The beginnings of the Florence airport

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The airport as it appeared in 1973.

Looking at the picture above, I started wondering, what’s the history of this airport?  I distinctly recall that when I made my first trip to Italy in 1979, flying from the US into Florence was not possible.

The Florence Airport, Peretola (Aeroporto di Firenze-Peretola) and formally Amerigo Vespucci Airport, is the international airport of Florence. It is the second-busiest Tuscan airport in terms of passengers, after Pisa International Airport.

The first air field in Florence was created in the Campo di Marte area in 1910, when military authorities allowed a field to be used for “experiments in air navigation.” Campo di Marte was Florence’s airport throughout the 1920s. However, the field was soon surrounded by houses and was inadequate for the new aircraft that were then replacing the canvas-covered craft.

In 1928, a location on the plain between Florence and Sesto Fiorentino was chosen and  Peretola Airport opened there in the early 1930s.

At first, Peretola was pretty much just a large field where airplanes took off and landed with no formal direction. Eventually, the Ministry of Aeronautics decided to enlarge and upgrade it. The airport was extended toward Castello, and in 1938–39, an asphalt runway 60 metres wide and 1,000 metres long was built, facing the northeast.

In WWII, Peretola was used both by the Royal Italian Air Force and the Luftwaffe and then later in the 1940s welcomed its first passenger flights, operated by Aerea Teseo with Douglas DC-3 aircraft. In 1948, Aerea Teseo went out of business. In the late ’50s and early ’60s, Alitalia, also using the DC-3, offered two routes: Rome–Florence–Venice and Rome–Florence–Milan. ATI then offered several domestic flights with the Fokker F27.

In the early 1980s, plans were made to upgrade the airport’s facilities. In 1984, Saf (now AdF, the company that manages the airport) was founded, and restructuring work was completed: lengthening (from 1,000 to 1,400 metres) and lighting the runway, installing a VOR/DME navigation system, and rebuilding the airport terminal. In September 1986, regular flights resumed. Since then, the number of airplanes and passengers has steadily increased.

In 1990, the airport was renamed after Florence native Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian merchant and cartographer whose name was used to name the newly discovered (by Europeans, that is) continents.

In 1992, the building now dedicated to arrivals, constructed by AdF, was inaugurated. Two years later, a departures building opened, and the City of Florence opened a car park at the entrance to the airport. In 1996, the runway was extended by 250 metres, and AdF funded further enlargement of the departure area. Today, the new area has 15 check-in desks and covers a total of 1,200 square metres, 770 of which are for public use.

Since April 9, 1998, AdF has had a global concession to managing the airport’s infrastructure, and it has assumed responsibility for maintenance and development.

On December 5, 2012, Vueling announced the opening of a base of operations in Florence, with flights to several destinations in Europe.

In late 1999, the terminals were renovated and expanded. In July 2000, AdF made its debut on the stock market, and in 2001, the airport was among the first in Europe to obtain UNI EN ISO 9001/2000 certification for the quality of its services.

Florence Airport has a single runway. As is common at smaller airports, after landing, planes turn around at the end of the runway, then taxi back down to reach the parking area and terminal. Because of the close proximity of Monte Morello, planes normally take off from Runway 23, thus forcing aircraft to taxi down the runway again to depart.

 

Villa Demidoff and Giambologna’s Il Gigante

As I sit in Denver on a very cold February morning, my mind wanders back to Tuscany and warm weather.  I’m almost always behind in my posts and so I take this moment to post about Villa Demidoff.

In 1568, Francesco I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, purchased a great estate in the hills outside of Florence and commissioned the famous architect, Buontalenti, to build a splendid villa as a residence for Bianca Cappello.  Bianca was the Grand Duke’s Venetian mistress.  The villa was built between 1569 and 1581, set inside a forest of fir trees.

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While very little of Buontalenti’s villa survives, at least we still have this fabulous and very large statue of Il Gigante, set facing a pond filled with water lilies.

The lilies are absolutely gorgeous in late August. I had never seen anything as magnificent as the first time I saw this lake of waterlilies in bloom!  And, the statue ain’t bad either.

 

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OK, ripping my eyes away from the pink flowers, I walked around towards the back of the statue:

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Giambologna was the creator of this amazing sculpture:

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Il Gigante, also known as “the Colossus of the Apennines,” is an astounding work of art. Giambologna designed the lower part as a hexagon-shaped cave from which one can access, through a ladder, to the compartment in the upper part of the body and into the head. The cavity is filled with light that enters from the eye holes in the head.

The exterior of the statue is covered with sponges and limestone pieces, over which water pours into the pool below.

We know that originally, behind the statue, there was the large labyrinth made from laurel bushes. At the front of the giant was a large lawn, adorned with 26 ancient sculptures at the sides.

Later, many of the antique statues were transferred to the Boboli Gardens, and the park became a hunting reserve. As a part of the Pratolino estate, it was abandoned until 1819, when the Grand Duke Ferdinando III of Lorena changed the splendid Italian garden in the English garden, by the Bohemian engineer Joseph Fritsch. The part was increased from 20 to 78 hectares.

 

The park, which had been owned by Leopoldo II since 1837, was sold upon his death to Paul Demidoff, who redeveloped the property. Demidoff’s last descendant bequeathed the property to Florence’s provincial authorities.

And I feel better already.  I can feel my cold, clenched muscles relax under the spell of the Tuscan sunshine. Soon I will be there again.

Carnevale a Firenze

In ancient times, the Carnevale of Florence was among the most brilliant and noisy on the Italian peninsula.  From the Medici times forward, members of the same noble families wore the same kind of masks and went through the city until all hours, singing and carrying so many torches it was “as if it were full day.”

The carriages courses had not yet been invented, but the revelry and the noise that was made in the streets in those days made Florence the most carefree and gay city in the world.

Carnival goers would go to the Mercato Nuovo (where the silk merchants and drapery shops were located) with flasks, and also to the Mercato Vecchio, between ferrivecchi and pannilani sellers. The young of all the leading families all took part in this gazzarra of the ball, going around disguised in creative ways and playing pranks on the unsuspecting.

More than anything, however, they tried to throw big balls into the shops so that the merchants were forced to close and send their workers out to have fun too. As long as the matter remained within these limits, people enjoyed at it, especially when in the Old Market they were throwing a ball into the workshop of a iron smith, bringing down pans, tripods and jugs, with a deafening noise.

But, over time, the revelry became excessive and caused riots. When the young nobles threw out balloons that had been soaked in mota, they ruined the fabrics and drapes of the merchants, creating great economic damages.

Hence, quarrels arose and the people objected. If the nobles were creating such problems, the plebs wanted to give them a taste of their own medicine. The commoners  used bunches of rags that were drenched in pools and rivulets. These filthy bundles dirtied everything. Violence ensued in retribution.

After hundreds of arrests, the Eight of Guardia and Balìa issued a ban ordering, with the threat of severe penalties, that no one could get out with the ball before 10 pm and before the trumpets of the City had gone on the streets playing the trumpets to warn the merchants.

(Taken from Old Florence by Giuseppe Conti).