Let’s say you are the Pope. You’re from a small, Medieval village in Tuscany that really isn’t on the map and you want to do something really great for your hometown. In fact, you want to make it an important rest stop on a famous road that leads from Rome to Bologna and points north, or to Rome and Naples and points south. What would you do?
Would you create an “ideal city” and make sure it gets notoriety?
That’s exactly what Pope Pius II did.
Born Enea Silvio Bartolomeo Piccolomini, (18 October 1405 – 14 August 1464), he became the head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 19 August 1458 until his death. During his 6 year reign, he transformed his hometown into a marvelous Renaissance borgo.
You enter the city through this gate:
The picture above tells us that Pienza was destroyed on 15 June 1944 and restored by October 1955. If walls could talk.
Here is the cathedral Pope Pius II built.
A visit on a gorgeous day to the Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore in Tuscany is about as good a day trip as I can think of. Leaving Florence on a soft, summer morning, it is a pleasure to drive through beautiful countryside. And once you reach the historic abbey itself, you’ve reached a little piece of heaven.
This large Benedictine monastery is constructed mostly of red brick, making it stand out against the grey clayey and sandy soil of the the Crete senesi, which give this area of Tuscany its name.
The territorial abbey’s abbot functions as the bishop of the land within the abbey’s possession, even though he is not consecrated as a bishop. It is also the mother-house of the Olivetans and the monastery later took the name of Monte Oliveto Maggiore (“the greater”) to distinguish it from successive monasteries at Florence, San Gimignano, Naples and elsewhere.
It was founded in 1313 by Bernardo Tolomei, a jurist from a prominent aristocratic family of Siena. By 1320, it was approved by Bishop Guido Tarlati as Monte Oliveto, with reference to the Mount of Olives and in honor of Christ’s Passion. The monastery was begun in 1320, the new congregation being approved by Pope Clement VI in 1344.
The abbey was for centuries one of the main land possessors in the Siena region. On January 18, 1765, the monastery was made the seat of the Territorial Abbacy of Monte Oliveto Maggiore.
The monastery consists of a medieval palace in red brickwork, surmounted by a massive quadrangular tower with barbicans and merlons. Begun in 1393 as the fortified gate of the complex, it was completed in 1526 and restored in the 19th century. The church’s atrium is on the site of a previous church (1319). The Latin cross formed church was renovated in the Baroque style in 1772 by Giovanni Antinori.
A long alley with cypresses, sided by the botanical garden of the old pharmacy (destroyed in 1896), with a cistern from 1533. At the alley’s end is the bell tower, in Romanesque-Gothic style, and the apse of the church, which has a Gothic façade.
The abbey’s monastic library, housing some 40,000 volumes and incunabula, gives way to the pharmacy, which houses medicinal herbs in a collection of 17th century vases.
For me, the rectangular Chiostro Grande was the highlight of the visit. The fresco cycle that adorns the walls of the lovely cortile was painted by Luca Signorelli (he created 8 lunettes between 1497-98) and Sodoma, who completed the cycle after 1505. Sodoma painted 26 of the lunettes.
The cloister was constructed between 1426 and 1443. The notable fresco cycle of the Life of St. Benedict was painted between 1497 and 1510 by Luca Signorelli and il Sodoma.
Wikipedia has an excellent article on these frescoes, telling you the entire program of the frescoes and which artist painted which scenes.
Luca Signorelli (c. 1445-1523) was an Italian Renaissance painter who was noted in particular for his draftsmanship and his deft handling of foreshortening. His massive frescoes of the Last Judgment (1499–1503) in Orvieto Cathedral are considered his masterpiece. Considered to be part of the Tuscan school, Signorelli also worked extensively in Umbria and Rome.
In the Monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore Signorelli painted eight frescoes, forming part of a vast series depicting the life of St. Benedict; they are not in great condition.
Luca Signorelli, dettaglio di San Benedetto rimprovera due monaci che hanno violato la Regola
Il Sodoma (1477 – 1549) was the strange nickname given to the Italian Renaissance painter Giovanni Antonio Bazzi. Il Sodoma painted in a manner that superimposed the High Renaissance style of early 16th-century Rome onto the traditions of the provincial Sienese school; he spent the bulk of his professional life in Siena, with two periods in Rome.
Sodoma was one of the first to paint in the style of the High Renaissance in Siena. His first important works were these frescoes in the Benedictine monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, on the road from Siena to Rome. The frescoes illustrate the life of St Benedict in continuation of the series that Luca Signorelli had begun in 1498. Gaining fluency in the prevailing popular style of Pinturicchio, Sodoma completed the set in 1502 and included a self-portrait with badgers and ravens.
Autoritratto del Sodoma in un dettaglio da uno degli affreschi delle Storie di san Benedetto di Monte Oliveto Maggiore
The fresco above is by Sodoma, showing Benedict leaving the Roman school.
The fresco above is by Sodoma. It shows a Roman monk giving the hermit habit to Benedict.
The fresco above, by Sodoma, shows the devil breaking the bell.
Above, by Sodoma, shows Benedict as a god-inspired priest bringing food to blessed on Easter.
Love the window in this lunette.
In this lunette, above and below, painted by Sodoma, shows How he blessed the building of twelve monasteries.
The painting below is by Signorelli and depicts Benedict talking to the monks after they had eaten outside the monastery
Below: How Benedict discovers Totila’s fiction. In the scene Riggo is seen, disguised as Totila to deceive Benedetto, who arrived in front of the figure of the saint who invites him to take off his clothes; the crowd around composed of monks and warriors expresses his amazement; in the background Riggo tells the story to Totila. It is a crowded scene and set to a theatrical taste .
In the scene Riggo is seen, disguised as Totila to deceive Benedetto, who arrived in front of the figure of the saint who invites him to take off his clothes; the crowd around composed of monks and warriors expresses his amazement; in the background Riggo tells the story to Totila. It is a crowded scene and set to a theatrical taste .
How Benedict recognizes and welcomes Totila
How Benedict gets plenty of flour and restores the monks
How Benedict appears to two distant monks and he designs the construction of a monastery.
The scene takes place in two stages. On the left the saint appears to one of the two sleeping monks while on the right the work is accomplished
Like Benedict, he excommunicates two nuns and then acquits them that they were dead
Inside a church during the celebration of a mass; to the deacon’s words: If anyone is excommunicated, go out, a woman sees two nuns excommunicated by Saint Benedict come out of the tomb. On the right, in small, the saint reconciles the nuns
And, last, but not least, the modern incursion into the abbey. A garage where there used to be a stable. Complete with frescoes.
La Foce, or “the mouth” of the Orcia river, in the beautiful Val d’Orcia, Toscana. If there is a more beautiful place on earth, I’ve yet to find it.
Created by Iris Origo and her husband, this incredible formal Italian garden is set amidst the rugged Crete senesi. This was my second visit, but I know there will be more visits in the future. Last time I was there, it was late summer and the earth and foliage was rather brown. This time, after the rains we have been getting, it was vibrantly green. It is beautiful in any season.
In Maremma no one picks olives before November 2 (All Souls’ Day), by which point the green has begun mottling into black. This is why Tuscan olive oil is so justly famous; Umbrians and Apulians, by contrast, wait for the fruit to fall before they gather it, which makes their oil more acidic.
Usually it took us about three weeks, working six hours a day, to harvest our olives (from 38 trees). Once we were done, we’d pack them in plastic crates and haul them to one of the two frantoi (olive presses), this one located in a warehouse behind the consorzio agrario.
In the room through which you entered, tons of olives, either loose or in burlap bags through which a little moisture was already seeping, waited to be weighed and pressed. There would be at least one truck parked outside, bearing the immense crop of one of the larger aziende, a thousand kilos in comparison to which our five crates seemed meager.
Still, we gave them to the frantoiano to weigh, and he told us to how much oil we were entitled, using as the basis for his calculations a mysterious algorithm that took into account not only the quantity of olives but their relative oiliness in comparison to other years (on average, about twenty percent of the weight of the fruit). We’d nod acceptance of his terms.
Then he’d take our olives and throw them onto the pile with all the others, for generally speaking only huge crops were pressed individually; in the case of small harvests, the olives of several different families would be mixed together, which meant that one could never say truthfully, “This oil is mine,” though of course everyone said it anyway. Having deposited our olives, we followed the frantoiano into the next room, where the machinery itself was located.
This consisted of a huge tub and a stone grinding wheel, operated not by hand, as in the last century, but by a sophisticated system of gears. For sheer scale, it was daunting. The wheel was easily twice the size of the Bocca della Verità in Rome.
As for the tub: if you fell into it you would certainly be crushed in a matter of seconds. At the bottom, a muddy sludge of olive residue shifted and churned, while from its side a stainless steel pipe led to a series of distillation tubes and then to a tap from which a stream of oil was always pouring.
The oil was such a deep shade of green that you could not see light through it unless you held the bottle up to the sun. It gave off a slightly mulchy odor. This was the cold-pressed “extra virgin” oil for which Tuscany is famous. Later, the pulp would be pressed a second time, producing a paler oil; later still, the crumbly residue, by now the texture and color of potting soil, would be forced, thanks to the addition of certain chemicals, to yield yeta third grade of oil, almost colorless and used chiefly for deep frying.
Next the frantoiano—Paolo) who in the summer worked at the Bar Sport, and in the spring did construction at the Terme—asked us if we wanted to take our oil then or wait until “our” olives were pressed. We told him that now would be fine, at which point he began to fill our thirty-liter stainless steel oil urn.
One of our neighbors, a farmer with a lot of land, walked in and greeted us. We would have felt intimidated by his bigger harvest (this is the curse of masculinity) had not a tiny old man followed him in. In his right hand he held a straw basket containing at most twenty olives, in his left a biberon—a baby bottle.
Leavitt, David. In Maremma: Life and a House in Southern Tuscany (pp. 131-132). Counterpoint. Kindle Edition.
Leavitt, David. In Maremma: Life and a House in Southern Tuscany (p. 130). Counterpoint. Kindle Edition.
Leavitt, David. In Maremma: Life and a House in Southern Tuscany (p. 130). Counterpoint. Kindle Edition.
On an early October weekend in Florence, once of the city’s best semi-annual events take place, right in my neighborhood. Florence’s Horticulture Garden (Giardino dell’Orticultura), located at Via Vittorio Emanuele II, 4, is a great place to witness fall’s bounty in the shape of plants and flowers at the Mostra dei Fiori, or the flower fair.
True Florentines are well-acquainted with these fairs which are held every fall and spring. They have been organized almost every year since 1855, and are always attended with great enthusiasm.
You may read all about the place here: www.societatoscanaorticultura.it.
I eagerly await the fall and spring sales and this year was no exception. I was greeted by this beautiful blooming plant, and couldn’t resist taking a picture of it and also a close-up. Wow! What a specimen!
Next up were the glorious displays of chysanthemum (crisantemo in Italian) and cyclamen:
This year one of the exhibitors had a fabulous showing of Italian lemons in their many forms:
Another exhibitor did the same with grapes, apples and nuts! What a display!
I took home a smallish fig tree to grow inside my home, and a couple of perennials to add color to my fall terrace garden! I eagerly await the spring sale!
All of this botanical splendor serves to remind me that, at heart, I am simply a farmer’s daughter.
The following is for die-hards:
Taken from Italian Wikipedia, with my own translation. You’ve been warned!
Nel 1852, constatato il diffondersi della pratica per l’arte del giardinaggio, l’Accademia dei Georgofili nominò una commissione con l’incarico di formare in Toscana una società d’orticoltura: la Società Toscana di Orticoltura. Da qui nasce l’esigenza dell’attivazione di un orto o giardino sperimentale, che si concretizzò nel 1859, anno in cui alla Società, venne concesso in enfiteusi un terreno posto fuori porta San Gallo all’inizio di via Bolognese di proprietà del marchese Ludovico Ginori Lisci e della marchesa Marianna Venturi.
Dopo tre anni di lavoro la Società aveva realizzato un piantatoio, una vigna ed un pomerio ed aveva impiantato nella parte bassa, verso la città, eccentriche e rare piante ornamentali.
Un radicale riordinamento del giardino si ebbe a partire dal 1876 con lo scopo principale di poter ospitare future esposizioni nazionali e mostre prestigiose. Nel 1880 la Federazione orticola italiana organizzò a Firenze la prima esposizione nazionale e proprio per onorare degnamente l’incarico, la Società toscana decise di completare il proprio giardino con la costruzione di un tepidario (serra in ferro e vetro) di grandi dimensioni che non aveva precedenti in Italia. Fu promossa una sottoscrizione fra i soci al fine di trovare i fondi necessari alla nuova costruzione. L’incarico di redigere il progetto fu affidato all’ingegnere e architetto Giacomo Roster e realizzato dalle Officine Michelucci di Pistoia, con le colonnine in ghisa della fonderia Lorenzetti, sempre di Pistoia. Il tepidarium è a base rettangolare e misura 38,50×17 metri, con una superficie coperta che tocca il 650 m2. L’interno, che era riscaldato da stufe, è abbellito da due vasche con nicchie decorate da rocce spugnose, un omaggio all’architettura manierista, opera dell’intagliatore fiorentino Francesco Marini. In totale vennero assemblati ben 9.700 pezzi, con otto tonnellate di ferro cilindrato che sostengono la struttura. Dopo l’inaugurazione del 19 maggio 1880, il cronista de La Nazione lo definì “palazzo di cristallo.”
L’attività promotrice della Società s’intensificò ulteriormente con l’esposizione organizzata nel 1887, in questa occasione il giardino venne arricchito dalla presenza di un caffè restaurant e da una seconda serra, proveniente dal giardino Demidoff di San Donato.
Nel 1911, il giardino fu nuovamente teatro di una grande mostra internazionale di floricoltura per le celebrazioni promosse dal comune di Firenze nell’ambito del cinquantenario dell’Unità d’Italia. In tale occasione furono operate delle considerevoli modifiche alcune delle quali si conservano tutt’oggi, il cavalcavia sulla ferrovia, l’ingrandimento del viale d’accesso, la decorazione del cancello con stendardi e la costruzione della Loggetta Bondi da parte della Manifattura di Signa. Con nuovi padiglioni addossati al muro si poterono accogliere le esposizioni di libri, ceramiche, attrezzi da giardino e fotografie dell’epoca. alcuni padiglioni erano dedicati alle piante ad alto fusto ed uno unicamente alle rose. Oltre ai numerosi ospiti stranieri, per la prima volta a Firenze, fecero la parte del leone gli esemplari provenienti dalle collezioni dei fiorentini Carlo Ridolfi e Carlo Torrigiani.
Con la prima guerra mondiale cominciò un lento ma inesorabile declino dell’attività della Società toscana d’orticoltura: perciò, nel 1930 il giardino venne acquistato dal Comune, che lo destinò a giardino pubblico. Il grande tepidario del Roster denunciava un grave stato di abbandono, tanto che il Comune stanziò, fra il 1933 e il 1936, dei fondi speciali per il restauro di questo. Il tepidario subì di nuovo alcuni danni, specialmente durante la seconda guerra mondiale; recentemente, nel 2000, è stato restaurato, tornando all’antico splendore.
Attraverso un passaggio pedonale oltre la ferrovia si accede al cosiddetto “giardino degli orti del Parnaso”, una piccola area verde posta su un dislivello panoramico, dove spicca una fontana a forma di serpente o drago, che si snoda fantasiosamente sulla scalinata. Questo giardino, in particolare la zona vicino all’ingresso da via Trento, è uno dei migliori punti della città per vedere “I Fochi di San Giovanni”, lo spettacolo pirotecnico che si tiene ogni anno il 24 giugno per la festa di San Giovanni, patrono di Firenze. In questo giardino ha sede il Giardino dei Giusti sulla falsariga di quello esistente a Gerusalemme.
La serra oggi è utilizzata per eventi, aperitivi, party ed attività culturali, come per esempio l’iniziativa Un tè con le farfalle.
Mentre il Giardino ospita anche la Biblioteca comunale dell’Orticoltura.
Nel giardino sono state girate alcune scene dei film Amici miei – Atto IIº (1982) di Mario Monicelli e Sotto una buona stella (2014) di Carlo Verdone.
In 1852, the l’Accademia dei Georgofili established a committee to consider establishing a society for horticulture in Tuscany: la Società Toscana di Orticoltura. From that origin, came the formation of an experimental garden was established in 1859, the year in which the committee was given lease on land outside of the Porta San Gallo at the beginning of Via Bolognese, [the land] owned by the landowner of the Marquis Ludovico Ginori Lisci and of the Marquise Marianna Venturi.
After 3 years work the Societa had built a garden with a vineyard and a tomato house and had planted rare ornamental plants in the lower part [of the plot], towards the city.
From 1876 the garden was radically reorganized in order to become a suitable place to host future national expositions and prestigious exhibits. In 1880 the Italian Horticulture Federation organized in Florence the first national exposition and, in honor of that, the Tuscan Societa decided to complete its garden by construction a large tepidarium (greenhouse in iron and glass), which was without precedent in Italy.
A subscription was formed to finance the work of the new construction. The project was drawn up by the engineer and architect Giacomo Roster and carried out by the Offices of Michelucci of Pistoia, with the cast iron columns from the Lorenzetti foundry, also from Pistoia. The tepidarium has a rectangle base and measures 38.50 x 17 meters, with a covered area that is 650 square meters.
The interior was heated by 2 stoves, is adorned with niches decorate with red spongy stone, a tribute to Mannerist architecture, the work of the master Florentine stone cutter, Franscesco Marini. The entire building is made up of more than 9,700 pieces with 8 tons of cylindrical cast iron supporting the structure. After the inauguration on 19 May 1880, the reporter of La Nazione called it a “Palace of Crystal.”
The Society’s promotion of its work intensified with the exhibition organized in 1887, on this occasion the garden was outfitted with a caffe restaurant and a second greenhouse, supplied by the Demidoff garden of San Donato.
In 1911, the garden was once again the site of a great international floriculture exhibition for the celebrations promoted by the municipality of Florence to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Italian Unification. On this occasion, modifications, some of which are still preserved today, the railway overpass, the enlargement of the driveway, the decoration of gate, and the construction of the Bondi Loggia by the Signa Manufacture.
With new pavilions inside the wall, exhibitions of books, ceramics, garden tools and period photography, could be accommodated. Some pavilions were dedicated to tall trees and one dedicated to roses. In addition to the numerous foreign guests, for the first time in Florence, the lion’s share of specimens came from the Florentine collections of Carlo Ridolfi and Carlo Torrigiani.
With the beginning of WWI the Society’s activities slowed and declined; therefore, in 1930 the garden was purchased by the Municipality, which turned it into a public garden. The large tepidarium of the Roster denounced he grave state of disrepair, so that the Commune allocated, between 1933 and 1936, special funds for its restoration. The tepidarium again suffered damage, especially during the WWII; recently, in 2000, it was restored and returned to its former glory.
A pedestrian walkway leads to the so-called “garden of the Parnassus” a small green area on a leveled panoramic site, where a snake or dragon-shaped fountain plays, winding imaginatively up the stairs. This garden, in particular the zone near the entrance of Via Trento, is one of the best spots in the city to see the Fireworks of St. John, the fireworks display held every year on 24 June for the holiday of San Giovanni, patron of Florence. In this garden is the “Garden of the Righteous” along the lines of the one in Jerusalem.
Today the greenhouse is used for events, aperitifs, parties and cultural activities, such as the initiative “A tea with butterflies.”
The Garden also houses the municipal Horticultural Library.
In the garden some scenes of the films Amici miei – Atto IIº (1982) by Mario Monicelli and “Under a good star” Sotto una buon stella (2014) by Carlo Verdone were shot.
Here’s a reprint of a 1988 article in the New York Times about Prato:
By ANNE MARSHALL ZWACKFEB. 7, 1988
PRATO is Florence’s industrial alter ego, the milling ants to Florence’s blithe cricket, as in the fables of La Fontaine. But when it comes to play, it is Prato that does the chirping. Porsches from Prato are parked outside the expensive restaurants of Florence, and it is the matrons of Prato who patronize the fashionable boutiques and jewelers of Florence. Indeed, not without a pinch of envy, the more parsimonious Florentines consider the Pratesi ostentatious.
In the 13th century Prato – 12 miles northwest of Florence – was an important center for the spinning, weaving, carding and dyeing of wool. In the 19th century the cenciaioli (rag men) of Prato started recycling wool on a vast scale. Today the city is said to be the biggest wool-producing center in the world, with 2,000 firms and 60,000 people involved mostly in the recycling of wool, but in every other facet of the wool trade as well. (Recycled wool becomes the short-fiber, carded wool that, for instance, pea jackets are made of, as opposed to long-fiber or combed wool.)
The first merchant of Prato was Francesco di Marco Datini of Iris Origo’s biography, who waited for his ships to come in during the 14th century, and who at a time when accountancy was in its infancy invented the letter of credit. Today Pratese merchants sponsor the arts – a Henry Moore statue dominates one of the main squares and the Pecci Museum of Modern Art will soon be completed.
It is hardly surprising then that the narrow streets of old Prato are full of stores selling cloth and knitting wool. The city has always been known for its scampolai, stores that collect end pieces of material, the leftover stock or spoiled lengths from which they cut away flawed parts, and then sell as samples.
The scampolai are mostly in a network of streets to one side of the cathedral square, and they sell not only local wool but also silk, cotton and velvet. Fabric by the yard (in 36- and 60-inch widths) and sample pieces are available at excellent prices.
In Via Magnolfi every other store is selling samples and cloth by the yard. At No. 25, Bruno Franchi (telephone 38400) has been a scampolaio since 1958 and threatens to close his shop because of his age, but this evidently depends on his wife, Rita, whom he calls la padrona, the boss. The stock is a constantly changing spectrum of wools, silks, striped cotton for shirts, taffeta, toweling and so on, at prices that start at $2.50 a yard for cotton and anything from $4 to $40 for the silks, One item carried all the time is tartan blanketing, very soft and warm-looking wool that sells at $5 for a single-bed size and $11.50 a double.
CENTRO Scampoli (44-46 Via Magnolfi) is a large store selling every possible kind of material as a sample or by the yard. The real bargains are, of course, the samples (24 to 80 inches in length usually) but the material sold by the yard is also remarkably inexpensive. Cotton can be found for $7.75 a yard, linen mixed with rayon at around $14 in lilac, turquoise, lemon yellow and Nile green. There is quilted material for robes or bedspreads at $11.50 to $15, while the panno for which Prato is famous – the wool cloth in colors such as bright blue, geranium red, turtledove gray and muted emerald – retails at $12. If you dig around among the bolts of cloth, you can find silks by Valentino or Galitzine for $27 to $31 a yard, and pure silk Gucci unhemmed scarves – with a defect such as a smudge of color or a blurred outline – that cost less than $20.
At 83 Via Magnolfi there is a store (telephone 20667) that is worth a visit more for the owners than for the shelves of samples. Albina Gori-Pacini is a poet, and one wall is lined with cups and medals and literary awards, while her eight volumes of poetry are kept in an antique chest in an adjoining room. Albina Gori-Pacini and her husband, Dino, have been scampolai since 1933 in a period piece of a store that was once a hotel dining room with fat stone columns and a vaulted ceiling frescoed with vine leaves.
Around the corner to the right, in Via San Giorgio, Franco and Anna Polichetti have a rambling store (telephone 26311) redolent of mothballs with several rooms where you can browse undisturbed. Particularly attractive were the printed velvets retailing from $11.50 to $34.50 and the crushed velvets at $29.
Another street parallel to Via Magnolfi is Via del Serraglio, where, at No. 83, there is a tiny store – with materials spilling out onto the street – called Ditta Marmino. They have a good selection of furnishing materials such as 60-inch-wide Gobelin-style tapestry designs selling at $35 a yard in addition to rasatello, a cotton satin featuring large flowers, English country house-style, for $15 a yard; they also had the same kind of floral designs in cotton for $5 or in a linen mixture for $11.50 a yard. Bold deck-chair striped heavy cotton in blue and white or red and sand sells for $5 a yard.
The largest store with the biggest choice is Renzo Rosati at Nos. 56 and 60 in Via del Serraglio (telephone 24267). Six family members work in the street store and in the warehouse next door; the courtyard of the warehouse is dominated by a large olea fragrans tree that in autumn fills the drab little street with a haunting scent. Mr. Rosati has been in the fabric business since he was 15, and his daughter, Laura, who has been to the United States, speaks English. He sells any length of pure silk in plain colors, prints or Jacquards for $17 a yard. Soft wools in luminous white, deep purple and fuchsia cost $24. Men’s suiting materials signed Ermenegildo Zegna cost $50, while similar cloth in what Mr. Rosati calls ”super merino’‘ is $27. Harris tweed and Scottish-made kilt materials in clan tartans cost $18 a yard, while various shades of soft German-made velvet are priced at $19. This is the store where more enterprising members of the Florentine aristocracy might come to shop, whether to cover a sofa or to make party frocks for their junior jeunesse doree.
It should be stressed that in none of these stores are the materials inexpensive because they are shoddy; the choice and the quality are excellent.
In the Piazza San Antonio, at No. 12, tucked away behind the churches of San Francesco and Santa Maria delle Carceri is a store called L’Angolino del Tessuto di Sorello Scarlini (telephone 21149) owned by sisters named Scarlini. While I was there a group of Pratese ladies-who-lunch were buying materials for evening dresses: pure silks at $15 to $19 a yard, satin at $24 and Lurex at $28 while silk goffering started at $11, crepe de chine silk mixtures at $19; higher priced were chiffons covered in sequins at $43 a yard and silk velvet that looked like astrakhan fur at $32. PRATO: A TOWN FOR FABRICS The Scampolai
The stores mentioned (called scampolai) are open 9 A.M. to 1 P.M. and 3:30 to 7:30 P.M. (They are closed Monday morning and Saturday afternoon.) No credit cards are accepted. Lodgings
At the Villa Santa Cristina (Via Poggio Secco 58, 50047 Prato; telephone 595951) – which also has an excellent restaurant – a double room costs $73 and a single $49. The hotel is closed during August. In the dining room a meal for two with wine costs about $80; it is closed Sunday evening and all day Monday. Dining Out
One of Italy’s better fish restaurants is Il Pirana (Via Valentini 110; telephone 25746), in a less lovely part of the city a short taxi ride from the center. The spaghetti with lobster is a first and second course in one. The restaurant is closed Saturday, Sunday and during August. A meal for two with wine costs about $95. A. M. Z.
A note about Albina Gori Pacini, La Poetessa di Prato. Time marches on and Signora Pacini has died since the Times published the article above.
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.
Prato, just a short distance from Florence, has a long and celebrated history of textile manufacture.
In honor of this long local tradition, Prato is also home to a fine textile museum, the Museo del Tessuto, dedicated to the city’s historical and contemporary textile production and art.
Even today, Prato is one of the largest industrial districts in Italy, the largest textile center in Europe and one of the most important centers in the world for the production of woolen yarns and fabrics.
The Museo is the largest cultural center of its kind in Italy. It celebrates the Prato district, which has been identified with textile production since the Middle Ages. Today the district boasts over 7,000 companies operating in this sector.
The Museum was founded in 1975 within the “Tullio Buzzi” Industrial Technical Textile Institute, as the result of an initial donation of approximately 600 historical textile fragments.
These were added to examples which had been gathered over the years by the Institute’s professors for students to consult and study. Since then, the collection has grown thanks to the contribution of the Buzzi Institute Alumni Association and other important civic institutions, such as the Municipality of Prato, Cariprato and the Pratese Industrial Union.
In 2003, the new, permanent home of the museum was inaugurated in the restored spaces of the former Campolmi factory, a precious jewel of industrial archaeology situated within Prato’s old city walls.
Prato began to specialize in textiles in the 12th century, when garment manufacturing was regulated by the Wool Merchants’ Guild.
The political and economic decline experienced in Italy during the 16th and 17th centuries caused a drop in textile activities, but it resumed in the late 18th century with the production of knitted caps made for Arabian markets.
In the Prato area, industrial activities got under way at the end of the 19th century, with the introduction of mechanization (to which the brilliant local inventor Giovan Battista Mazzoni made important contributions) and with the intensification of textile working processes. The industrial take-off was also supported by foreign investors such as the Koessler and Mayer families of Austria, who created a company that lasted for decades and became locally known as the fabbricone, the big factory.
The lower costs of carded wool processing, caused by the gradually increasing production of recovered wool obtained from shredding old clothes and industrial scraps (“combings”).
Basically, up to World War II the Prato textile industry was divided in two production circuits: one based on large vertically integrated companies with generally low-level standard productions (rugs, military blankets, etc.) made for export to the poorer markets (Africa, India, etc.); the other based on groups of firms carrying out subcontract work for the production of articles designed for the clothing markets.
Between the postwar period and the early 1950s, the outlets towards low-level standard production markets rapidly disappeared. The production system underwent a rapid evolution, and the result was not so much the decentralization of subcontract work but an original form of reorganization largely based on the widespread distribution of work among small-scale enterprises (the so-called “industrial district”). The two dynamic factors of the new system were: (a) the subcontracting firms, which carried out the actual production and (b) the front-end firms, which were involved in product design.
Below, some miscellaneous shots of the museum.