May 23: La Fiorita

Every May 23rd, Florence celebrates “La Fiorita” , a flower tribute to commemorate an event that occurred in 1498: the death of Girolamo Savonarola, a monk that upset the city after the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent Medici, spreading terror and “condemning” the Florentines for their luxurious tastes, for their worship of other religions, and for their pagan art.

But: who was this figure, and what exactly happened?

Savonarola was born in Ferrara on September 21, 1452, from a family of noble origins, and still at a young age, he was destined to the medical studies, that he soon left to become a Dominican friar.
He arrived in Florence in 1482, called by Lorenzo the Magnificent himself, who was attracted by his fame as a great speaker, advised also by his men, and the monk entered the Convent of San Marco. He conquered the Florentines with his passionate sermons, and soon he gained an important group of followers.
These were organized in a penitential sect called of the “Piagnoni”  (“those who cry”), so called for the tears shed during Savonarola’s sermons, and also linked to the name of the bell in the Convent of San Marco, the “Piagnona”: this bell will ring continuously, asking for help, on the day the “Arrabbiati”  assault the convent to arrest the friar.
Strict punisher of the Church corruption and decadence, he preached penitence as the only way of salvation. Contrary to every kind of luxury, that he considered source of depravity, he took to trial anyone he judged as an immoral person, organizing the so-called “bonfires of vanities”, where artworks, books, musical instruments and other objects were burned.

His power grew after the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent and when the Medici were banned from Florence. Taking advantage of the moment of uncertainty and of the great void that the most enlightened Medici had left in the city, Savonarola continued his sermons about the end of the world, and took care of reforming the Florentine government: for example, he introduced the “Grand Council”, consisting of 1500 members, for whom the “Hall of the Five Hundred” in Palazzo Vecchio was built, because they were supposed to gather 500 at the time (due to its complexity, this council never worked).

Foto: @miogr

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The Bartolini Salimbeni: speaking of “you snooze you lose”!

Let’s talk about another important family of Florence, this time with the Bartolini Salimbeni .. that were actually native of Siena, and exactly at the time when these two cities were bitter enemies: during the fights between Guelphs and Ghibellines, in the 13th century. Their last name was then just Salimbeni, and its members were, in fact, Ghibellines: thanks to their merchants’ money, they were able to help the Senese Ghibelline troops against the Guelph troops of Florence in the Battle of Montaperti (1260). After its great defeat, Florence will become Ghibelline for about six years: the Guelph power will be restored only six years later, after the defeat of Manfred of Sicily in the Battle of Benevento (1266). But this is another story!

Let’s go back to our family, that very soon moved right to Florence, to follow the paths of commerce and mercantile activity. It was Bartolino Salimbeni that wanted to move, and so the last name was first changed to Bartolini, so to hide their true identity of Ghibellines in enemy territory, but it was later integrated with the original name, that became so Bartolini Salimbeni.

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If you are in Piazza della Signoria, in the center of Florence, and look up at Palazzo Vecchio (the “Old Palace”), you can immediately notice that on the façade, just below the brackets, there are some coats of arms. They are nine altogether, and once their sequence is completed, they are again repeated in the same order; they date back to the Medieval times, in particular to 1343, and are the result of the main historical events  of the city of Florence.

In order are:

  • a red cross on a white background
  • a red lily on a white background
  • a lengthwise bipartite shield, white on one side, and red on the other side
  • two golden keys forming a X on a red background
  • a blue shield with the word “Libertas” written in golden characters
  • a red eagle on a white background, with a little golden lily on its head, holding a dragon in its claws
  • a white lily on a red background
  • golden lilies on a blue background, and a red rake on the top part
  • a lengthwise bipartite shield, with horizontal black and yellow stripes on one side, and golden lilies on a blue background on the other side

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