History of Florence

Curious Florence: Florence and the Explosion of the Cart

Among the most characteristic Easter events in central Italy is the Explosion of the Cart in Florence, Tuscan Capital and UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982.

The celebration dates back to the First Crusades, undertaken to liberate the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from the hands of the “infidels.”

Legend has it that a Florentine crusader that was the first to climb the Jerusalem walls was gifted with three splinters of stone from the Church; today they are held inside Florence’s Church of the Holy Apostles.
According to historians, once the crusaders liberated Jerusalem (on Black Saturday, no less), they gathered in the Church of the Resurrection to receive the “holy fire,” symbol of purification.

The Florentines’ Easter customs go back to this very ceremony: that is, the Florentines’ tradition has long been to go to the Church of the Resurrection and light a small torch of holy fire with the sparks that emit from the rubbing together of the stone flints. At such a point they undertook a procession through the city to then take the holy fire to each house.
In time the ritual came to include transport of the holy fire (burning coals) by cart. It was in the 14th Century that fireworks were thrown in the mix, resulting in the “Explosion of the Cart.”

The Explosion of the Cart

White oxen led the car from Piazzale del Prato to Florence’s Church of the Santissimi Apostoli, while a dove (in reality, a bird-shaped flare) sets fire to the fireworks in the cart.

The mechanism in detail involves a cord that runs the length of the Church, from its choir to the cart outside the church entrance. The dove flare slides along the cord, and bounces off the cart, thus setting off the fireworks before returning backwards on its own.
It is said that if the explosion goes off without a hitch and the dove makes its return to the altar unimpeded, it is a good augur for Florence for the rest of the year. The tradition is always a big draw for tourists, citizens and, especially in the past, inhabitants of rural areas that based their hopes and fears regarding harvest, flooding, etc. on the dove’s success. In fact, the devastating flood that hit Florence in 1966 coincided with the fact that the dove had not returned to the church altar.

If you want to learn more about Italian traditions and cultures, take a look to our culture courses!

History of Florence

Italian tradition: The Mimosa for Women’s Day

mimosa,
The mimosa

In Italy, to celebrate the International Women’s Day on March 8th, men give to women the mimose.

However.. Do you know why, of all the types of flowers , the mimosa was the one chosen as the “typical gift” for this special day?

As you can perfectly see, the flowers of the mimosa are very bright and cheerful! They look very delicate, but they are actually very strong! Just like women!

Its fame as the symbol of Women’s Day is also linked to many important historical events:
In 1946, the U.D.I. (Unione Donne Italiane = the Union of Italian Women) was looking for a flower that could represent the first Women’s Day, after the war. The choice was almost forced: the mimosa is one of the few plants that blooms at the beginning of March. Moreover, it had the advantage of being very cheap given the situation oh the period.

If you want to learn more about Italian traditions and cultures, take a look to our culture courses!

History of Florence

Curious Florence: An endless love at Grifoni Palace

Florence is a wonderful city, in fact it doesn’t requires a lot of work to fall in love with it. This Italian city is a living museum, where every street, alley, and building is full of history.

The undisputed charm of the city of Florence comes not only from all the works of art you can see in every street, but also from the imperceptible hidden details, elements that can escape the eye at first glance.

I am now going to reveal you one of these hidden elements that will surely blow your mind:

Piazza_Annunziata
Grifoni Palace

On the corner between Piazza Santissima Annunziata and Via dei Servi there is the Palazzo Grifoni (more known as Palazzo Budini-Gattai), which is a red brick palace. When you observe the palace from the square you might notice that on the facade of this building there is a particular window that is always open.

One of the most less known Florentine legends relates that the Grifoni family lived in this building for centuries and it is said that toward the end of the sixth century, one of the Grifoni sons went off to war (which was not something uncommon at the time) and was so forced to leave her beloved wife.

Piazza_Annunziata1
The open window

The beautiful lady ran to the window to greet him one last time and to watch him leaving. The legend tells us that the wife spent all of her time sitting nearby the window, hoping to see her husband again. The love of her life never returned home, and when she died, the window was shut.

There are two different versions to this story:

Some say that the neighbors of the two lovers were so touched by the profound love story that they decided to reopen the window.

Other people say that when the window was closed, objects inside the room began to fly and furniture began to shake. As a servant reopened the window, everything returned normal. This makes us understand that this woman’s love is still there and her spirit still waits for her husband’s return and will probably wait forever.

No one knows the woman’s name and no one will ever know which one of these two stories is true.

For more stories and legends about Florence, do not miss our history of Florence tours!

History of Florence

Discover Florence: The Vasarian Corridor

Vasarian Corridor

One of the most memorable thing you can do in Florence is to visit Vasari Corridor. Some people do not understand where this wonderful secret corridor of the Medici family is. In fact it is not simply visible and it is also not simply accessible for security reasons.

The Vasari Corridor is an enclosed private passageway long approximately 1km built in 1565 in just five months by order of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici. The total design is planned by Giorgio Vasari, from which the corridor has taken its name.

Painting gallery

Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici has ordered to build this passage at the time of the wedding between his son Francesco I de’ Medici and Johanna of Austria. He especially wanted to be able to move freely between his residence, Pitti Palace, and the government palace, Palazzo Vecchio. In fact, since he had replaced the Republic of Florence, he felt insecure in public. The meat market on the bridge Ponte Vecchio was then replaced by goldsmith shops (that still occupy the bridge until now) to avoid its smell reaching into the passage.

On the other side of the Arno, the corridor passes over the loggiato of the church of Santa Felicita until it finally reaches the Boboli gardens and the apartments in Pitti Palace. The secret passageway contains over 1000 paintings, all dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as the important collection of Self-portraits by the greatest Masters of Western Art, like Giorgio Vasari, Andrea del Sarto, Bernini, Canova, Delacriox, Chagal and many others.

The Vasari Corridor can only be visited through guided tours organized by travel agencies and the costs are a little bit expensive. However, it will surely be worth the visit!

If you want to visit the Vasarian Corridor with a private guide, check out our Guided Visits in Florence!

History of Florence

Curious Florence:

florentine legends, history of florence, italian courses florence, history courses florenceComing to Florence, if you pass by Piazza Duomo it is impossible not to notice the wind that always blows in the square (which in winter turns into a fierce north wind).

That wind is well known to the Florentines, who call it the “rifrullo of the devil”, a curious atmospheric phenomenon that, like many of the “quirks” of Florence, hides its origins in an eerie legend!

florentine legends, history of florence, italian courses florence, history courses florenceThe legend says that one day, we do not know the era, the devil was chasing a priest on the streets of Florence trying in every way to steal his soul. Once they got in front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the poor priest said to the devil, before suffering eternal damnation, he asked the devil to give him one last wish: he wanted to pray for one last time. The devil agreed to the request of the priest, who entered the Church. The devil meanwhile leaned against the Cathedral, waiting for the priest to come out of it.

The priest obviously took advantage of the distraction of the devil to escape, fleeing through another of the many doors of the Cathedral, that Lucifer without noticing.

florentine legends, history of florence, italian courses florence, history courses florenceMeanwhile Satan, bored by the long wait, he began to puff, raising such a breeze in the square. Once discovered the deception with which the priest had made fun of him, the evil breath turned into a real whirlwind.

Since then, the rifrullo devil has never ceased: even the devil’s breath now waits in vain in the square that his chosen bait from the Cathedral…

History of Florence

Curious Florence: Wine holes

Florence is a city rich not only in art and history, but also in curiousities and intriguing secrets.

Today we will speak about the mystery related to those ancient shrines dedicated to a very important product of the city’s both culture and economy.

If you have been to Florence, probably wandering in the streets of the center you could have seen some “buchette” (small openings) on the ground floor of the facades of palaces.
These small holes are all very similar: they have the shape of a small door with a higher arch, decorated by a dropped frame, and closed by a wooden door.

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Buchette del vino

What were those little holes for? Well these are “wine tabernacles”.

Their origin dates back to many centuries ago: at the end of XVth century the trade in textiles and linen, a driving engine of the Florentine medieval and Renaissance economy, began to encounter the fierce competition of the northern countries, especially England.

The nobles, the bankers and the Florentine merchants sought new markets and decided to invest their capitals in land and possessions. The new landowners invested on the typical products of the area and particularly on wine. Those little holes are the result of strong investment in wine production.

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Buchette del vino – Firenze

Through these openings the producers directly sold their wine on the street, without other intermediaries, such as taverns. The little holes were placed on the ground floor at the same level as the palaces’ inner cellars to allow a quick and easy sale.

Try to knock when you find one, maybe a good merchant of ancient times might make you taste the new wine 😉

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History of Florence

Curious Florence: La Berta

One of the best things about Florence is that at every corner, if you raise your head and look around, you always have the opportunity to discover something new.
And we’re not just talking about beautiful churches and old buildings, but of curiosities mostly linked to particular stories and legends, like the one we’re about to tell you:

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La Berta on the side of Santa Maria Maggiore

Near the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore you can find the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. In the side of the tower overlooking Via dei Cerretani you will notice that there is a “petrified head” embedded in the bricks: This is the “Berta”.

Two very different stories tell us about its likely origin:

According to one school of thought, it seems that this head is there from 1326 because of Cecco d’Ascoli (an astrologer condemned to the stake). The man was led to death and casted a curse to a woman who, denying him water, had prevented him to save himself from the flames (he had made a pact with the devil).

According to others, Berta would have been a greengrocer who gave the church a bell, so that it could be used to alert citizens with its chimes about the opening and closing of the city gates.
This small bust is therefore a sign of recognition of the Florentines to  Berta.

Which of the two stories is true? We do not know, it’s up to you to choose what to believe 😉

For more stories and legends about Florence, do not miss our history of Florence tours!