Hello! I am back home in Washington State where the Beautiful fall weather continues with unusually high temperatures and where there is an electricity around the accomplishment of our Seattle Mariners who have made it into the Major League Baseball playoffs for the first time in TWENTY ONE YEARS!!
What an Epic Journey I have been on in Italy and it continues as I reflect upon all I encountered. I may or may not expound upon that here, yet in the meantime, I had some notes floating around on subjects I did want to share. I want to revisit Florence. I so enjoyed my solo time there as I prepared for my walk and it is where I joined my group and met my fellow pilgrims for the first time.
The history is so rich and frankly, quite incredible! I pulled this from Rick Steves Florence and Tuscany guidebook:
“The Florentine Renaissance: In the 13th and 14th centuries, Florence was a powerful center of banking, trading and textile manufacturing. The resulting wealth fertilized the cultural soil. Then came the black death in 1348. Nearly half the population died, but the infrastructure remained strong, and the city rebuilt better than ever. Led by Florence’s chief family – they art-crazy Medici – and propelled by the naturally aggressive and creative spirit of the Florentines, it’s no wonder that the long awaited Renaissance finally took root here. The Renaissance – the “rebirth” of Greek and Roman culture that swept across Europe – started around 1400 and lasted about 150 years. In politics, the Renaissance meant democracy. In science a renewed interest in exploring nature. The general mood was optimistic and “humanistic”, with a confidence in the power of the individual. In medieval times, poverty and ignorance had made life ‘nasty, brutish and short’ (for lack of a better cliché). The Church was the people’s opiate, and their lives were only a preparation for a happier time in heaven after leaving this miserable vale of tears. Medieval art was the Church‘s servant. The noblest art form was architecture – churches themselves – and other arts were considered most worthwhile if they embellished the house of God. Painting and sculpture were narrative and symbolic, designed to tell Bible stories to the devout and illiterate masses. As prosperity rose in Florence, so did people‘s confidence in life and themselves. Middle-class craftsmen, merchants, and bankers felt they could control their own destinies, rather than be at the whim of nature. They found much in common with the ancient Greeks and Romans, who valued logic and reason above superstition and blind faith. Renaissance art was a return to the realism and balance of Greek and Roman sculpture and architecture. Domes and round arches replaced Gothic spires and pointed arches. In painting and sculpture, Renaissance artists strove for realism. Merging art and science, they use mathematics, the laws of perspective, and direct observation of nature. This was not an anti-Christian movement. Artists saw themselves as an extension of God’s creative powers. The Church even supported the Renaissance and commissioned many of its greatest works – for instance, Raphael frescoes images of Plato and Aristotle on the walls of the Vatican. For the first time in Europe since Roman times, there were rich laymen who wanted art simply for art’s sake. After 1000 years of waiting, the embers of Europe’s classical heritage burst into flames right here in Florence.”
We are so fortunate that even today we can see much of the architecture and art arising from this Renaissance period, especially in Florence.
Many times on our journey we heard stories of the destruction levied upon Italians at the hands of the Nazis in World War II. We went through towns completely annihilated by the Nazis – sometimes bombed even as the tyrannical forces decided to move on. There were also several stories in which commanding officers decided to spare villages or buildings for one sentimental reason or another.
The famous and tourist packed Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Florence is one of the structures saved when little else around it was spared. I found this from destinationflorence.com: “
What is certain is that the Ponte Vecchio was spared on the night of August 3, 1944, the night when German troops blew up the bridges of Florence. It was undoubtedly a terrible event for Florence and the most painful of the occupation. There was also a night, however, that marked the turning point in the Florentine struggle for human rights, for the partisan force and for the end of the Nazi-fascist invasion.
At 6.45am on August 11 1944, Florence was awakened by the sound of Martinella, the most famous bell in Florence on the Arnolfo Tower in Palazzo Vecchio, which called its citizens to fight and to start the insurrection. Thus began the heroic “Battle of Florence”, following the destruction of its beloved bridges, which saw Florentines of all ages and social classes taking sides with the partisans with great courage and determination.
The Battle of Florence is recognized worldwide as a symbol of solidarity, strategy and resilience; 250 people lost their lives, there were more than 400 injured and nearly 150,000 displaced by the bombings on bridges. On September 1, 1944, Florence, thanks to its great strength and to the Comitato Toscano di Liberazione Nazionale (CTLN) (the first of its kind), Florence definitively freed herself from the invasion.
But the question remains: why was Ponte Vecchio saved?
THE 2 THEORIES ABOUT WHO SAVED THE PONTE VECCHIO
- The Ponte Vecchio is too beautiful to be bombed.
The most famous, and perhaps the most romantic and cinematic theory, was also the only known theory until 2016 and which many still believe. The theory is that it was the Nazi troops, or even according to some, the Führer himself, who decided to save the Ponte Vecchio because of its artistic-cultural heritage. After all, Hitler’s passion for art and the fact that only a few years earlier, on May 9, 1938, he had visited Florence accompanied by Mussolini, is well known.
Was the beauty of the Vasari corridor an Achilles’ heel for Adolf Hitler?
Given that Florence is the city of Stendhal Syndrome, it would not be so absurd, but it certainly remains an Oscar night theory. However, there are many who stand by this story, adding the most realistic detail that Gerhard Wolf, the German consul in Florence at the time, was an extremely cultured and refined man and a huge admirer of Renaissance art and passionate about art history. In his years as a consul, he worked hard to safeguard Florentine cultural heritage. His presence was bound to have had an impact in the Ponte Vecchio question.
- Burgasso saved his bridge.
Many Florentines were never convinced by the story that it was Hitler who spared the bridge. As rampant as he was, he had already bombed half of the city, could it be that the Renaissance softened him? For the many to whom this theory has always left doubts, the answer came in 2016. It was not Hitler, but Burgassi who saved it, known as Burgasso: crippled and ugly. The German troops had mistaken him for a poor wretched fool, thus granting him the freedom to roam the shops on the Ponte Vecchio where he knew all the goldsmiths.
Really, Burgasso was lucid and very intelligent, as Lucia Barocchi testifies in the book Of stone and gold: The Ponte Vecchio in Florence, seven centuries of history and art, published in 2016, in which all the secrets of the bridge were collected including that of Luciano, Burgasso’s assistant in 1944. For years, he was loyal to Burgasso for fear of the consequences, until he felt obliged to rid himself of the weight of the secret in his later years, as recounted the book.
“Luciano, have we nothing to do for our poor Florence?”
This famous phrase was said by Burgasso to Luciano, but was always discredited by Germans as it was considered improbable. It is said that, before Luciano’s eyes, the wires of the bombs were dismantled by Burgasso as he knew exactly where to find them: in via dè Ramaglianti, behind Borgo San Jacopo.”
Florence is an AMAZING city to spend time within. Much can be gained just by strolling around. However, there is such a rich history regarding the people, the architecture, the art, the religion, the politics, the food – I highly recommend some research before and during a visit to really taste, feel and embellish your experience! Even if you never have the opportunity to put your feet upon it’s storied ground, I believe extensive reading about this astounding city is highly worthwhile!