still legible today) commemorate the ancient origins of the town, speaking to “its good governance.” Since 1535, a clock stands out from the gate in Nanto stone. Traces of frescoes can also be seen inside the gate. 5 pictures below:
Porta Liviana – Begun in 1509, it was completed in 1517 and named in honour of Bartolomeo d’Alviano himself.
Porta Santa Croce – On the site of a gate in the Carraresi wall, the present gate was begun in 1509 and was originally defended by a tower, demolished in 1632.
(For a walk to view the city walls, you can start from Piazza Garibaldi, where there is the medieval Porta Altinate (1286), one of the 3 oldest city gates, with short sections of walls still visible at various points of the Ponte Romani and Tito Livio rivers, then walk along via San Fermo (with the church of the same name leaning against the city walls). Walk from the Largo Europe and the Riviera Mugnai until you reach the intersection with via Dante, then you arrive at the 2nd medieval gate, Porta Ponte Molino, with its large pointed arch surmounted by a mighty tower.)
The End of the Venetian Republic:
In 1797, the Venetian Republic came to an end with the Treaty of Campo Formio, and Padua, like much of the Veneto, was ceded to the Habsburgs. In 1806, the city passed to the French puppet Kingdom of Italy until the fall of Napoleon, in 1814, when the city became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, part of the Austrian Empire.
Austrian rule was unpopular with progressive circles in northern Italy, but the feelings of the population (from the lower to the upper classes) towards the empire were mixed.
In Padua, the year of revolutions of 1848 saw a student revolt which on 8 February turned the University and the Caffè Pedrocchi into battlegrounds where students and Paduans fought side by side. The revolt was, however, short-lived and there were no further episodes of unrest under the Austrian Empire (nor previously had there been any), as in Venice or in other parts of Italy. The opponents of Austria were forced into exile.
Under Austrian rule, Padua began its industrial development; one of the first Italian rail tracks, Padua-Venice, was built in 1845. In 1866, the Battle of Königgrätz gave Italy the opportunity, as an ally of Prussia, to take Veneto, and Padova was also annexed to the recently formed Kingdom of Italy.
At that time, Padova was at the center of the poorest area of Northern Italy, as the Veneto was until the 1960s. Despite this, the city flourished in the following decades both economically and socially, developing its industry, being an important agricultural market and having a very important cultural and technological center as the University. The city hosted also a major military command and many regiments.
The 20th Century:
When Italy entered World War I on 24 May 1915, Padova was chosen as the main command of the Italian Army. The king, Vittorio Emanuele III, and the commander in chief, Cadorna, lived in Padua for the period of the war.
After the defeat of Italy in the battle of Caporetto in autumn 1917, the front line became the river Piave, only about 35 miles from Padua. This put the city in the range of the Austrian artillery. However, the Italian military command did not withdraw. The city was bombed several times, with about 100 civilian deaths. A memorable feat was Gabriele D’Annunzio’s flight to Vienna from the nearby San Pelagio Castle airfield.
In 1918, the threat to Padua was removed. In late October, the Italian Army won the decisive Battle of Vittorio Veneto, and the Austrian forces collapsed. The armistice was signed at Villa Giusti, Padua, on 3 November 1918.
During the war, industry grew rapidly, and this provided Padua with a base for further post-war development. In the years immediately following WWI, Padua grew outside the historical town, despite the fact that labor and social strife were rampant at the time.
As in many other areas in Italy, Padua experienced great social turmoil in the years immediately following World War I. The city was shaken by strikes and clashes, factories and fields were subject to occupation, and war veterans struggled to re-enter civilian life. Many supported a new political way, fascism.
As in other parts of Italy, the National Fascist Party in Padua soon came to be seen as the defender of property and order against revolution. Padua was the site of one of the largest fascist mass rallies, with some 300,000 people reportedly attending one speech by Benito Mussolini.
New buildings, in fascist architectural style, sprang up in the city. Examples can be found today in the buildings surrounding Piazza Spalato (today Piazza Insurrezione), the railway station, the new part of City Hall, and part of the Palazzo Bo hosting the University.
Following Italy’s defeat in WWII on 8 September 1943, Padua became part of the Italian Social Republic, which was a puppet state of the Nazi occupiers. The city hosted the Ministry of Public Instruction of the new state, as well as military and militia commands and a military airport.
The Resistenza, the Italian partisans, was very active against both the new fascist rule and the Nazis. One of the main leaders of the Resistenza in the area was the University vice-chancellor Concetto Marchesi.
Toward the end of the war, as the Allied Command freed Italy from German occupation moving from south to north, Padua was unfortunately bombed several times by Allied planes. The worst hit areas were the railway station and the northern district of Arcella. Because of the location of the German command center in Padua, it was during one of these bombings that the Church of the Eremitani took a direct hit. It was a miracle of sorts that the nearby Scrovegni Chapel was not hit as well.
You can see on the map below how close the Scrovegni is to the church (Chiesa degli Eremitani on the map).
Tragically, the Church of the Eremitani was graced with some of the finest frescoes by Andrea Mantegna and they were almost complete obliterated. This is considered by some art historians to be Italy’s biggest wartime cultural loss.
Art conservators have been able to do the almost impossible and stitch together the remnants of the frescoes as seen in the next picture. I’ll be posting about the frescoes soon.
The city was liberated by partisans and the 2nd New Zealand Division of the British Eighth Army on 28 April 1945. A small Commonwealth War Cemetery is located in the west part of the city, commemorating the sacrifice of these troops.
After the war, the city developed rapidly, reflecting Veneto’s rise from being the poorest region in northern Italy to one of the richest and most economically active regions of modern Italy.
The subject of Padua is vast. I’ll be posting yet more very soon.
Prato, just a short distance from Florence, has a long and celebrated history of textile manufacture.
In honor of this long local tradition, Prato is also home to a fine textile museum, the Museo del Tessuto, dedicated to the city’s historical and contemporary textile production and art.
Even today, Prato is one of the largest industrial districts in Italy, the largest textile center in Europe and one of the most important centers in the world for the production of woolen yarns and fabrics.
The Museo is the largest cultural center of its kind in Italy. It celebrates the Prato district, which has been identified with textile production since the Middle Ages. Today the district boasts over 7,000 companies operating in this sector.
The Museum was founded in 1975 within the “Tullio Buzzi” Industrial Technical Textile Institute, as the result of an initial donation of approximately 600 historical textile fragments.
These were added to examples which had been gathered over the years by the Institute’s professors for students to consult and study. Since then, the collection has grown thanks to the contribution of the Buzzi Institute Alumni Association and other important civic institutions, such as the Municipality of Prato, Cariprato and the Pratese Industrial Union.
In 2003, the new, permanent home of the museum was inaugurated in the restored spaces of the former Campolmi factory, a precious jewel of industrial archaeology situated within Prato’s old city walls.
Prato began to specialize in textiles in the 12th century, when garment manufacturing was regulated by the Wool Merchants’ Guild.
The political and economic decline experienced in Italy during the 16th and 17th centuries caused a drop in textile activities, but it resumed in the late 18th century with the production of knitted caps made for Arabian markets.
In the Prato area, industrial activities got under way at the end of the 19th century, with the introduction of mechanization (to which the brilliant local inventor Giovan Battista Mazzoni made important contributions) and with the intensification of textile working processes. The industrial take-off was also supported by foreign investors such as the Koessler and Mayer families of Austria, who created a company that lasted for decades and became locally known as the fabbricone, the big factory.
The lower costs of carded wool processing, caused by the gradually increasing production of recovered wool obtained from shredding old clothes and industrial scraps (“combings”).
Basically, up to World War II the Prato textile industry was divided in two production circuits: one based on large vertically integrated companies with generally low-level standard productions (rugs, military blankets, etc.) made for export to the poorer markets (Africa, India, etc.); the other based on groups of firms carrying out subcontract work for the production of articles designed for the clothing markets.
Between the postwar period and the early 1950s, the outlets towards low-level standard production markets rapidly disappeared. The production system underwent a rapid evolution, and the result was not so much the decentralization of subcontract work but an original form of reorganization largely based on the widespread distribution of work among small-scale enterprises (the so-called “industrial district”). The two dynamic factors of the new system were: (a) the subcontracting firms, which carried out the actual production and (b) the front-end firms, which were involved in product design.
Below, some miscellaneous shots of the museum.
As the Allied Forces entered Florence in the early hours of August 4, 1944, the brigade Sinigaglia, the division Arno, and the brigade Lanciotto were enthusiastically welcomed into the Oltrarno district. The Allies allowed the partisans to keep their weapons; the Florentine men then started a roundup, searching for the German snipers that were firing at the unarmed populace. These snipers wanted to terrify the population and to slow the progression of the Allies, particularly in the districts of San Frediano, Conventino, and San Niccolò.
Meanwhile, the Nazis were still on the right or north side of the Arno. The military base of the partisans, the CTLN (Comitato Toscano di Liberazione Nazionale, Tuscan Comitate of National Liberation), was installed in the society Larderello, in Piazza Strozzi n. 2.
At first, the command of the third zone in via Roma n. 4, led by the Partito d’Azione, acted as the connection center. In order to follow both the Germans and Allied movements, a sentry was stationed atop the Cupola del Duomo. The personnel stationed there included a deputy commander, a political commissar, and a chief from the first commander corps.
As for the Florentines, on August 4, only a few of them attempted to leave home. But the following day, without food or water, women and boys started to queue in front of the town’s water fountains and doorways with available wells, as well as in front of the bakeries. The few peddlers selling fruit and vegetables were extremely busy.
To be continued.
Meanwhile, in Amsterdam, a place also occupied by the Nazis, on August 4, 1944, after 25 months in hiding, Anne Frank and the seven others in their secret hiding place were discovered by the Gestapo. The German secret state police had learned about the hiding place from an anonymous tipster, who has never been definitively identified.
After their arrest, the Frank family and their fellow Jewish associates, were sent by the Gestapo to Westerbork, a holding camp in the northern Netherlands. From there, in September 1944, the group was transported by freight train to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination and concentration camp complex in German-occupied Poland. Anne and her sister, Margot Frank, were spared immediate death in the Auschwitz gas chambers and instead were sent to Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in northern Germany.
In February 1945, the Frank sisters died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen; their bodies were thrown into a mass grave.
Several weeks later, on April 15, 1945, British forces liberated the camp.
Not far from Merano, Italy stands a very interesting vineyard: Castel Monreale. Here’s a bottle of their great red, a picture I took later with the backdrop of Lake Como.
So, here’s the locale: not bad, eh?
The grape plants shown in the next 3 pictures are about 75 years old and planted in the old style, which is very labor intensive because no mechanization can be used.
The cortile of the castle: