Florence, wonderful Florence!

Oh, how I have missed you! Your hidden secrets and outward beauties!

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The Albizi family headquarters; they were the mortal enemies of the Medici family:

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The Valori Altoviti Palace was built in the 15th century by the Albizzi family. The palazzo was taken away from the family after the exile of Rinaldo Albizzi, who had opposed Cosimo il Vecchio in a frantic struggle for power.

The palazzo was purchased by the Valori, and the humanist Baccio Valori had a new palace constructed at the end of the 16th century, bringing together this palace, a Strozzi palace, and another residence.

On the new façade, Baccio Valori had the stelae painted by Giovan Battista Caccini with the busts of 15 illustrious men, but little known by the people, who called it the Palazzo Visacci  (nasty faces). The palazzo was restored in the 18th century, and later became the property of the Altoviti family.

 

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Vault of the blind.

 

Calendimaggio, May Day

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One of the oldest Florentine customs, well-known during the Renaissance, was the annual Calendimaggio Festival. On this day, young men got up early and decorated their sweethearts’ doors with branches of flowering shrubs, decorated with ribbons and sugared nuts.  The girls, wearing pretty frocks and carrying flowers and leaves, danced to the music of lutes in the very elegant Piazza Santa Trinita.

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According to Wikipedia:

“In Italy it is called Calendimaggio or cantar maggio a seasonal feast held to celebrate the arrival of spring. The event takes its name from the period in which it takes place, that is, the beginning of May, from the Latin calenda maia. The Calendimaggio is a tradition still alive today in many regions of Italy as an allegory of the return to life and rebirth: among these Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna (for example, is celebrated in the area of the Quattro Province or Piacenza, Pavia, Alessandria and Genoa), Tuscany and Umbria.

This magical-propitiatory ritual is often performed during an almsgiving in which, in exchange for gifts (traditionally eggs, wine, food or sweets), the Maggi (or maggerini) sing auspicious verses to the inhabitants of the houses they visit. Throughout the Italian peninsula these Il Maggio couplets are very diverse—most are love songs with a strong romantic theme, that young people sang to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Symbols of spring revival are the trees (alder, golden rain) and flowers (violets, roses), mentioned in the verses of the songs, and with which the maggerini adorn themselves. In particular the plant alder, which grows along the rivers, is considered the symbol of life and that’s why it is often present in the ritual.

Calendimaggio can be historically noted in Tuscany as a mythical character who had a predominant role and met many of the attributes of the god Belenus. In Lucania, the Maggi have a clear auspicious character of pagan origin. In Syracuse, Sicily, the Albero della Cuccagna (cf. “Greasy pole“) is held during the month of May, a feast celebrated to commemorate the victory over the Athenians led by Nicias. However, Angelo de Gubernatis, in his work Mythology of Plants, believes that without doubt the festival was previous to that of said victory.”

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).