Dateline: Florence, August 4, 1944

In liberated Florence, war correspondent Martha Gellhorn—Mrs. Ernest Hemingway—filed this heartbreaking report:

“The botanical gardens are now a graveyard and they are the most frightening place in Florence. The Germans had taken all the hearses; the cemeteries of Florence lie to the north of the city and are in German hands, and there is no wood for coffins. Add to these basic facts the daily normal deaths in a city of three hundred thousand and the daily deaths resulting from mines, mortars, shells and snipers and you have the ghastly problem of Florence. Dead had been left unburied by the Germans, and it was not always possible to retrieve bodies. For instance, one body lay for days on the stumps of Alle Grazie Bridge. No one could reach it, first because of snipers and then because of mines. So trenches are dug in the botanical gardens and the uncasketed bodies are laid in them.”

Even after Allied forces gained control of the north side of the Arno, life remained miserable for Florentines. People accessed the north and south sides of the city by walking across the broken remains of the other shattered bridges. Few buildings had intact windowpanes.

Stretches of what had once been one of the world’s most cultivated city centers had been replaced with piles of rubble thirty to forty feet high along sections of both sides of the Arno.

Women picked through the pieces searching for heirlooms. Men, armed with picks and shovels, hacked away at the remnants of their beaten city to clear paths for workers and begin the process of rebuilding. Gaunt faces conveyed the hardship endured by the Florentines.

Barefoot women, standing shoulder to shoulder, prepared spartan meals on outdoor stoves in the Boboli Gardens. Others hunched over on their knees along the banks of the Arno, using its dirty water to scrub even dirtier clothes on pieces of stone debris created by the blasts. Despite the filth, thousands of people sought relief from the heat and dust by swimming in the muck.

No one indulged in vanity. Young, dark-haired women looked thirty years older, with their once-well-coifed hair standing on end, caked with grayish dust. Men patched and repatched their ragged clothes. A cluster of people usually indicated the location of one of the city’s temporary clean-water supplies. Such oases were fairly easy to find; just follow someone carrying straw-covered wine jugs or gasoline cans in each hand. The children of Florence sat in circles on the ground, devouring meager suppers.

It was a desperate moment in the city’s storied history.

Here’s a diagram of what was destroyed in Florence on that fateful day:

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The Ponte Vecchio is in the middle of the image, Ponte Santa Trinita  to the upper left.

 

 

Edsel, Robert M.. Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis (p. 189). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

The streets are alive with undercurrents of history: Buondelmonti Tower.

All you have to do is stop from time to time, then you will receive the currents.

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In the past 6 months, I’ve said this over and over:  “I walk by this landmark…several times a week, a day, a month” and it’s true, I do.  In Florence, every inch of earth is covered or filled with history.

About a block from where I live stands this medieval tower, the Torre dei Buondelmonti, from 12 or 13th century.  I use the alley way beside it at least daily. I always admire this tower, as I walk by.

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It’s so tall and the streets of Florence are so narrow that it is hard to get the tower in one shot.

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This appearance of this antique tower is very faithful to the 
original 13th century appearance. On the ground floor there
is an opening with a double arch, while on the upper floors 
there are five high and narrow windows of different sizes.

The ground floor exhibits a slight use of rusticated ashlar masonry, known in Italian as bugnato; this is among the first examples 
of its use in Florence. At the top there is a stone filaretto,
while the topfloor has a simpler brickwork. The tower's left
side, facing the alleyway called the Chiasso delle Misure,
originally had two doors and a window, which were enclosed
at later revision.

In the 14th century, the Buondelmonti family moved from the location of this tower on Via delle Terme, to the newer Palazzo Buondelmonti in Piazza Santa Trinita.

The feud between the Buondelmonti and other Florentine aristocratic families is well known.  The famous wedding that ended in Buondelmonti bloodshed took place not 5 minutes away, near the Ponte Vecchio in a particular event during the Guelf and Ghibelline conflicts. In 1215, during a banquet celebrating the ennoblement of a young Florentine, one of the guests, Buondelmonte de’ Buondelmonti, stabbed a rival in the arm. In restitution for the injury and dishonor, the elders decided that young Buondelmonte should wed a girl from the Amidei family. That arranged, the Amidei and Buondelmonti families arranged an engagement ceremony, where Buondelmonte was to publicly pledge troth to the Amidei girl. With the Amidei assembled in the piazza, the young Buondelmonte man rode past the Amidei, and instead asked for the hand of a girl from the Donati family, members of the Guelf faction.

Furious, the Amidei and allies plotted revenge. They debated whether they should scar Buondelmonte’s face, beat him up, or kill him. Mosca di Lamberti took the floor and argued that they should kill him at the place where he had dishonoured them. His famous words, ‘cosa fatta capo ha‘, were recorded in Dante’s Inferno and an earlier chronicle known as Pseudo-Latini. On Easter morning, on his way to marry the Donati girl, as Buondelmonte crossed the Ponte Vecchio, he was waylaid by the Amidei and their allies, and murdered. The Buondelmonte murder and its associated clan rivalry became the legendary origin of the Guelf and Ghibelline conflict in Florence.  For more, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amidei

 

What if?

What if you woke up today in Florence and decided you wanted to live in a fantasy world?

Let’s say you thought to yourself  “wouldn’t it be cool if I could go into a Renaissance palace in the center of Florence, and be a welcome guest?”

And, further, wouldn’t it be groovy if, when you were in that Renaissance palace, as a welcome guest, you could sit down for a while on a very comfortable, velvet covered chair, and enjoy a glass of nice local wine, while something amazing entertains you.

And, to increase the fantasy, what if this entire experience was air-conditioned, while Florence sizzles in the heat of the summer outside?

And what if I told you that this is actually not a fantasy, but something you could truly experience?!  How fast would you beat it there?

 

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One of my favorite places in Florence ticks all of the boxes above.  I love going to this place!

The classic art nouveau/deco interior is gilded and gorgeous and makes an average evening at the movies feel like an elegant affair!  And an added bonus is, it has air conditioning!  A great place to pass a summer evening in broiling Florence.

So, let’s start with the building, which is the Palazzo Stozzino, constructed in 1450s and 60s.  Here t’is!

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Work on the palace began in 1457. None other than Filippo Brunelleschi is thought to have designed it, but several other architects, among them Michelozzo, also had a hand in the edifice. The façade is attributed to Michelozzo, at least in the lower part, with its rusticated stone facing. Higher floors have been changed during various periods of renovation; they were changed a lot in the 19th century. 

Inside the Renaissance palace was a courtyard surrounded by an elegant porch with columns; it is thought Michelozzo designed the cortile and that it was built around 1460. The Palazzo Strozzino took its name after the larger Palazzo Strozzi.

The entire area around the palazzi Strozzi and Strozzini was changed during the 1860s, when Florence became the capitol of Italy.  Many buildings were razed.  Fortunately, these two palaces were spared.

The story goes that it was the suggestion of a famous Italian actress, Eleonora Duse, to transform the Strozzino into a cinema. Apparently the people who owned the palace in the 1920s were considering turning the building into a luxury hotel.  Duse is said to have convinced them into building this stately cinema instead. 

At any rate, it was somehow decided to create a cinema in the Strozzino’s courtyard. The Cinema Teatro Savoia was designed by noted architect Marcello Piacentini in 1920 and finished in 1922; the theatre was lavishly inaugurated in December of 1922.

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At the same time, two of the palace’s facades were redesigned, and a circular temple-shaped lantern was placed on a corner with bronze nude efibici, by the sculptor Marescalchi. 

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Inside the cinema, the sculptor Giovanni Gronchi created the lacunars and stucco plaques, and sculptor Antonio Maraini designed the three Muses in gilded and polychromed wood on the boccascena.  Other specialized artists and firms created the elaborate decorative interior.

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The theatre was later re-named Cinema Teatro Odeon, and it is now operated by the Cinehall Group. It remains a first-run single screen cinema. Many films are shown in their original language version (with Italian sub-titles).

The Odeon has long been a preferred meeting point for members of Florentine cultural and artistic life.  Guests such as Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald visited the theatre, as have directors and actors of Italian neorealist cinema, as well as contemporary artists such as Isabelle Adjani, Angelica Houston, Bernando Bertolucci, Kenneth Branagh, Roberto Benigni, Nanni Moretti and Paolo Sorrentino.

The prestigious and elegant spaces of the Cinema Odeon Theater include  a large open room, with a stage holding the movie screen, and has a total capacity of 594 seats, divided into the large stall (with 334 seats) and stylish balcony (seats 260).

Fortunately for us, the Odeon still maintains the harmony and beauty of its original art deco/nouveau style; its tapestries, statues, and colored glass skylight are admired by its many visitors.

The original furnishings of the grand room were red velvet; the furnishings were renewed in 1987 and replaced with yellow gold velvet. Theoriginal wooden chairs remain in the balconies. 
On Via dei Sassetti a plaque reads: "Built in the MCMXXII on behal of S.A. Toscano Immobiliare Sindacato - Restored in the MCMXXXVIII".

The Odeon Cinema is a vibrant cultural centre, often hosting cinema
festivals. One of the leading is “50 Giorni di Cinema Internazionale”, which takes place in winter, showcasing movies and directors from
diverse cultures.

In addition to the entertainment venues and offices of the German Management, the building houses the Departmental Department of Tobacco Growth and the Department of Economic Development of the City of Florence, and in the basement a historic disco, the Yab.

Isola Tiberino, Roma

If you like to stroll along the banks of the Tiber River, as I do when the weather is fine, you’ll eventually encounter the small river island known as Isola Tiberino.

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The Tiber Island is the only island in the southern bend of the Tiber river. The purposely boat-shaped island is approximately 270 metres (890 feet) long and 67 metres (220 feet) wide.  It is  and has been connected with bridges to both sides of the river since antiquity.

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In antiquity, an ancient temple of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing, was built on the island.

Ancient sources say there was a great plague in Rome in 293 BC and the Senate consulted the Sibyl who instructed them to build a temple to Aesculapius. The Senate sent a delegation to Epidauros to obtain a statue of the deity. As instructed, the delegation went on board a ship to sail out and obtain a statue.

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They obtained a snake from a temple and put it on the ship. It immediately curled itself around the ship’s mast, which was deemed as a good sign by them. Upon their return up the Tiber river, the snake is said to have slithered off the ship and swam onto the island. They believed that this was a sign from Aesculapius, a sign which meant that he wanted his temple to be built on that island.

This location may have been chosen for the Aesculapius Temple because it was separate from the rest of the city, which could help protect whoever was there from plague and illnesses.

 

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The island eventually became so identified with that temple, that it was modeled to resemble a ship as a reminder of how it came to be. The Romans added travertine facing by the banks to resemble a ship’s prow and stern, and erected an obelisk in the middle to symbolizing the vessel’s mast. Walls were put around the island, and it came to resemble a Roman ship. Faint vestiges of Aesculapius’ rod with an entwining snake are still visible on the “prow”.

In 998 San Bartolomeo all’Isola (with a different original name) was built over the Aesculapius temple’s ruins on the eastern side (downstream end) of the island.

 

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The island is still considered a place of healing because a hospital, founded in 1584, was built on the island and is still operating. It is staffed by the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God or “Fatebenefratelli”. The hospital was built on the western half of the island.

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Interior ceiling and apse of the Basilica di San Bartolomeo:

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Today the island is a popular place to stroll on a fine day, to dine in the couple of trattorie, or to have an ice cream.  African hawkers of knock-off goods line the 2 bridges, selling their wares until officials come along.

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2200 year old Roman temple, Hercules Olivarius

There’s a beautiful, small, round Roman temple not far from the banks of the Tiber River that seems to get no love.
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But, I love it!  I took a long walk today along the Rome side of the Tiber, under the beautiful plane trees.  The street looks like this:
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The temple I love is the Temple of Hercules the Victor (Italian: Tempio di Ercole Vincitore). It dates to the later 2nd century BC, consisting of a circular cella within a concentric ring of twenty Corinthian columns. These elements supported an architrave, which has disappeared.
The original wall of the cella, built of travertine and marble blocks. The temple is the earliest surviving marble building in Rome.
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Oh, the places you’ll build! Hadrian’s Villa,Tivoli

Sometimes you just need some space for yourself.
Especially if you need to get away from the hustle and bustle of running an Empire.  This is really important when you feel you are not appreciated by those you rule.  Ungrateful is what they are.
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That’s exactly the position Hadrian found himself in, so he built the modest little Villa Adriana (at Tivoli, near Rome) for himself.
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Well, I understate it a bit: his villa was an exceptional complex of classical buildings created in the 2nd century A.D.. Hadrian’s villa combined the best elements of the architectural heritage of Egypt, Greece and Rome as Hadrian attempted to build himself an ‘ideal city,’ albeit in the country, as his personal retreat.
Representation of the West-side of Hadrian's Villa
The villa was a sumptuous complex of over 30 buildings, covering an area of at least 100 hectares (c. 250 acres), maybe even 300 hectares. Although Hadrian’s Villa is a Unesco world Heritage Site, much of it remains unexcavated.
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Hadrian’s choice of an imperial palace outside Rome, instead one of the several palaces in the city, was probably influenced by the miserable relations he had with the senate and the local Roman aristocracy!
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Hadrian was born in Spain, just like his predecessor Trajan, and the senate and the local aristocracy had trouble coming to terms with another provincial on the imperial throne.
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The way Hadrian had assumed power only reinforced their opposition to him. Trajan adopted Hadrian on his deathbed; this was immediately cast in doubt, and when four military leaders, all Roman aristocrats who had been close to Trajan and hence possible contenders for the throne, were assassinated immediately after Trajan’s death, the senate immediately suspected Hadrian of having ordered the killings.

The Roman Emperor Hadrian and Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian didn’t return to Rome until eleven months after Trajan’s death, and denied any wrongdoing, but his relationship with the senate never recovered from the crisis. As a consequence Hadrian stayed very little in Rome. He travelled extensively throughout most of the empire in two prolonged periods, in 121-125 CE and in 128-134 CE, and when in Italy he avoided Rome.  You see him in the picture above with a representation of his famous wall, built wherever he felt it was needed in his Empire.

Representations of Hadrian's Villa site maps 1

When he absolutely had to be in Rome, he had his villa in Tivoli. Located some 28 km E. of Rome, Tivoli stood on a hillside, surrounded by two minor tributaries to the Aniene.  Thus Tivoli and the villa were easily reached from Rome by land via the Via Tiburtina and by boat on the Aniene, which was navigable at the time.

While I still don’t have access to my pictures from my camera, here’s what I can post until I get them.

In fact, to show off his tastes and inclinations, Hadrian reproduced inside this residence the places and monuments that had fascinated him during his innumerable travels.

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Then there is the Canopus, a long water basin embellished with columns and statues that culminates in a temple topped by an umbrella dome.