Ah, Roma…



Imagine being three thousand years old. Suppose by some mysterious process you had managed to avoid the limitations of mortality, and year after year you keep going, adding more and more experiences to your life story until you have no choice but to repeat them because you have exhausted all possibilities.

You are the very essence of what it means to be human. You have had more than your share of victories and defeats, triumphs and tragedies, moments of glory and those of abjection, times when you wish you had never been born and times when you want to go on forever. You have loved and lost, have abandoned and been left behind, been rich and poor, skinny and fat, lived high on the hog and been forced to scramble for a few morsels of stale bread. You have seen it all, done it all, regretted it all, and then gone back and done it all again.

You are la città eterna, Rome, the Eternal City.

Epstein, Alan. As the Romans Do: The Delights, Dramas, And Daily Diversio (p. 1). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.


Sometimes you get lucky.

Sometimes you are at the right place at the right time.  I had that fortunate experience yesterday in Arezzo, as the commune prepared for today’s Medieval Saracen Joust.

The Saracen joust of Arezzo (Giostra del Saracino, Giostra ad burattum) is an ancient game of chivalry, dating back to the Middle Ages and born as an exercise for military training.


The game acquired an important social function within the urban community: it was used to commemorate great public events, such as during the visit of important sovereigns or princes, and was also used to make certain civil feasts more solemn (carnivals and local aristocratic weddings).


The joust – which became a typical tradition of Arezzo at the beginning of the 17th century – declined progressively during the 18th century and eventually disappeared, at least in its “noble” version. After a brief popular revival between the 18th and 19th century, the joust was interrupted after 1810 to reappear only in 1904 in the wake of the Middle Ages reappraisal. The joust was restored in 1931 as a form of historical re-enactment set in the 14th century, and quickly acquired a competitive character.


The historical reenactment takes place every year in Arezzo on one Saturday night in June (the so-called San Donato Joust, dedicated to the patron saint of the town) and on the afternoon of the first Sunday of September.


The teams in the event are the four quarters of the town of Arezzo:

  • Porta Crucifera, known as Culcitrone (green and red),
  • Porta del Foro, known as Porta San Lorentino (yellow and crimson),
  • Porta Sant’Andrea (white and green)
  • Porta del Borgo, today called Porta Santo Spirito (yellow and blue).

The jousting day starts in the morning, when the town’s Herald reads the proclamation of the joust challenge, and then continues with a colorful procession of 350 costume characters and 27 horses parading along the streets of Arezzo. The highlight of the parade, which is given by the Bishop of Arezzo and takes place on the steps of the Duomo, is the blessing of the men-at-arms and their horses.


The knights’ tournament is held in the Piazza Grande, guided by the Maestro di Campo and preceded by the costumed characters and the town’s ancient banners entering the square, accompanied by the sound of trumpets and drums.  The highest authorities of the Joust enter the square (the magistrates, the Jury, the quarters’ presidents), the performance of flag-wavers, the jousters galloping into the racing field, each knight representing an ancient noble family of Arezzo, the knights’ arrangement on the lizza (jousting track), the Herald reading the Challenge of Buratto (a poetic composition written in octaves in the 17th century), the crossbowmen and the soldiers greeting the crowd shouting “Arezzo!”, the magistrates’ authorization to run the joust and finally the Joust’s musicians playing the Saracen Hymn, composed by Giuseppe Pietri (1886–1946).

Then, the real competition starts. The jousters of the four gates gallop their horses with lance in rest against the Saracen, an armor-plated dummy representing a Saracen (“Buratto, King of the Indies”) holding a cat-o’-9-tails. The sequence of charges is drawn on the week preceding the joust during a costumed ceremony in Piazza del Comune. It’s almost impossible to foresee  the result of the joust will be: it depends on the ability, the courage and the good-luck of the eight jousters who alternate on the packed-earth sloping track (the lizza) that runs transversally across Piazza Grande.

The competition is won by the couple of knights who hit the Saracen’s shield obtaining the higher scores. The quarter associated to the winning knight receives the coveted golden lance. In the event of a draw between two or more quarters after the standard number of charges (two sets of charges for each jouster), the prize is assigned with one or more deciding charges. At the end of the joust, mortar shots hail the winning quarter.

The rules of the tournament are contained in technical regulations that repeat – virtually unchanged – the Chapters for the Buratto Joust dating back to 1677. They are easy to understand, and yet worded in such a way as to guarantee a long-lasting suspense. The outcome of the fight between the Christian knights and the “Infidel” is undecided until the very last moment due to dramatic turns of events. For instance, jousters may be disqualified if they ride accidentally off the jousting track, or their scores may be doubled if their lance breaks after violently hitting the Saracen.


I’m going to Arezzo today and I cannot wait! Non vedo l’ora!!

  • Musa - 0



From the Etruscans to the Romans, then on through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Arezzo has been home to many illustrious names, such as the poet Petrarca and many great artists, including Piero della Francesca, Giorgio Vasari, Masaccio, Michelangelo, Luca Signorelli and Pietro da Cortona, who all helped the city achieve a splendour that has remained unparalleled over the centuries. Even now, Arezzo is honoured to be the custodian of several unquestioned artistic masterpieces, in particular:

  • The Basilica of St Francis, with frescos by Piero della Francesca. The Bacci Chapel constitutes one of the masterpieces of all Renaissance painting, the cycle of frescos of the Legend of the True Cross painted by Piero della Francesca between 1452 and 1466, which depicts historical episodes from the lives of the emperor Constantine and his mother, the empress Helena, including the world-famous Dream of Constantine.
  • The Vasari House Museum was the family home of the painter, architect and art historian Giorgio Vasari. It now houses a small but priceless collection of works of art and above all the magnificent frescos executed by Vasari himself in some of the rooms.
  • The Gaius Cilnius Maecenas National Archaeological Museum and Roman Amphitheatre, housed in the building that was previously the Monastery of the Olivetan Benedictines of St Bernardo Romano and is now home to an important collection of Etruscan and Roman artefacts, including the world-famous “coralline” ceramics known as sealed Arezzo ware. Every summer, the Roman Amphitheatre hosts an important programme of live music, theatre, performances and other events.
  • The State Museum of Mediaeval and Modern Art houses works by Arezzo’s leading artists (Margarito, Spinello Aretino, Luca Signorelli and Giorgio Vasari), a coin collection and one of the most interesting collections of Renaissance pottery wares.
  • The Ivan Bruschi House Museum was established in Arezzo as a tribute to Ivan Bruschi, who first devised the celebrated City of Arezzo Antiquities Fair back in the 1960s. Now housed in a venerable mediaeval building, the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, it contains artefacts that date from the prehistoric period to late antiquity. The Banca Etruria established the Ivan Bruschi Foundation, basing it on the bequest of Bruschi’s own priceless collections and the labour of the Banca Etruria manager. Its purpose is to make Ivan Bruschi’s dying wish come true: to spread a love of art and of the culture of antiquities.
  • The Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici, completed by Bernardo Rossellino in the sixteenth century in the Renaissance style, is the home of the Secular Fraternity, a body whose 750 years of history is peppered with important events that determined the development of the city of Arezzo. The Fraternity has a special focus on assisting the needy and on cultural undertakings, whose aim is to preserve its artistic heritage and make it accessible and enjoyable.


  • Piazza Grande, with the Vasari Loggias, is the city’s oldest piazza and one of the most beautiful in all of Italy. Although the buildings that line it date to all sorts of different periods, the overall effect of the piazza is incredibly harmonious. The buildings along the southern and eastern sides are mediaeval (Palazzo Tofani and the Làppoli Tower), while the northern side is occupied by a sixteenth-century building with the Vasari Loggias and the west is graced by the Parish Church of St Mary, the Court Building and the fifteenth-century Palazzo of the Secular Fraternity. Twice every year, Piazza Grande, which the world came to know and admire in Roberto Benigni’s film Life is Beautiful, provides the setting for the traditional Saracen Joust, as well as hosting the Antiquities Fair on the first Sunday of every month and the preceding Saturday.


  • Piazza Guido Monaco is a circular piazza laid out in the nineteenth century at the intersection of three very important streets: via Guido Monaco, via Petrarca and via Roma. In the centre of the piazza is a monument, the work of Salvino Salvini (1882), to Guido Monaco (also known as Guido D’Arezzo), who first devised modern musical notation and the system of the four horizontal lines used to inscribe it, known as the tetragram.
  • The Petrarca House, in via dell’Orto. It was here that the celebrated poet was born in 1304, although the building that now stands on the site is the result of reconstruction in the sixteenth-century and successive restoration projects. It now houses the Petrarca Academy of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
  • The Medici Fortress was built by the Florentine ruling family of the Medici in the sixteenth century at the highest point of the hill of Arezzo, where it boasts a marvellous panoramic view. The Fortress is now laid out as a public park and the gardens know as the Prato (or lawn).
  • The Cathedral of St Donatus is the home church of the people of Arezzo, whose chequered history it has followed over the centuries. Built on the site of the city’s ancient acropolis, it boasts breathtakingly beautiful stained glass by Guillaume de Marcillat and the Mary Magdalene painted by Piero della Francesca in 1465. The Diocesan Museum next door is home to several masterpieces by Vasari, Luca Signorelli and others. The marble panel depicting the Baptism of Christ that decorates the font in the cathedral has been attributed to Donatello.
  • The Basilica of St Dominic is a must on any itinerary, because of the major attraction of the Cimabue Crucifixion. Standing more than three metres tall, this great cross is the first work attributed to Cimabue, who painted it at some time between 1268 and about 1271. A belfry adorns the otherwise incomplete façade of the basilica’s Romanesque-Gothic exterior. Inside, the single nave is decorated with frescos, most of which have decayed, while the Gothic altar in the Dragondelli Chapel is still clearly visible.
  • The Palazzo dei Priori, or Priors’ Palace, now home to the Arezzo City Council, is located in Piazza della Libertà. Built in the fourteenth century, it has a typical tower on a square footprint and a large loggia on three levels. Inside are frescos by Parri di Spinello and by Teofilo Torri, as well as canvases by Giorgio Vasari and other artists from Arezzo.
  • Visit the Parish Church of Santa Maria Assunta to see a polyptych by Pietro Lorenzetti (1320), as well as a Madonna and Saints and a wooden cross by Margarito (thirteenth century). Features in the original twelfth-century façade include the lunette with a bas relief depicting the Crowned Madonna and two angels and the extraordinary cycle illustrating the twelve months of the year, a masterpiece of mediaeval sculpture that painstaking, detailed restoration has now rendered once again visible.
  • Arezzo’s hinterland is also a treasure trove of incredibly valuable artistic venues. To single out just a few of them, don’t miss the Castle of the Counts of Guidi at Poppi, which looms high above the mediaeval hilltop town of Poppi and now houses the Rilliana Library, with its hundreds of mediaeval manuscripts and incunabula, and the Chapel of the Counts of Guidi, with a cycle of fourteenth-century frescos attributed to Taddeo Gaddi, a pupil of Giotto. Our guided tours also feature a fascinating itinerary that starts from a jewel of the Renaissance, the Piero della Francesca masterpieces in the Basilica of St Francis in Arezzo, and progresses to the mediaeval jewel of Poppi, on a journey that takes in the hills of the Casentino area and also includes a welcome stop to savour some fine foods and wines.

Arezzo also hosts several major events, some with traditions going back a thousand years:

  • The Antiquities Fair was established in 1968 and has been held every month of the year ever since, without a single interruption in over 45 years, on the first Sunday of every month and the preceding Saturday, in Piazza Grande and the adjacent streets in the city centre, where more than 500 exhibitors showcase large numbers of objects.
  • OroArezzo is the event devoted to the art of the goldsmiths, silversmiths and jewellery craftsmen that showcases the output of Italy’s leading gold working district. This exhibition of original jewellery work offers an important preview of the stylistic trends to be expected from the forthcoming creations of Italy’s jewellery and gold craftsmen, who are increasingly in tune with trends in fashion. This prestigious event offers its exhibitors an opportunity to present previews of their new jewellery designs and include them in the exhibition’s major promotions and visibility campaign.
  • The Saracen Joust is a competition on horseback that is held in Arezzo in the evening of the last Saturday but one of the month of June (the Joust of St Donatus) and in the daytime on the first Sunday in September (the September Joust). Preceded by a colourful procession, in which more than 350 participants dressed in historical costumes parade along the city streets, the actual tournament takes place in the unique setting of Piazza Grande. The joust consists of a challenge between the city’s four quarters, which are named after its main gates (gate in Italian is porta): Porta del Foro, Porta Crucifera, Porta Sant’Andrea and Porta Santo Spirito. The aim is to hit a target placed on the shield wielded by the Buratto (a dummy that represents the Saracen “King of the Indies” and turns on its own axis) with a stroke of the lance at the end of a fast charge on horseback… all without the rider being struck in turn on the back of the head by the weapon wielded by the Buratto himself: a string of three lead balls that is activated by a spring-loaded mechanism.
  • The Arezzo Wave is a festival, mostly of rock music, that has been held in July every year since 1987. First established to provide a launch platform for young Italian rock bands, it now lasts up to six hours. In recent years, the festival has started featuring multiple stages all over the city, where increasing numbers of non-musical cultural activities also take place.

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:

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 1.07.14 PM

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.


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.


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





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?



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!


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.




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. 


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.




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.