THE COLUMN OF SAINT ZANOBI

In the Piazza San Giovanni (“St. John’s Square”) in Florence, more or less in front of the North Door of the Baptistery, stands a column with a cross on top: this small monument is connected to a Florentine story about one of its most important citizen: a saint, who was the first bishop of the city, Saint Zanobi. He lived around the 4th-5th century, much loved by the people, and when he died, he was buried in what became the first cathedral of Florence, the church of San Lorenzo. After a few years the title of “cathedral” was transferred to the nearby (but this time within the city walls) church of Santa Reparata (future Santa Maria del Fiore), and thus the remains of the first bishop had to be transferred from one church to the other. From San Lorenzo, thus, the procession took the street called “Borgo San Lorenzo” and entered St. John’s Square. Here there were some elms that were dry at that time of the year: it was January 26th, close to the so-called “giorni della merla” (lit. “the days of the female blackbird”, which are the last three days of January), the coldest days of the year. Tradition tells that, passing near one of these trees, the coffin, carried on the men’s shoulders, touched one of them, and suddenly, as if by magic, this bloomed. This episode was interpreted by everyone as a miracle of Saint Zanobi, attracting thus people from every corner of the city into the square, trying to grab at least a twig of the miraculous tree. Nothing survived of the elm, eventually; the city of Florence, however, wanted to remember this important event, and at the same time celebrate the memory of the saint, and so a columns was raised in the exact spot where the elm once stood: this column is today called “The column of Saint Zanobi”. The original one, dating back to 430 ca., was destroyed by the devastating flood of 1333; the column we can see today dates from the 14th century, with a marble cross on top of it, surrounded by a wrought-iron garland, while a small bronze tree is placed in the middle of the trunk.

Today, every January 26th , supposedly the day of the miracle, Florence celebrates its saint placing a garland of flowers at the base of the column.

MONTELUPO CERAMICS

Every year in June MontelupoFiorentino, a city in the province of Florence, dedicates a few days to its most important and famous product, ceramic, organizing a festival dedicated to it: Montelupo Ceramics Festival.

On this occasion,  the organization provides many visits to factories and workshops, meetings with ceramists and artisans, and  in-depth examinations of the history, life and production of this ancient art.  Of course, all this is combined with other events, like music, shows and games for children and adults.

Since the Middle Ages, this small city distinguished itself as a ceramic production center, especially of majolica (enamelled ceramic), and the moment of greatest production was in 1400 and 1500. In 1406, in fact, Florence conquered Pisa, and this allowed the Montelupo’s artifacts (and not just them) to open up a new sea route; moreover, this gave the artisan the opportunity to compete with the Spanish ceramics, that imposed on Montelupo a qualitative increase in its production activity: in fact, from this moment on, it began to specialize in the Spanish-Moorish-style majolica (with a prevalent use of blue and green).

Essential in these centuries were also the Florentine commissions by private families as the Medici, as well as by important institutes like the Old Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella, orcommercial carriers  like the Antinori family, all elements that allowed the Montelupo’s Majolica to be shipped all over the world through the Arno river and the ports of Pisa and Livorno:  remnants of these artifacts, in fact, were found in Central America, in the Philippines, and in many European countries.

This city became thus the heart of the ceramic production in the Florentine territory, becoming the main activity of the local families, so that in those centuries more than fifty manufactures could be countedwithin the city walls, most of them with its own distinctive brand.

Even today ceramic processing is a symbol of this place, and there are still workshops and factories devoted to this production, that, in some cases, today as in the past, is able to create real works of art.

The city of Montelupo has reconstructed the entire history and development of this specific tradition in the MuseodellaCeramica (Ceramics Museum), where more than thousand pieces are displayed, most of them found during some excavations in the historic center of Montelupo. There are pieces that were destined to the Medici family, as revealed by the presence of their emblem, to the Medici Pope Leo X, and other members of the Roman Church. One of the most important artworks is the famous “Rosso di Montelupo” (“Red of Montelupo”), a basin dated 1509, decorated with grotesques on a yellow and red background, named after the particular red pigment in its decoration, which composition is still mystery today.

The “wine windows”

Walking through the streets of Florence, both in the crowded ones around the main monuments, as well as in the quieter ones, if you look around with curiosity, you can see many things, small and large, that the various attractions and the above mentioned monuments sometimes shade: tabernacles; decorated traffic signs; pictures of historical celebrities.. underwater; “Dante’s plaques” with Divine Comedy excerpts; more marble plaques on the walls of palaces, commemorating important personalities who had lived there; and much more. But if we look not so high, more or less at our height, we can often notice some strange, small windows on the walls of palaces: these are the so called “buchette” (small holes), or “finestrini” (small windows) – they have many names – for wine. Between the historic center, and the streets that were outside the last 1333 city walls, we can count more than hundred wine windows!
But: what are they? And what is their function? Better: what was  their function? Simple: to sell wine!

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THE COATS OF ARMS ON PALAZZO VECCHIO

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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