About Sílvia Marquès

Ciao! Sono Sìlvia e vengo da Barcellona. Laureata in Storia dell’Arte nella mia città, la mia passione è sempre stata l’arte italiana. Dal primo momento in cui ho messo i piedi a Firenze, ho amato questa città e il mio sogno è stato trasferirmi qui e diventare guida turistica, il lavoro che più amo. Continuo a studiare e imparare cose di questa magnifica regione che è la Toscana, piena di ricchezze come la sua storia, la gastronomia, i vini, i paesaggi... Quindi sono entusiasta di accompagnarvi e scoprire insieme tutte le belle cose che offre questa meravigliosa città!

MARIO ROMOLI AND PORTA ROMANA IN FLORENCE

At the end of the 19th century, the avenues surrounding the historic center of Florence were built, almost completely destroying the last medieval city walls by Arnolfo di Cambio. Despite this, some evidence still survive in the city gates, that were part of these walls, and that are still visible along the avenues. The south gate, called “Porta Romana” (“Roman Gate”), because it leads to Rome, is also the one that preserves a section of the 14th century walls, and that can give a better idea of how this medieval fortified city was. Each entrance gate welcomed us into Florence, and it was decorated with frescoes, often with religious subjects, and sometimes by the hands of important artists. Unfortunately, not many original examples reached us, due to problems of external preservation of these artworks, and so sometimes they were painted again centuries later.

Porta Romana (formerly Porta San Pier Gattolino, from the name of the nearby church) has become an entryway to Florence that contains more than one “welcome artwork”: the first and most visible one when arriving from the south, is the contemporary sculpture that decorates the roundabout in front of the gate, by Michelangelo Pistoletto, named “Dietrofront” (“Turn around” 1981-84). This represents a woman that leaves Florence going toward the future, but at the same time coming back into the city, looking toward the past; another meaning is that her soul refuses to leave the magnificent cultural past of Florence. In the gate itself is a fresco with the “Virgin Mary and Saints” (including the patron saint of the city, St. John the Baptist), a 16th century work by Franciabigio, that probably replaced a fresco of the 14th century. After walking through the gate, immediately in front of us, the façade of a building located in the crossroad between via Romana and via dei Serragli houses another contemporary artwork: a fresco.

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Amerigo Vespucci: a Florentine in Seville

History gives us different versions, depending on who teaches it, and, above all, where we study it. In the Spanish classrooms students learn that the date of the discovery of America is 1492, a date that cannot be forgotten, as the protagonist of this feat: Cristoforo Colombo (Christopher Columbus). In Italy, things are viewed from another perspective, without diminishing Columbus, but giving more credit to the Florentine Amerigo Vespucci, a figure that is instead ignored in Spain; Americans, however, know very well whom they owe their continent’s name.
The Vespucci were a Florentine historical family, who arrived in Peretola, today a suburban district of the city, and settled in the center of the city, in the Ognissanti area. They did the most popular jobs of that time: they were notaries, bankers and merchants. Part of the family had more success and fortune, that of Pietro Vespucci, Simone di Pietro Vespucci (the founder of the hospital “San Giovanni di Dio”) and Marco Vespucci, who will marry the beautiful and mythical Simonetta, muse of Sandro Botticelli’s paintings, of whom we will write in another article.
Our Amerigo descended from the other less fortunate branch of the Vespucci family. He inherited his name from his grandfather, and was the third of the five children of Nastagio and Lisa. His father Nastagio was a notary, but had several drinking problems, so Amerigo was educated by Giorgio Antonio, Nastagio’s younger brother, who made him study Latin, Mathematics, Geometry and Astronomy. Giorgio Antonio was a humanist and passionate of maps, friend of Marsilio Ficino and, thus, close to the Medici circle: this allowed Amerigo to take refuge with his uncle in the Villa del Trebbio during the plague of 1476. This villa was owned by the secondary branch of the Medici family, that of Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, where another uncle, Bernardo, worked as accountant. And Amerigo was always in connection with this side of the Medici family, becoming the right-hand man of Lorenzo, son of Pierfrancesco, called “il Popolano” (“of the people”); Amerigo took care of Lorenzo’s business and properties, and this brought him to Seville.

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The Florentine Football

The “Florentine football”, also known as “historic football” or “costume football” is a Florentine tradition that dates back to the 15th century. It is a mix of soccer and rugby (and nowadays a little wrestling too!), because ball is grabbed with hands; this game was played especially during carnival time, and this explains the reference to costumes in its name. Nowadays players are dressed in medieval-style costumes, each one with the colors of his own team. Teams are four, one for each historic quarter of the city: Santa Croce (Blues), San Giovanni (Greens), Santa Maria Novella (Reds) and Santo Spirito (Whites).
In the 15th and 16th centuries the “Florentine football” was considered an aristocratic game, something that derived from what children used to play in the streets, or soldiers in the military camps, but at the higher level, and for this reason some of the main citizens of Florence had taken part to it, like Piero de’ Medici, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, or Giulio de’ Medici (future Pope Clemens VII), and the Grand Duke Cosimo I. It was played alternately in the main squares of the city, but the version that came to us, becoming one of the traditional festivals of the city, was the game played by the soldiers, and from that moment on the game has developed in a more popular way. It reproduces an important game in the history of the city: the one played by the Florentines in February 1530 during the siege of the Spanish troops of Charles V. While the city was under this siege commanded by the general of the king-emperor Charles V (1529-30), the Florentines decided to play their traditional “soccer” game in Santa Croce square, to show their enemies, camped nearby outside the city walls, that they were not a bit intimidated by the situation, and that this would not stop them from having fun.

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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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IMPRUNETA’S PEPOSO (PEPPERED TUSCAN STEW)

Tuscany is a land famous not only for its thousands of years of history, and for the quantity and quality of the artworks that are here preserved, but also for its landscape that has been captured in many famous movies (Under the Tuscan Sun, Life is beautiful, Stealing Beauty, A Room with a View – just to mention some), and that has attracted a considerable number of tourists. There is however another essential element that will give you a complete knowledge of this territory, allowing you to fully enjoy it: its food and wine tradition.  Since the origins of civilization of this area with the Etruscans, people have started to cultivate and produce some of the products that are still at the base of the Tuscan cuisine: wine (red wine mainly), olive oil, cheese, cereals and legumes.
We will talk more about some of the typical Tuscan dishes, and of its wines as well; and we want to start here with a second course meat dish: the so called “Impruneta’s Peposo”. We have to say that many typical Tuscan dishes are based on meat, and on an abundant variety of cold cuts.
Just outside Florence, to the south (in the direction of Siena), we meet its neighboring town Impruneta. Its history is strongly connected to its bigger and more powerful neighbor, and their relationship is based on the dish we want to talk about. Since ancient times (possibly since the 11th century), furnaces in Impruneta have produced a specific type of terracotta called “cotto” (”baked”). This material is mainly used to produce tiles, flowerpots, pitchers and bricks. Its property is to be very resistant to weather conditions , and it was for this reason that the great Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi, at the beginning of the 15th century, chose it to produce the roof tiles covering his masterpiece: the dome of the Florence cathedral. And so Brunelleschi became the most important customer of the furnaces in Impruneta, that were now producing roof tiles for the dome (1420-1436): it contains more than four millions of them!
According to the legend, it was thanks to this masterpiece of architecture that peposo was born: when Brunelleschi went to Impruneta to do business and purchase the cotto, he discovered a dish that the furnace workers were cooking using the heat of the kilns. It was a type of veal stew that was baked for several hours, placed on a tile in the same furnace where bricks were baked. The meat was covered with an abundant amount of pepper, to which the dish owes its name (“peposo” = “peppered”). Pepper was mainly used to cover the strong taste of meat, in a time when this was rarely eaten “fresh”, especially by the humble people. This meat, baked for hours, was really tender, and it melted in the mouth; when Brunelleschi tasted it, he was so enthusiastic, that he considered it for his worker’s meal. It was perfect to fill their stomachs, not only of wine (working at those heights, under the summer sun was obviously not easy), but also of meat, so that even if they drank a lot, they could not get drunk and lose balance! They could not afford to have accidents in the construction site, because in case of deaths, work had to be suspended to attend the funeral! Brunelleschi was an innovator for his time in taking care of the safety of his workers, even if it was for his own interests. So, even if peposo, due to its spicy taste, made people drink, these had to eat a lot of bread as well, and bread absorbed the alcohol. This is why the architect had a great amount of peposo sent daily form the furnaces along with the tiles.
This nice and fun story about the origins of this tasty dish has been unfortunately discredited from modern studies, proving that it would not be possible to bake tiles and meat together in the same oven; moreover, pepper was a very expensive ingredient at that time, that only rich people could afford: it is therefore quite surreal, that it could be among the main ingredients of a dish meant for workers.. (PETRONI P., Il Libro della vera cucina fiorentina. Giunti Editore; Milano:2009)

And for those who want to try to cook it, here is the recipe*:

Ingredients for 6 servings:

  • 1 kg beef muscle (with little fat, and with callosities)
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • 2 glasses of Chianti wine
  • 1 spoon of tomato concentrate (optional)
  • Salt and black pepper

Chop the beef into stew chunks, but not too small ones, because the long cooking will make them shrink.
Put them in a pot with high edges, or in a baking tray, along with the garlic cloves peeled and left whole, the wine, the salt, the tomato concentrate melted in hot water (if you like it), and 2 generous spoons of excellent ground black pepper (some use whole peppercorns to make the dish more delicate).
Add boiling water or broth, in order to cover the meat, and place it in a slow oven (140 ° C).
Let it bake for 3 hours ca, stirring occasionally; add more hot water or broth if necessary.
In the end the  peposo should be “well-shrunken”, creamy, and soft; taste it sprinkled with more freshly ground pepper and, if desired, served on slices of toasted homemade bread.

ENJOY YOUR MEAL!

*(PETRONI P. Il libro della vera cucina fiorentina. Giunti Editore: Milano, 2009)

 

A TRIBUTE TO PALMYRA. LOST ARCHEOLOGICAL TREASURES

Temple of Jerusalem: first time destroyed in 587 BC by Nebuchadnezzar , king of Babylon. Later rebuilt and destroyed once again during the Roman siege led by the emperor Titus in 70 AD.  Demolished a third time by the emperor Hadrian in 135 AD, when this destroyed Judea and exterminated the Jews.

Serapeum of Alexandria: temple dedicated to the deity Serapis, built in the 3rd century BC. Respected for its importance, and preserved by some of the Roman emperors (Hadrian rebuilt it after its destruction during wars). It was later destroyed again around 391 AD by Christian Patriarch Theophilos (according to one of the possible versions of the events).

Pantheon, Rome: Pope Boniface IV turns it into a Christian church in 609 AD; this saved it from destruction, but not from being raided of its bronze and of its external decorations  (bronze was melted and reused in the 17th century by Pope Urban VIII Barberini to produce cannons to defend Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, and for San Peter’s Baldachin by the artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini; in the same way the pope reused the stones of the Colosseum to build the Barberini Palace).

Parthenon, Athens: 1687, during the war between Christians and Turks, the Venetian troops of Francesco Morosini blew up the Parthenon to show the Turks (who had been in control of the city for two centuries) that Venice was stronger; so they destroyed the city’s most precious symbol.

Palmyra: 2015. During the civil war in Syria, ISIS destroys the historical monuments of the archeological site of Palmyra, to eliminate every single trace of paganism, beheading also the guardian and head of antiquities of the site.

These are just a few of the upsetting examples of human action. As humans, we consider ourselves the most excellent and perfect among animals; we are the only ones to own the power of speech; we are the most intelligent creatures. Well, history shows rather the opposite.. after millenniums we prove to have learned absolutely nothing, and we keep on committing the same fanatical acts. We can be Christians, Jewish, Buddhists, Islamic, or atheists, but we are all ignorant fanatics the moment we destroy a symbol of the past. Since ancient times, blind ignorance and rage have been leading man to attempt to cancel other communities with other religions, not only by exterminating their inhabitants, but also by destroying all the buildings related to their worship. And we say “attempt” because reality is, there is no way to make man change his worship, not even by destroying his city (it rather seems that this way leads to the opposite result).

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THE PUCCI FAMILY

The wealthy families of every city are those who influence history and, sometimes, politics. Often they have been important for the economy and for art, turning into patrons of artists, poets, intellectuals and scientists.

Here in Florence these powerful families were numerous, and the majority of them became rich during the Middle Ages, thanks to the two main business activities: banking (they were usurers), and trade. A considerable number of these families were concentrated in a very small historical center, distributed among the districts, allies or rivals with each other. This was the “game” that defined the city history, especially during the Middle Ages and Renaissance,  but that survived, though in different ways, until modern times. Alliances between families were commonplace: they were built mainly through marriages, and were useful to climb “the ladder” of power, or to defeat common enemies or business rivals. The Florentine government was a Republic, and it turned into a Signoria (“Lordship”) when power was concentrated in the hands of the main Florentine signori (“lords”), who were members of the most eminent families in the city. This government, shared among the main families, was preserved (apparently, at least!) until the arrival of the Medici family: they became very quickly the ruling family, until the extinction of their dynasty. Their status changed with one Medici in particular: Cosimo I, that became  Duke of Florence in the mid-16th century, and from that moment on, power passed in the hands of his family, brought forward from generation to generation.

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THE ART OF BIRTH

Flowers and chocolates are the most common gifts to new mommies. But.. imagine to receive a tray instead! A particular tray decorated by the most famous artist of the moment! This was the object that women, belonging to the wealthy families, used to receive after giving birth (and after having survived the birth), or as a wedding gift to encourage the couple to soon build a family. The practical purpose of these trays was to bring food and beverage to the woman still in bed after giving birth. The woman’s task, as we know, was to give birth to as many children as possible, and the main parents’ concern was to find a husband or a wife for their son or daughter, so to bring the lineage on to the next generations. Wife was often and therefore chosen among candidates considered suitable to give birth. This task might seem very easy.. but in fact it wasn’t at all! The mortality rates for infants and for women during birth were high, so that the big issue was not just having children, but to survive birth for women, and to reach adulthood for children. If we also consider all the plagues, as the terrible big plague of 1348, that killed huge percentage of the population, we cannot be surprised about how people then gave special importance to birth.

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