The brochure tells the story. I couldn’t make this stuff up!
The brochure tells the story. I couldn’t make this stuff up!
The triumphal arch of the Lorraine, a gateway to and from power in Piazza della Libertà
There is a grandiose and quite ornate — at least by Tuscan standards — neoclassical arch standing in my neighborhood. It sits not quite in the middle of Piazza della Libertà.
Based on the model of Roman triumphal arches, the arch in Florence was built for the entry of Francesco Stefano, the First Grand Duke of the House of Lorraine, a dynasty imposed on Tuscany following the death in 1737 of the last of the Medici grand dukes, Gian Gastone.
Ironically, in 1859, the same arch saw the exit of the last of Tuscany’s Lorraine rulers, Grand Duke Leopoldo II, after he was ousted in a bloodless revolution.
In a kind of territorial “musical chairs,” the French, Austrians and dukes of Lorraine agreed under the peace treaty that ended the war of Polish succession (1733–37) that the duchy of Lorraine be given to Stanisław I, the former king of Poland and father-in-law of France’s King Louis XV. As compensation, the dukes of Lorraine were designated the duchy of Tuscany.
Thoroughly mystified by these geopolitical machinations, the Tuscans did not relish the idea of foreign occupation. Witness to this, French writer and future president of Burgundy Charles de Brosses commented that they would have willingly given “two-thirds of their property to have the Medicis back, and the other third to get rid of the Lorrainers….They hate them.”
Nonetheless, to welcome the new sovereign, his young bride, Maria Theresa of Austria (the daughter and heir of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI), on their first –and only–visit to Florence in January 1739, Senator Carlo Ginori, founder of a porcelain factory, proposed the construction of an arch near the ancient Porta di San Gallo gate, which was and is the main northern entrance to the city.
Here’s a double portrait of the newlyweds:
The arch was designed by Jean-Nicolas Jador, an architect from Lorraine. Work began on December 16, 1738, but, despite more than 400 men working day and night, it was impossible to complete the complicated edifice on schedule for the couple’s arrival.
The three main arches, a large one in the centre with two smaller ones each side, were finished, but painted wood and canvas decorated with temporary statuary covered the section above them.
As the sound of cannons boomed out from Forte Belvedere and fireworks exploded into the sky, it is likely the grand duke could barely see these improvisations as night had almost fallen by the time he reached Florence on that cold winter’s day.
Work on the arch continued for another 20 years, with many artists and artisans involved before it was completed in 1759.
Supported by 10 Corinthian columns, the monument features 15 allegorical statues, heraldic decorations, four adornments of flags and arms, and six bas-reliefs of episodes from the life of Francesco Stefano, including his coronation.
On the southern façade, two double-headed eagles symbolize the Habsburg dynasty.
The monument is topped by an equestrian statue of Francesco Stefano by Florentine Baroque sculptor Vincenzo Foggini, known for his masterpiece Samson and the Philistines, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The statue faces away from the city, intended to welcome the grand duke and his entourage on his approach to the city from via Bolognese.
On that first visit, after celebrating mass at the Duomo, the royal couple took up residence in the Pitti Palace and spent their days sightseeing. During the carnival season, they held three lavish masked balls at the Palazzo Vecchio and even managed to attend a game of football in costume.
In describing Francesco Stefano in his Letters from Italy, John Boyle, the fifth earl of Cork and Orrery, wrote that he was “of a cheerful aspect, and of a most princely personage, yet something sinister and obscure may be perceived in his countenance … He is a Lorrainese, the shadow, not the substance of a sovereign.”
Here he is in a portrait:
And it was the shadow of Francesco Stefano that would, in fact, reign over his subjects because his stay, albeit it a pleasant one, lasted only three months, and he would never set foot in the city again. After the death of Charles VI in 1740, Maria Theresa succeeded her father and named her husband co-regent of the Holy Roman Empire.
For the next 27 years, Tuscany was governed in his name by a regency, first by Count Emmanuel de Richecourt and then by General Antonio Botta-Adorno.
In effect, Florence and the region simply became a convenient cash cow to be heavily taxed and plundered of its art or of whatever else could be of use to the court in Vienna for supporting its economy and the Austrian army.
How’s my goal of living in Italy working out? Pretty well. It hasn’t been easy or fast, but it has been steady.
I came to Florence at the end of November in 2016. I arrived with a student Visa, which let me live in Italy beyond the 90 days any American can stay in Europe as a tourist. I stayed in Florence for 11 months and successfully obtained the all important Permesso di Soggiorno with that Visa. The Permesso expired after 8 months, regardless of the fact that I had already paid for Italian language school for 12 months. Lesson 1: there is no logic.
I returned to the states in October of 2017, going from Florence to Chicago where it was necessary for me to go to the Italian Consulate to apply for an elective residency Visa. Such a Visa allows Americans like me, if we are fortunate enough to receive the Visa, to live in Italy under certain circumstances. Chicago was necessary for me because my home is in Denver and that’s the way that cookie is divided. I filed the myriad documents needed to show my eligibility for the elective residency Visa, and then went to Denver to wait its hoped-for arrival.
Fortunately, I received the Visa. But, it has certain conditions. I won’t enumerate them all, but one of the most important ones is that I am not allowed to have gainful employment in Italy. I cannot receive any payment from anyone in Italy. Doing so could result not only in my Visa being revoked, but the Italian government could prohibit me from ever setting foot in Italy again. It’s a powerful rule.
I returned to Florence in December of 2017, armed with my new elective residency Visa. The first step, then, once within the country, is that within 8 days, one must apply for the Permesso di Soggiorno. I applied for this before Christmas in 2017 and then began to wait for its arrival.
Some people will receive their Permesso within a month, or so they say. Others, like me, are not so lucky. I waited for 8 months to receive word that my new Permesso was ready for me to pick up at the police station, or the dreaded Questura.
In July of 2018, I received a text message telling me to appear at the Questura on a certain date in early August, at a certain time. I did as I was asked. I turned in my old, expired, student-based Permesso, and received my new one. Unfortunately, my new Permesso was already expired when I received it. You read that right. Welcome to Italy.
The true impact of this situation on my daily life was nil. As long as one re-applies for a new Permesso within a short period, and keeps the receipt of that application with them at all times, typically no problems will result. Fortunately, I have never been stopped by the police in Italy and asked to show my documents. Theoretically, even if the police did stop me and ask for my documents, the receipt of the new Permesso application would suffice.
I filed my new application for a new Permesso in late September of 2018. Of course I kept a copy of the receipt for fees paid for that application with me at all times.
And then I began the wait for my new Permesso.
So, what is the importance of this waiting period on my life? Again, on a daily basis it is unnoticeable. However, there are other steps that one needs to do to truly function in present day Italy after one receives the Permesso.
For example, I tried to open a bank account in Italy in the winter of 2017, while I had my student Visa and my related Permesso. With the assistance of an Italian friend, we could not find a bank that was willing to open an account for me. I suppose I was considered to be too transient to bother with.
At that time, I was warned about opening an Italian bank account in any case. Still not having one, I cannot tell you exactly why people recommended I NOT open an account, should I ever find a bank that was willing to let me. Why? As I understand it, bank accounts here are very different from what I’m used to in the USA. For starters, it is quite costly to maintain an account here. In any case, no bank would open an account for me if I didn’t have a current Permesso di Soggiorno. Although I never tried to open an account with just my receipt, perhaps I could have done so. It just didn’t seem worthwhile to try, so I didn’t. For months I expected to receive my new Permesso and then I would try. That was my plan
Once I received my elective residency Visa and had an actual, unexpired Permesso di Soggiorno, I could follow other steps. First among these is applying for a Certificato di Residenza. I still don’t understand why this is important to have, but it is. There are certain things I just accept here and just accept that it makes no sense to me. The Serenity Prayer comes in handy.
After obtaining the Certificato di Residenza, one can apply for the Carta d’ Identita, which is necessary to have before applying for an Italian health care card which would allow me to seek medical treatment in Italy should the need arise. Up until such time, it is incumbent upon me to maintain a private traveler’s health insurance policy to cover unforseen events. As a matter of fact, proof of such a policy is a necessary document needed to apply for both the elective residency Visa and also for the Permesso di Soggiorno.
So, I’ve been waiting since last September (2018), for my new Permesso di Soggiorno. Six months went by, 7 months, 8 months, 9 months, 10 months and then, finally, I received a text message telling me my new Permesso would be ready for me to pick up at the Questura last week. I went with baited breath, wondering if it would already be expired again.
This time, I got lucky. True, I had to wait 11.5 months for the thing, but at least I got one that does not expire for 12 months! I’m suddenly completely legal, not needing any receipts for anything, at least for a year! Then I get to do the whole thing over again.
So, how did I celebrate? I did so by immediately (the next week) applying for my Certificato di Residenza. I was informed by knowledgeable people and blogs that this would arrive 45 days after I applied for it. Then I could apply for the Carta d’ Identita.
Imagine my surprise, after going to the correct government office in Florence, when the clerk told me she could produce and give it to me that same day! She asked me if I wanted to apply for the Carta d’ Identita and I mostly certainly did. She gave me the forms to sign and submitted them. She said I should receive it within a week (I’ll expect it within a month, if I’m lucky).
Once I have that in hand, I intend to apply for the Italian health care card which, if I understand things correctly, will allow me to seek medical assistance if the need were to arise, which I obviously hope it will not!
And, bonus, in the meantime I met an Italian who works with a lot of English speakers, and she told me that she thought I could apply for a “bank account” with the Italian postal system. Say what?
It turned out, she was correct. I went into the Post Office in Florence last week and opened an account that seems to be something like a bank account…even if it is with the postal system. I have a new debit card and the ability to wire money into this account from the US. For the first time since I arrived in Italy in November of 2016, I will be able to pay my rent to my landlord’s bank account. Up until now, I’ve had to take cash out of the ATM over the period of a few days to get enough money together to pay my rent.
All of a sudden, I feel like I’m living in the 21st century again. However, I’ve been in Italy long enough to know that any number of things could and may still go wrong. I’ll check in again once money has successfully been wired from the states to my post office bank account and I’ve paid my rent. Fingers crossed.
And, next week, I’ll apply for a health insurance card. Step by slow step, my life in Italy is becoming complete.
This post includes a list of the major features that grace this lovely, historic town. But first, a sweet little video about the town itself:
Undoubtedly the most notable things about Padova is the Giotto masterpiece of fresco painting in the The Scrovegni Chapel (Cappella degli Scrovegni). This incredible cycle of frescoes was completed in 1305 by Giotto.
It was commissioned by Enrico degli Scrovegni, a wealthy banker, as a private chapel once attached to his family’s palazzo. It is also called the “Arena Chapel” because it stands on the site of a Roman-era arena.
The fresco cycle details the life of the Virgin Mary and has been acknowledged by many to be one of the most important fresco cycles in the world for its role in the development of European painting. It is a miracle that the chapel survived through the centuries and especially the bombardment of the city at the end of WWII. But for a few hundred yards, the chapel could have been destroyed like its neighbor, the Church of the Eremitani.
The Palazzo della Ragione, with its great hall on the upper floor, is reputed to have the largest roof unsupported by columns in Europe; the hall is nearly rectangular, its length 267.39 ft, its breadth 88.58 ft, and its height 78.74 ft; the walls are covered with allegorical frescoes. The building stands upon arches, and the upper story is surrounded by an open loggia, not unlike that which surrounds the basilica of Vicenza.
The Palazzo was begun in 1172 and finished in 1219. In 1306, Fra Giovanni, an Augustinian friar, covered the whole with one roof. Originally there were three roofs, spanning the three chambers into which the hall was at first divided; the internal partition walls remained till the fire of 1420, when the Venetian architects who undertook the restoration removed them, throwing all three spaces into one and forming the present great hall, the Salone. The new space was refrescoed by Nicolo’ Miretto and Stefano da Ferrara, working from 1425 to 1440. Beneath the great hall, there is a centuries-old market.
In the Piazza dei Signori is the loggia called the Gran Guardia, (1493–1526), and close by is the Palazzo del Capitaniato, the residence of the Venetian governors, with its great door, the work of Giovanni Maria Falconetto, the Veronese architect-sculptor who introduced Renaissance architecture to Padua and who completed the door in 1532.
Falconetto was also the architect of Alvise Cornaro’s garden loggia, (Loggia Cornaro), the first fully Renaissance building in Padua.
Nearby stands the il duomo, remodeled in 1552 after a design of Michelangelo. It contains works by Nicolò Semitecolo, Francesco Bassano and Giorgio Schiavone.
The nearby Baptistry, consecrated in 1281, houses the most important frescoes cycle by Giusto de’ Menabuoi.
The Basilica of St. Giustina, faces the great piazza of Prato della Valle.
The Teatro Verdi is host to performances of operas, musicals, plays, ballets, and concerts.
The most celebrated of the Paduan churches is the Basilica di Sant’Antonio da Padova. The bones of the saint rest in a chapel richly ornamented with carved marble, the work of various artists, among them Sansovino and Falconetto.
The basilica was begun around the year 1230 and completed in the following century. Tradition says that the building was designed by Nicola Pisano. It is covered by seven cupolas, two of them pyramidal.
Donatello’s equestrian statue of the Venetian general Gattamelata (Erasmo da Narni) can be found on the piazza in front of the Basilica di Sant’Antonio da Padova. It was cast in 1453, and was the first full-size equestrian bronze cast since antiquity. It was inspired by the Marcus Aurelius equestrian sculpture at the Capitoline Hill in Rome.
Not far from the Gattamelata are the St. George Oratory (13th century), with frescoes by Altichiero, and the Scuola di S. Antonio (16th century), with frescoes by Tiziano (Titian).
One of the best known symbols of Padua is the Prato della Valle, a large elliptical square, one of the biggest in Europe. In the center is a wide garden surrounded by a moat, which is lined by 78 statues portraying illustrious citizens. It was created by Andrea Memmo in the late 18th century.
Memmo once resided in the monumental 15th-century Palazzo Angeli, which now houses the Museum of Precinema.
The Abbey of Santa Giustina and adjacent Basilica. In the 5th century, this became one of the most important monasteries in the area, until it was suppressed by Napoleon in 1810. In 1919 it was reopened.
The tombs of several saints are housed in the interior, including those of Justine, St. Prosdocimus, St. Maximus, St. Urius, St. Felicita, St. Julianus, as well as relics of the Apostle St. Matthias and the Evangelist St. Luke.
The abbey is also home to some important art, including the Martyrdom of St. Justine by Paolo Veronese. The complex was founded in the 5th century on the tomb of the namesake saint, Justine of Padua.
The Church of the Eremitani is an Augustinian church of the 13th century, containing the tombs of Jacopo (1324) and Ubertinello (1345) da Carrara, lords of Padua, and the chapel of SS James and Christopher, formerly illustrated by Mantegna’s frescoes. The frescoes were all but destroyed bombs dropped by the Allies in WWII, because it was next to the Nazi headquarters.
The old monastery of the church now houses the Musei Civici di Padova (town archeological and art museum).
Santa Sofia is probably Padova’s most ancient church. The crypt was begun in the late 10th century by Venetian craftsmen. It has a basilica plan with Romanesque-Gothic interior and Byzantine elements. The apse was built in the 12th century. The edifice appears to be tilting slightly due to the soft terrain.
Botanical Garden (Orto Botanico)
The church of San Gaetano (1574–1586) was designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi, on an unusual octagonal plan. The interior, decorated with polychrome marbles, houses a Madonna and Child by Andrea Briosco, in Nanto stone.
The 16th-century Baroque Padua Synagogue
At the center of the historical city, the buildings of Palazzo del Bò, the center of the University.
The City Hall, called Palazzo Moroni, the wall of which is covered by the names of the Paduan dead in the different wars of Italy and which is attached to the Palazzo della Ragione
The Caffé Pedrocchi, built in 1831 by architect Giuseppe Jappelli in neoclassical style with Egyptian influence. This café has been open for almost two centuries. It hosts the Risorgimento museum, and the near building of the Pedrocchino (“little Pedrocchi”) in neogothic style.
There is also the Castello. Its main tower was transformed between 1767 and 1777 into an astronomical observatory known as Specola. However the other buildings were used as prisons during the 19th and 20th centuries. They are now being restored.
The Ponte San Lorenzo, a Roman bridge largely underground, along with the ancient Ponte Molino, Ponte Altinate, Ponte Corvo and Ponte S. Matteo.
There are many noble ville near Padova. These include:
Villa Molin, in the Mandria fraction, designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi in 1597.
Villa Mandriola (17th century), at Albignasego
Villa Pacchierotti-Trieste (17th century), at Limena
Villa Cittadella-Vigodarzere (19th century), at Saonara
Villa Selvatico da Porto (15th–18th century), at Vigonza
Villa Loredan, at Sant’Urbano
Villa Contarini, at Piazzola sul Brenta, built in 1546 by Palladio and enlarged in the following centuries, is the most important
Padua has long been acclaimed for its university, founded in 1222. Under the rule of Venice the university was governed by a board of three patricians, called the Riformatori dello Studio di Padova. The list of notable professors and alumni is long, containing, among others, the names of Bembo, Sperone Speroni, the anatomist Vesalius, Copernicus, Fallopius, Fabrizio d’Acquapendente, Galileo Galilei, William Harvey, Pietro Pomponazzi, Reginald, later Cardinal Pole, Scaliger, Tasso and Jan Zamoyski.
It is also where, in 1678, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia became the first woman in the world to graduate from university.
The university hosts the oldest anatomy theatre, built in 1594.
The university also hosts the oldest botanical garden (1545) in the world. The botanical garden Orto Botanico di Padova was founded as the garden of curative herbs attached to the University’s faculty of medicine. It still contains an important collection of rare plants.
The place of Padua in the history of art is nearly as important as its place in the history of learning. The presence of the university attracted many distinguished artists, such as Giotto, Fra Filippo Lippi and Donatello; and for native art there was the school of Francesco Squarcione, whence issued Mantegna.
Padua is also the birthplace of the celebrated architect Andrea Palladio, whose 16th-century villas (country-houses) in the area of Padua, Venice, Vicenza and Treviso are among the most notable of Italy and they were often copied during the 18th and 19th centuries; and of Giovanni Battista Belzoni, adventurer, engineer and egyptologist.
The sculptor Antonio Canova produced his first work in Padua, one of which is among the statues of Prato della Valle (presently a copy is displayed in the open air, while the original is in the Musei Civici).
The Antonianum is settled among Prato della Valle, the Basilica of Saint Anthony and the Botanic Garden. It was built in 1897 by the Jesuit fathers and kept alive until 2002. During WWII, under the leadership of P. Messori Roncaglia SJ, it became the center of the resistance movement against the Nazis. Indeed, it briefly survived P. Messori’s death and was sold by the Jesuits in 2004.
Paolo De Poli, painter and enamellist, author of decorative panels and design objects, 15 times invited to the Venice Biennale was born in Padua. The electronic musician Tying Tiffany was also born in Padua.
Above, looking at the altar of the Scrovegni Chapel, with marble sculpture by Giovanni Pisano.
Below: the fresco cycle
In a classic rags-to-riches story, Theodora rose from working as an actress—a low-class profession associated with prostitution—to shaping the nascent Byzantine empire, which spanned present-day Turkey, North Africa, and the Middle East. Theodora met Justinian, the emperor’s nephew, in Constantinople when she was 21.
Despite her social status, the emperor was so enamored with her that he changed a law that would have prohibited their marriage. After ascending to the throne, Theodora used her authority to support sex workers’ rights and established anti-rape legislation. During her tenure, the empress also supported significant building projects that projected the couple and the empire’s dominance. One was the original Hagia Sophia, consecrated in 537.
The mosaic portraits of Justinian and Theodora that face opposite one another in the apse of the Basilica di San Vitale (ca. 547) in Ravenna, Italy, however, have cemented the couple’s image in history. The empress, flanked by attendants, wears dangling gems and a long, royal purple gown. In her hand, she holds a chalice that indicates her as the building’s patron. The portrait confirms Theodora’s influence, glamour, and patronage, and flies in the face of her detractors.
Writing not long after her death in 548, the historian Procopius described her as “Theodora-from-the-brothel,” a wanton temptress who once said she regretted only having three orifices for pleasure. More recently, scholar Nadine Elizabeth Korte has suggested that Procopius probably disapproved of the substantive power Theodora wielded over Justinian and the empire.
Sadly, the reforms that allowed even foreign art world personnel to guide Italian public museums have been repealed. You can read about it here: