Day 730: Brunelleschi

Laetitia began the day by leading her group to the Battistero di San Giovanni, an octagonal building erected during a period from 1059 to 1128 A.D.  There is a tradition that the structure was built atop an earlier Roman temple.  However, archeological investigations indicate that there were earlier octagonal baptisteries on the site dating back to the fourth century, but no evidence of a Roman temple was found.  The building features numerous art treasures including a magnificent mosaic ceiling and gilded bronze doors crafted by Lorenzo Ghiberti that Michelangelo called “The Gates of Paradise.”  Dante Alighieri and many members of the Medici family were baptized there.

Next to the baptistery is Il Duomo, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore.  Built between 1296 and 1436, it is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe and dominates the Florence skyline.  Its imposing hexagonal dome is a marvel of ingenious engineering accomplished by Brunelleschi.  Next to the cathedral is a bell tower designed by Giotto.  Laetitia made Brunelleschi the subject of the day’s limerick.

That paragon of genus Homo,
Who put the large dome on Il Duomo,
Solving a problem pesky,
Florentine, Brunelleschi,
Is well known from Capri to Lake Como.

Day 729: Medici

Built around 1300 A.D., the Palazzo Vecchio, with its crenellated walls and lofty clock tower, was once called the Palazzo della Signoria, or “the palace of the government” of Florence during the medieval and renaissance periods.  When the Medicis rose to power, Duke Cosimo I moved government operations to the Uffizi and the palace became his residence.  Laetitia and her group walked from their hotel to Piazza della Signoria, the square that retains the name of the palace’s original purpose.  The square is adorned with some exquisite statuary, of which Michelangelo’s David is perhaps best known.  Michelangelo sculpted the David statue in Carrara marble in the three years following 1501.  The statue was intended for the roofline of the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore), but it was placed instead in front of Palazzo della Signoria, possibly because of its size and weight.  In 1873, the statue was moved to the Accademia Gallery to prevent damage from the elements and a replica was put in its place.

A regular Palazzo Vecchio guide provided the tour of the palace.  The Medici family was fabulously wealthy but not of the aristocracy.  Cosimo, the first duke, came to power through the influence that his wealth provided but he lacked the “blue blood” that would have given him respectability among other European sovereigns.  It cost him a large dowry, but Cosimo’s marriage to Castilian Noblewoman, Eleonora de Toledo, provided his descendants with aristocratic status.  Although an arranged marriage, it was by all accounts a love match.  The group’s official palace tour included Eleonora’s apartments. There was a private passage so that Cosimo could enter her bedroom unseen by the rest of the household.  While there, the guide talked about the prevailing view during the Medici era, that bathing opened pores in the skin and made one susceptible to the plague.  Those who held this view included doctors. Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague, had not yet been discovered.  Apparently, the duchess bathed only a few times a year.  When she did so, a public announcement was made.  This seems not to have interfered with Cosimo’s and Eleonora’s amorous relationship.  In the words of Ogden Nash (from Four Prominent So and Sos) “She was pretty, she was charming, she was tender, she was mild and her sympathies were such that she was frequently with child.”  Cosimo and Eleonora had eleven children assuring the continuation of the Medici line.  The marriage provided strategic connections with the Spanish kings and the Hapsburgs but there were Faustian threads in the arrangement that eventually led to the absorption of Tuscany into the Hapsburg Empire after the Medici line died out.  The Medici rulers were noted for their patronage and the palace is filled with art treasures.  The palace was known as Palazzo Ducale during the residence of the Medici family.  It became known as the Palazzo Vecchio (“Old Palace”) when the Medicis moved across the Arno to Palace Pitti.  Today, Palazzo Vecchio is mostly a museum but it also houses some government offices.  After the tour, Laetitia gave her group some time off to shop and explore the city.  Late that afternoon, Laetitia had a glass of Chianti Classico in the hotel bar and wrote down the day’s limerick.

Castilian belle Eleonora
Lacked cosmetics like those from Sephora
And seldom did bathe
But she still did enslave
Cosimo with her erotic aura.

Day 728: Lawrence in Florence

Florence is known for its excellent wines from the nearby Chianti region, so late in the afternoon, Laetitia ordered a glass at the hotel bar as she sat down to write a limerick.  Sitting at a table next to her was a woman of about her own age who was part of her tour group and Laetitia struck up a conversation with her.  Felicia was an American graduate student of Italian descent whose thesis topic was D. H. Lawrence.  She planned to spend the entire week with the tour, but when there was free time, she would explore the area’s history related to the author.  Laetitia had chosen Florence because of her interest in Dante and was unaware of the Lawrence connection.  According to Felicia, in the mid-1920s, Lawrence and wife, Frieda, moved to Villa L’Arcipresso (also called Villa Mirenda), located near Scandicci on a hilltop overlooking Florence.  Although Lawrence’s tuberculosis was in an advanced stage he was very prolific, writing The Virgin and the Gypsy and Lady Chatterley’s Lover while there.  Laetitia decided to make Scandicci the subject of the limerick of the day.

Though Lawrence fans think it is peachy
To visit his home in Scandicci
Those who come to Florence
View it with abhorrence
If their mindset is prudish and preachy.

Day 727: Florence

Laetitia sat sleepily curled up in one of the Emerald Victorian library’s overstuffed chairs as she began to think about where Mind’s Eye Limerick Tours should go next but was having trouble concentrating.  Last night she had finished reading Dante’s Inferno and had been amused to find Gianni Schicchi, the protagonist of Puccini’s comic opera of the same name, in Canto XXX.  She had come to reading Dante by a circuitous route.  She was a fan of mystery novels, especially those written prior to World War II, having read all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries and the hard-boiled detective fiction of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.  She was also fond of the mystery novels of British writers, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers.  In a Sayers biography, Laetitia learned that though the author’s mysteries were very successful, Dorothy viewed her translation of Dante’s Devine Comedyas her best work.  The project required not only translating the work from Italian Vulgate to English, but also writing it in terza rima, the verse form of interlocking triplets with alternating end-rhymes used by Dante.  Intrigued, she read Sayers’ translation of The Inferno.  By the time the sounds of exploding steam signaled the readiness of the day’s first cup of coffee, Laetitia had decided on her next tour destination.  She would go to Florence, the city of Dante.

Once again ensconced in the chair next to a steaming cup of coffee and with a pile of guidebooks in her lap, Laetitia began to plan the tour.  It soon became clear that a day trip to Florence would be woefully inadequate.  She decided to do several days.  Florence is a walkers’ city.  Distances between sites of interest are not far but one must take care to avoid getting lost.  Dating back to Roman times, the original layout of the city was orderly, but as the city grew during the Middle Ages its layout of buildings and streets became helter-skelter.  Laetitia spent most of the first day orienting her group to the city.  They saw places from the outside where they would be going later.  At each place, Laetitia pointed out landmarks that would allow her tour guests to navigate back to their hotel.  These landmarks included the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, the Palazzo Strozzi, and the Piazza della Repubblica.  The Basilica of Santa Maria Novella was built in the thirteenth century.  It is the oldest church in Florence and is easily recognizable by its ornate Gothic façade.  Wealthy Florentine families were noted for their patronage and the Strozzi family supported Santa Maria Novella.  The church includes the Strozzi family chapel.  The Strozzi Palace in just a few blocks away.  Filippo Strozzi the Elder commissioned Benedetto da Maiano to build Palazzo Strozzi.  Strozzi died in 1491 at age 63 during its construction.  The Strozzi family and the Medici family were rivals.  At one point this conflict led to Strozzi’s exile.  Piazza della Repubblica has been a public square for thousands of years.  It is built on the site of the Roman forum.  The direction back to the group’s hotel was through the triumphal arch on one side of the square to Palazzo Strozzi, veering slightly to the right to Piazza Santa Maria Novella and then to their hotel.  Most of her group were interested in shopping so, once oriented, Laetitia gave them free time to explore on their own.  Then she stopped for an espresso and wrote down the limerick of the day.

‘Tis likely that old Strozzi fellow
Who lived near Saint Mary Novella
And once lived in exile
Due to Medici bile
Led a life that was not always mellow.