I finally go to the insane asylum

It finally happened.  I snapped, and needed to get to the asylum asap!

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Actually, I’m kidding.  But for a while yesterday I thought I might lose my marbles.  I was joining a very sophisticated Florentine educational institution for a guided tour of the old grounds of Florence’s historic psychiatric hospital and it seemed as if fate was against my plan.  (Maybe she thought they would keep me if I got there?). It took 2 buses and a taxi to get me to a place I could have walked to easier and faster. I made it just in time to join the tour.  Live and learn; next time I’ll walk.

So, the place: as you can see in the plaque above, I was about to enter the Manicomio di Firenze, ospedale psichiatrico. Founded by Vincenzo Chiarugi, the psychiatric hospital was opened in 1890 (an earlier hospital was on Via San Gallo).

Almost 100 years later, in 1968, this hospital located on Via di San Salvi #12, was shuttered.  The city has been attempting to refill the site with various cultural and non-profit organisations ever since.  It would be a shame not to use this large campus, composed of 32 hectares and housed in 20 buildings, for something.  It is prime property on the outer eastern edge of the city. You can find it with the big red pin below:

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Below is a map of the San Salvi grounds, showing how the buildings are laid out and a key to how they are/will be used:

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Here’s how the guided tour was advertised to an erudite audience:

“Come with us to walk along the tree-lined avenues of (hospital) San Salvi, a unique place immersed in the city and at the same time quite isolated. Here, in what was once a very active psychiatric hospital– the “crazy” poet Dino Campana was here for a while–as well as important and respected people involved with the field of psychiatry.   Today – among the various cultural associations that have a home here – La Tinaia cooperative and the Chille della Balanza theatrical group make it a social and artistic destination, thanks to shows, events and meetings.”

Yesterday was a beautiful fall day in Florence, following a week of continual rain, and we viewed the campus in this amazing autumn sunlight:

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Two well-known Italian photographers, Carla Cerati and Gianni Berengo Gardin, documented, in chilling photographs, the story of San Salvi and its inmates, with “harsh images of women and men prisoners, jailed, bound, punished, humiliated, reduced to suffering and need.” If you Google Manicomio Firenze, you can find vintage photographs of the hospital and the patients.  It was gruesome.

As I was leaving the campus, this old rusted iron gate seemed to sum up the history of the place for me.  The key hole especially records the memory of patients locked in.

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Villa la Quiete, Firenze

I recently visited, on a lovely parcel of land just outside of beautiful Firenze, a once-magnificent villa known as Villa la Quiete. Located upon the Castello hill, at the foot of the Monte Morello, this villa is considered to be among the most important settings of its kind.  It takes its name from a fresco by Giovanni da San Giovanni entitled, La Quiete, which dominates the winds (see below).

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The Medici family particularly loved this area and owned some of its most beautiful residences, including the Villa di Careggi, Villa di Castello, and the Villa della Petraia. You can locate Villa la Quiete on these 2 Google Earth slides below and, in the last one, also locate the 3 Medici villas just mentioned.

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This parcel of land has lots of history, naturally.  In 1438 it was given by the Florentine Republic to the condottiere Niccola da Tolentino, for his military services. In 1453 the Medici acquired the land, and later Cosimo I passed it to the commander of the Order of Santo Stefano.

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In 1627 the property was again acquired by a Medici, this time by Cristina di Lorena.  She had the palazzo rebuilt, and had a suspended passage constructed (a small variant of the Vasari Corridor), connecting the villa to a nearby Camaldolese monastery.  Cristina also commissioned the painting of la quiete che pacifica i venti, by Giovanni da San Giovanni in 1632.

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Cristina’s name even appears in another fresco, by Giovanni da San Giovani. in which curious anagram masquerading as a hymn inscribed on a scroll supported by putti in flight.

The villa has, thereafter, been known as Villa la Quiete.

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The complex was bequeathed to Cristina’s grandson, the Grand Duke Ferdinando II. Later on, in 1650, the villa was sold to Eleonora Ramirez de Montalvo, who dedicated it as a country retreat for a congregation she founded, the Montalves.  At that time the villa was called Istituto della Quiete.

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After Eleonora’s death, her friend the Grand Duchess Vittoria della Rovere administered the Institute, and sponsored the construction of the Montalve church, completed in 1688.

Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, the last descendant of the Medici family, resided in the villa between 1720 and 1730 and she furnished it with objects from the Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti.

Anna Maria had the villa renovated and redecorated and she installed a beautiful grand garden, bringing water to it by a pipe to the nearby Fonte delle Lepricine.

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The director of this new, vast garden was the botanist Sebastiano Rapi, who just happened to be the person in charge of the Giardino Boboli.  Rapi, with the support of Anna Maria, brought the best botanical and fruit species from the various Medici villas.

Even today, the specimen magnolia trees they selected still grow in a courtyard connecting the garden to the palazzo.

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The garden today remains one of the rare examples of an 18th-century garden, with no changes in the plantings, other than refreshing them.  You can see the layout of the formal, rectangular gardens, lined with pots of lemon trees, in the Google slide:

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The secular order of Montalve, dedicated to the education of girls of good family, only had to abandon their church of San Jacopo di Ripoli in 1886, and they brought their numerous furnishings and works of art with them to the Villa la Quiete.

It was only in 1937 that the order became religious. The villa complex remained for a long time the seat of the education institute, ending only in 1992. The last pupil graduated in 2001.

In February 1992 the villa, together with the entire real estate of the Conservatory of the Montalve alla Quiete, passed University of Florence. A small part of the villa has been used by the University for the Center for Culture for Foreigners and Polo offices. 

It is possible to visit the villa, as I did, only by appointment and in the months of July and August on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. To arrange a visit, contact the Ufficio Servizi Didattico Divulgativi, Sistema Museale D’Ateneo, tel 055-2756444 or by email to edumsn@unifi.it.
In a few days I will be writing a post about the artworks located in the villa.

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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#

 

Running circles around Florence

If you were a bird and could fly over the city of Florence, you would notice that there is a broad roadway that, in conjunction with the Arno river, encircles it.  This system of 4 to 6 lane highways are known as the Viali di Circonvallazione and it was constructed following the medieval walls that formerly encircled Florence.

Pretending you are a bird, this is what you see as you fly high over the city. Look for the yellow lines that surround the city with the Arno as the southern border.

 

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It might be easier to see it here:

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Starting in 1865, the medieval walls were demolished in an attempt to modernize and make Florence look more like other European capitals (especially Paris). Giuseppe Poggi designed an extensive urban plan for the city which was to create a Florence that was at same time more grand and more functional.

Many large tree-lined avenues, surrounding the historic center, were constructed in emulation of the grand boulevards of Paris.

When Poggi et al tore down the medieval walls, they fortunately spared almost all of the ancient gates to the city.  Large piazze were constructed near many of these gates, from which sprang wider and straighter roads.  Many residential palazzi were built to house the federal bourgeoisie that ran the newly united country.  I just happen to live on one of these leafy avenues now, and I send a silent but heartfelt thank you to Poggi up in heaven with Michelangelo and the rest of the artists I love.

A tramway was planned for Florence in 1873.  The trams made a circular route along Florence’s ring roads and provided transportation for the public. Line 19, for example, ran from Piazza dei Guidici near the Uffizi all the way along the Lungarni and ending at Piazza Vittorio Veneto on the east end of the Cascine.  This Google map will show you how the line ran along the Arno.

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Florence’s tram system was in operation until 1958.

Interestingly enough, Florence is in the midst of building a new electric tram system and all of us residents can’t wait until it is done and the construction sites are finally gone.

 

Women explorers: Marianne North

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It wasn’t uncommon for early women explorers to have a taste for solitude. Take Marianne North, the Englishwoman who in the 1800s circumnavigated the globe unaccompanied, spending thirteen years traveling and skirting Victorian convention.

Her paintings of flowers and landscapes hang at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, outside central London.

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In her autobiography she recounts her travels, which she didn’t begin until she was forty.

In Nainital in the Himalayas in India’s Uttarakhand state, she liked sitting in the sun.

In Philadelphia, she walked the parks and Zoological Gardens enjoying idle days.

In the Bunya Mountains of Queensland, Australia, she said she enjoyed “my entire solitude through the grand forest alone.” Today, a genus of tree and several plant species are named for her.**

You can see North’s work here: https://www.kew.org/mng/gallery/

**Rosenbloom, Stephanie. Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude, Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Lorenzo de’ Medici’s sculpture garden

Lorenzo de' Medici and His Artists in the Sculpture Garden

 

Ottavio Vannini – Michelangelo Showing Lorenzo il Magnifico the Head of a Faun, surrounded by the other sculpture students

 

 

Young Michelangelo Carving a Faun's Head

 

Young Michelangelo Carving a Faun’s head by Emilio Zocchi

 

The Piazza San Marco on the former Via Larga, which is now Via Camillo Cavour, was where Lorenzo de’ Medici’s Sculpture Garden was situated in Florence. In the map below, you can get a sense of where the garden was in relationship to Piazza San Marco. The sculpture garden would have been where the words “Army Facility” show below.

 

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The Google map showing a satellite view, gives an even better sense of this former garden area.  Think away the Army building to the south end of the space, where Via Cavour and Via degli Arazzieri intersect, and you can see that there is still garden area in the site of the former Medici garden.

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Created with the hopes of becoming a great educational institution for studying art, Lorenzo de’ Medici curated a garden full of antique sculptures for artists to come and sketch as part of their artistic practice. Lorenzo also added sleeping and dining quarters so that students could easily live among the work they were studying. Francesco Granacci and Bertoldo di Giovanni are two of the many people to enter through its doors.

The most famous story of Michelangelo’s time in the Garden surrounds Michelangelo’s Faun statue. When Lorenzo saw this statue, he jokingly told Michelangelo that he looked too perfect to be an old faun. Michelangelo than took his drill and knocked out one of the teeth in the mouth of the Faun.

He showed his subtraction to Lorenzo who gained much amusement and pleasure from Michelangelo’s ability to listen and act on his critique.  Although the Faun statue has not been found, the two works of Michelangelo’s attributed to this time period are the Battle of the Centaurs and the Madonna of the Stairs.