Church of San Salvador, Florence’s 1st Christian Cathedral, and Santa Reparata

In the 1st C. AD, Christian converts began to invade Florentia. The Christians were persecuted—thrown to lions in the amphitheater—on and off throughout the third century A.D. But by 313 a bishop was living safely in Florence; it’s likely that the first Christian cathedral was built around this time too.

The Church of San Salvador was the name of the edifice, and its location was quite near if not directly under what is now the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in the Piazza del Duomo.

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Sandwiched between the first cathedral and the last was Santa Reparata, a church named for a twelve-year-old female martyr. The young saint was said to have appeared in the middle of a 5th-century battle between a host of Vandals and Goths and the citizens of Fiesole.

Santa Reparata suddenly arrived on the spot with a bloodred banner and a lily in her hand. Miraculously, following close behind her was the Roman general Stilicho with a fresh legion of troops. The barbarians fought a losing battle, and the Florentines built a new cathedral in remembrance of the girl’s military assistance.

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You can read more about the church of Santa Reparata, which would rebuilt as il Duomo later on here: https://operaduomo.firenze.it/blog/posts/la-nuova-musealizzazione-di-santa-reparata

Holler, Anne. Florencewalks: Four Intimate Walking Tours of Florence’s Most Historic and Enchanting Neighborhoods (Kindle Locations 57-65). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Piazza Beccaria, Firenze, and the former Alhambra Theater

Here’s an aerial photo of Florence’s Piazza Beccaria, taken sometime between 1945 and 1980.

The photo can be dated because on the left we see the home of the G.I.L. (Gioventù Italiana Littorioand, on the other side of the avenue, the Alhambra theater.  Both structures were demolished in order to build the Archivio di Stati, constructed in 1980.

 

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The Gioventù Italiana del Littorio (Italian Youth of the Lictor) was the consolidated youth movement of the National Fascist Party of Italy, established in 1937 to supervise and influence the minds of the young. The GIL was in particular established to counteract the influence of the Catholic church. You can read more about the organization and the building in Florence here:

https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casa_della_Gioventù_Italiana_del_Littorio.

 

The Teatro Alhambra was built in 1889 and demolished in 1961. Here are a couple of vintage photos of the theater:

 

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Il famoso teatro, al suo posto ora c’è il palazzo del giornale La Nazione.

 

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And here’s a program from the Alhambra:

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ALHAMBRA. Programma. Lunedì 2 giugno 1890.

More on Alhambra theater here: http://www.chnt.at/wp-content/uploads/eBook_CHNT19_Bardi.pdf

The village of Vinci in Tuscany

Travel can be good for your health.  Recently a good friend and I, at the end of a week that for both of us was filled with stress and problems, decided to get the heck out of Dodge for a day.

We left home for a day to wander in the wider, wondrous world of the outer sections of the province of Firenze.

We landed in Vinci, to see the village near the farmhouse where Leonardo was born.

For us, it was just what the doctor ordered.

Vinci is a very, very charming borgo:

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Of course the town is famous because the legendary genius Leonardo da Vinci was born in a nearby farmhouse. Every inch of this little village proclaims “Leonardo!”

The main attraction in the village is the Museo Leonardino, housed inside the building that was formerly the Castello dei Conti Guidi, originally built in the 12th century.

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The castle is located high atop the town’s highest hill. Inside the museo, you encounter a hologram of Leonardo:

 

The museum takes up 3 floors of the castle, showcasing a collection of the original designs found in Leonardo’s notebooks as well as 40 different models of various machines that were he designed.

Most interesting of all of these, to me, was the wooden paraglider that Leonardo created.

 

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Vinci is surrounded by the Tuscan hills and there are various vineyards and olive groves around the town which have remained the same since ancient times.

The town is spread over an area of 54 sq km and the population is close to 14,000. The economy of Vinci is based on agriculture, production of wine and olive oil, pottery and items like paper, clothes and furniture.

 

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After seeing the main exhibition space, you can also climb up to the top of the castle and view the surrounding countryside.

Before you are afforded the spectacular views, however, you must climb an endless set of stairs leading up, up and up.

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Trust me, the view above does not begin to capture the length and height of this stairway.  Several stops are needed on the way up to catch your breath.

The views from the top terrazzo of the Museo di Leonardo are as vast as they are gorgeous.  What a perfectly farmed section of Tuscany, filled with groves and groves of olives and grapes.  The groves are in perfectly formed lines, such as you never see anywhere else.  Wonder how that happened?

 

 

 

 

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Leonardo Da Vinci was born in a small farmhouse which is located just 3 km from the center of the town. You could walk it, if you have a lot of stamina.  On a day of 30 C., I didn’t.  We drove.

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Leonardo da Vinci's birthplace (3)(1)

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A good source of info on Vinci is this:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g187903-d8686322-r440453756-Castello_Dei_Conti_Guidi-Vinci_Tuscany.html#

 

Villa Medici a Fiesole, the garden edition

A few days ago I posted on the marvel that is the Villa Medici a Fiesole.  There I covered the construction and importance of the Villa as a precursor for Renaissance villa design. That post kept growing and growing, so I decided to make a 2nd post on just the gardens.

So, let’s talk (garden) turkey:

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In the imagine (picture, in Italian) above you see how Michelozzo and later architects sited the palazzo and its wonderful gardens.  The palazzo itself sits on the center left side of the plan.

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Looking outward from the palazzo within the gardens at the villa.

Below, with stonework that recalls grotto architecture, is the entrance to the gardens.  I can’t remember who the sculptured bust represents, but it is no doubt one Medici or another.  The coat-of-arms beneath the bust is, of course, most definitely that of the Medici.

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So, let’s look at a plan of the site. The palazzo is not numbered but you can see where the 4 main gardens exist.

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We’ll start our tour in garden #1.  You walk through or beside #1 when you enter the grounds and approach the palazzo from the west. You can see the white-washed palazzo on the far right side.

 

As you walk along the pea gravel path from the entry gate to the palazzo, you have this immediate view of the garden with its terracotta pots filled with apple-red geraniums.

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If you can peel your eyes away from the palazzo, which is now fully presented ahead of you, you can already gaze over the geraniums and be rewarded with a spectacular view of Florence. The unmistakable center of the city is marked with the dome of the Duomo.

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Below, the city of Florence as seen from garden #1 at Villa Medici. Wow.

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I’m going to try to avoid the view for a minute, because it always steals the show.  Let’s look at just the plantings and layout of garden #1, shall we?

The north side of garden #1 is constructed with a high wall covered with vines, a small outbuilding, used I think, like a pavillion.  A border of pink roses line the length of the north side of garden #1.

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Within garden #1, as you look back from the Palazzo end, is laid out with large specimen trees, grass (very unusual in an Italian garden), and potted citrus, lemon and oranges mostly.  The building in the lower section of the photo is the entry gate to the Villa.

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Along this northern border of the garden, a fountain, with a grotto-like finishing of stones, is set into the short wall.  It provides a relief from the steady gaze of border wall with its oval form, and on both sides of the fountain one can walk up a few steps to walk to the pavillion at the west end.

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Below: looking back at the palazzo and garden #1 from west to east:

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To enter garden #2, you must pass along the walkway to the south of the palazzo.  You  climb this tall hill, which is guarded by 2 terracotta lions.

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Angels in the architecture of the gate proclaim the (almost?) divine majesty of the Medici family.

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Through the gate, you see garden #2, with its own set of panoramic views, awaiting you.

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I don’t know if everyone else is like me, but when I passed under the gate leading to garden #2, I was drawn like a magnet to the end walls of the property, where this view, framed by cypress trees, awaits the spectator.  I mean, come on (and people ask me why I choose to live in Italy…don’t I miss the USA???)!!

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Garden #2 is a more private, secluded space than #1.  The palazzo on this, the west side, has magnificent magnolia trees, and, as you can see, the palazzo itself has many windows and arched openings to give those inside the palazzo a gorgeous smallish garden to observe, with extraordinary views available to anyone standing near the short walls that separate the site from the ravines below.

 

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A low and wide fountain occupies the geometrically divided garden #2.

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After strolling through this garden, lost in thought about the people who had walked through this garden throughout the last 500+ years, I tore myself away, for new gardens #3 & 4 awaited.

 

This is what the view leading back to garden #1 looks like. You pass through the gateway again, and walk along the gravel path to a structure on the east end of garden #1.

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On the west end of garden #1, sits the backside of the first gateway.  However, this is no regular backside! It is a semi-enclosed room with its own frescoes. The main fresco provides an imaginary walkway to follow into the depths of an imaginary garden.

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To the right side of this small structure, you find a set of stairs leading to gardens 3 and 4.  Unfortunately, caught up in the wonder of this Medici sponsored experience of passing between gardens, I forgot to take pictures. Dang it.  The stairs lead you to a long, plant covered passage.  This passage is quite long, with another pea stone path.  It was the end of July when I visited this Medici villa, and the plants splayed over this path were not in bloom.  I am not sure what the plant is, but it didn’t look like wisteria.  Maybe it is honeysuckle? Not sure.  Whatever it is, this covered passageway is garden #3 and I don’t have any pictures of it.

Garden #3 takes you from the east end of the site to the center of garden #4, pictured below.  As you walk through garden #3, you have tantalizing views of garden #4, and, once again, the city of Florence in the background.  Is it any wonder that I failed to take pictures of garden #3 itself?!

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Oh wait, I do have one photo of garden #3

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Beautiful, isn’t it, garden #3?

 

To enter the final garden, #4,  you take these picturesque stairs below to the lower level. Now you are in the final garden, and it more than earns its position as the climax of this site’s garden experience:

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Each side of this marvelous little stairway is planted with wisteria, and although the wisteria season is essentially over in the Arno valley, I could see the purple racemes in my imagination.  I loved walking down these stairs, the wisteria branches tried to wrap you up from both sides.  It was a very cool experience.

 

Here’s the big reward awaiting any visitor to garden #4, an unparalleled vista of the city of Florence, spread out before your eyes.

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When you can tear yourself away from the views that open from garden #4, you can get lost for a while in the flowers that take center stage in this lowest level of the Villa Medici a Fiesole.

For example, below is the closest thing to an English-style border that I’ve ever seen in Italy. You are looking up from garden #4 through the passage (garden #3), and don’t fail to notice the cypress trees that also grace these plantings.

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Let’s look for a second at the geometric beds laid out in garden #4.  It is mostly marigolds which fill these beds.

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Look back up at the palazzo from garden #4, and this is what you see.

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The picture below show how landscape architects (could it have been Michelozzo who designed the palazzo?) treated the change in levels.  This picture serves like a painting, with fore, middle, and backgrounds treated with hard and soft scapes.

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Much use of wisteria is made on the west end of garden #4, which also has some modern architecture in it.  Can you imagine living here, at the west end of the Medici villa?

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Water makes a lovely cameo in garden #4, in the shape of a low circle at the exact center of the site.

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Before departing, let’s take one last look at Florence from way up here:

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And, finally, we must depart, or else the custodian might get nervous and come looking for us.

 

And now we depart, climbing the beautiful framed stairway from garden #4 to #3.

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Pass through garden #3, constantly looking back and down and notice your senses have been used to the max.  Seeing, hearing, touching, and the scent of the carefully used roses, have worked together to create an unforgettable experience.

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Walking along the Via Beato Angelico that leads from the center of Fiesole down into the outskirts of Florence.  One last backward glance, to see the Villa Medici in all its glory.  Note the swimming pool that I doubt very much was added originally by Michelozzo.  Or, who knows?!

 

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