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Things seen in Florence online

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Undei-wood&- U.'\ \Londoti &■ K. York


In this Palace Savonarola was imprisoned, and in the Square he was burned
alive on May 23rd a.d. 1498.







38 Great Russell Street





First Impressions - - - 17


By Bridge an^d River - - - 25


By Church and Palace — I. - - 43


By Church and Palace — II. - - 71


In Street and Market - - 86




By Heakth and Home - - 109


Fasts and Festivals - - - ISl


Envikonments - - - - 14t5

Index - - - . . 158


Palazzo Vecchio axd Piazza della

SiGNORiA - - - Frontispiece


The Casa de' Dante - - - 24

The Ponte Vecchio - - - 32

Sunset on the Arno - - - 38

An Open- Air Laundry - - 40

View from the Ponte S. Niccolo - 44

Courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio - 48

Part of the Interior of the Church

of S. Croce - - - 52

Colonnades of the Uffizi - - 60


List of Illustrations





The Duomo. Campanile, and Bap-

tistery ....

fouxtain of the loggia of the

Palazzo VEfCHio - - - 6S

A Corner of the Boboli Gardens - 72

A Picturesque Corner - - 76

The Loggia de' Lanzi - - 80

A Majolica Shop - - - 88

Marcato del Erbi - - - 92

An Open-Aik KirrHEN - - 96

A "Bronzlsta^^ - - - 100

A Street in Florence - - 104

A Roadside Shrine - - - 108

A Fisherman of the Arno - - 112

A Typical Tuscan Cortile - - 116

A Tuscan Farmyard - - - 120

Ascent to Fiesole - - - 124

Vintagers - - . - 128

List of Illustrations


The Certosa Monastery - - 132

Oxf:x AT THE Plough - - - 136

A Baroccio of Wixe - - - 140

Barocci laden with Brushwood - 144

„ „ „ WixE - - 144

A Well tx the Courtyard of the

Church of Fagxa - - - 148

A Goatherd of Florence - - 152

A Country Road leadixg to] Florence 156


Things Seen in Florence


FLORENCE! La Citta del Fiore ! The
City of Flowers ! At the mere mention
of its name visions rise in our minds of all that
is beautiful in Art, and all that is quaint,
and picturesque, and turbulent, in mediaeval

Yet it is possible that, as we journey thither,
and draw near the city, we may feel somewhat
disappointed as the train enters a region of
low, undulating hills, covered, in late summer
and autumn at least, by a mantle of what
might be mistaken for low, sad-coloured brush-
wood, but which is in reality a vast expanse of
vineyards and oliveyards, which take their
general note of colour from the dull greeny-
grey of the olive-trees. The whole landscape
is sadder, duller, tamer than we expected — " a
study in grisaille," as someone has expressed it.
17 B

Things Seen in Florence

Plainly built farm houses, oblong or square,
with walls covered with cream-coloured plaster,
rise here and there among the vineyards, and
these buildings increase in size and number as
the train circles round the shoulder of a hill,
and we find ourselves looking out over a broad
valley many miles in extent. This valley,
although it is covered by the same grey mantle
that we noticed before, is so studded with tiny
clusters of houses and villas that we would take
it to be a wide-spreading suburb of some city
which has not yet come into view.

At a particular spot, the houses cluster
closer together, running for a considerable way
up the sides of two hills, studded with cypress-
trees, which encroach on the valley at this

Where the houses stand thickest, cupolas,
towers, and domes appear, and as the train
begins to slow down, the sound of church bells
rises above the rumble of the wheels.

"We have arrived," remarks an Italian
countrywoman who has shared our compart-
ment since we left Pisa, and who has been try-
ing to enliven us by telling us how, after an
exceedingly hot summer, "the water supplies
are running short," and that rumours of cholera

First Impressions

are abroad — which statement, luckily for us,
proves to be entirely false.

And, sure enough, before we have realized
that we have been gazing for the last ten
minutes on the Mecca of our dreams, the train
rumbles into an ordinary, commonplace, badly
lighted station, and we find ourselves at our
Journey's end.

But when once our luggage has been col-
lected, and placed in a vehicle, and we are on
our way to our hotel or pension, all latent
feelings of disillusionment vanish. For we are
carried at once into an enchanted city, the
architecture of which is so varied and wonder-
ful, the paintings and mosaics and little
sculptured shrines which look down on us even
from the outside of the buildings so strange
and suggestive, the colouring so marvellous,
and the memories that are called up so over-
whelming, that we are tempted for the moment
to wonder if there is any other town in Europe
to compare with it.

Perhaps the first thing that strikes a stranger
is the extraordinary variety and beauty of the
colouring. This is not to be wondered at,
seeing that the walls of even the poorest houses
are washed, not with the staring white lime-

Things Seen in Florence

wash which we are accustomed to see at home,
but with soft, deHcate shades of yellow, and
pink, and brown, which hides all deficiencies,
and which takes on the most varied effects
according to the light which falls on them ;
showing clear and vivid in the burning rays of
the noonday sun, and soft and mellow and
mysterious when that same sun sinks in misty
splendour, or when the moon rises and the
stars peep out.

As a contrast to the soft, fairy-like tints of
the walls, the roofs of the houses, which have
such a gradual slope as to be nearly flat, are
tiled with dull red tiles, which turn to ruddy
brown as the years go by ; while the wide
timbered eaves, which project far out over the
street, add to the quaint effect, and throw a
grateful shade on the narrow pavements below.

In one square we seem to have stepped out
of this work-a-day world altogether, into that
where the adventures related in the " Arabian
Nights "^ took place, in another we find our-
selves being driven through an open-air picture-

Or, £18 our equipage proceeds slowly along a
fashionable street lined with richly furnished
shops, we are suddenly confronted by a beetling

First Impressions

fortress, not plastered, but built entirely of
stone, on the battlemented roof of which we
might well expect mail-clad warriors to appear.
Soon our Jehu takes a short cut, through
narrower streets and under dark archways
where the light of day can hardly enter, and
we would fain call to him to go slowly, at a
snail's pace, if he will, so fascinated are we by
the glimpses of quaint home-life which we see
on every side. Artisans in their workshops ;
women seated on stools on the pavement, pre-
paring food for their next meal, or, having
already cooked it, eating broth, macaroni, or
beans, out of an earthenware pipkin balanced
on their knees ; girls sitting in groups on the
doorsteps, busy over the finest of embroidery,
or talking to strangely dressed countrymen who
have come in the early morning from the
country, and who, now that their business is
over, are having a mild flirtation with Fran-
cesca, or Giulia, or Teresa, before wending their
way homewards.

Then some low, cavernous archway running
under some great palace will be traversed, and
we are once more out in the broad streets and
bright sunshine, this time near the Arno,
perhaps, where pensions abound, and where


Things Seen in Florence

wide-arched doorways, sufficiently large to
allow a carriage to pass through, afford us
glimpses of cool courtyards and gardens, which,
although they cannot boast the smooth green
turf to which we are accustomed in England,
are bright with sparkling fountains and gay
flowering shrubs.

We are fortunate indeed, if we chance to
have an introduction to the owners of some of
these enclosed pleasances, for then we have
the privilege of entering in and feasting our
eyes on a tangle of colour the like of which we
rarely see. Pink and white camelias, the ivory
blossoms of magnolia, fire-red pomegranate
flowers, yellow laburnums, purple wisteria,
heavy sprays of lilac, luxuriance of roses — red,
white, and yellow — and prim little orange-trees,
gay both with blossom and fruit in spring,
laden with fruit in autumn, which are set in
green wooden tubs round the edges of the
paths. Besides the flowering shrubs there is a
wealth of flowers, especially in spring, early
summer, and autumn, for in July and August
the heat is so great that they wilt and wither.
But, with the exception of these two months,
flowers are almost always to be found in a
Florentine garden.


First Impressions

If we chance to arrive in the city in the early
morning, especially during the summer months,
we shall find the streets thronged with people,
the markets busy, the fruit and flower sellers
doing a thriving trade. Should our train be
due between 12.30 and 3, we might be justified
in thinking that all the inhabitants who could
afford to do so had gone to the country, leaving
their houses shut up ; and that the Musical
Harper, known in fairy lore, had marched
through the streets with his wonderful harp,
lulling those who had remained behind to sleep.
Although the shops are open, there are few
passers-by to enter them, and all the dwelling-
houses present nothing but long rows of
windows closed in a most monotonous fashion
by sparred wooden shutters, like Venetian
blinds set stifHy in a frame, through which
plenty of air can enter, but which entirely
excludes the sun. While on all sides are
figures of workmen clad in dull yellow blouses,
who, having thrown aside their tools, have
stretched themselves out, face downwards, in
whatever bit of shade they could find — on the
broad stone or marble ledges which run round
all the large houses, palaces, and churches, and
which serve as a convenient seat to any weary

Things Seen in Florence

wayfarer; in doorways, under arches, or even
on the pavement itself — and have fallen fast
asleep. For in Italy the noontide siesta is as
much a part of everyday life as bed, breakfast,
and supper are.

In the late afternoon and evening we should
fmd yet another scene. Outside the cafes are
placed numberless chairs and little white
covered tables, and there the more leisured
citizens assemble in hundreds to while away an
hour or two in talking and drinking tea, eating
ices, or listening to a band should there chance
to be one within hearing. As evening advances
the working folk are afoot also, many of them
finding seats on the ledges of the public build-
ings or the steps that lead up to them. Here
they enjoy the coolness of the evening air, and
when they return to their homes in the narrow
and cramped streets they do not always retire
within their dwellings, but will pull their
mattresses out on to a gallery or roof loggia, if
they are fortunate enough to possess one — if not,
on to the pavement of some quiet courtyard
— and there they will pass the night.


$ Q

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IF the general opinion of those who know
Florence best were taken as to where sight-
seeing should begin, there is little doubt that
the answer would be, " Either at the Piazza del
Duomo, or the Piazza della Signoria/'

But I should go, first of all, to the Ponte
Vecchio, that quaintest of quaint bridges, which
spans the Arno near the centre of the town;
because it is there, more than anywhere else,
that one enters into the realization of how
things began. Not only of how the city came
to be built, but of how the artistic genius which
suddenly sprang to birth and flowed over the
whole of Tuscany in the fourteenth and fifteenth
centuries was nourished and fostered, not in
regular studios and in elaborate surroundings,
but in tiny little bottegi, or workshops, where,
in serving their time as goldsmiths' apprentices,
and learning to model and carve in precious
metals, such great masters as Verrocchio,
Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Donatello, Botticelli,

Things Seen in Florence

Leonardo da Vinci, Perugino^ and Michael
Angelo learned the rudiments of their art.

For, with the exception of a few open arches
in the centre, the bridge is lined on either side
with a long row of tiny, irregularly built shops,
most of which are occupied by goldsmiths and

These men do not only sell their wares on the
old bridge, they have their homes and work-
shops there as well, and if we take the trouble
to do so we can get many a glimpse into the
well-lit workshops which are to be found behind
the tiny front rooms, and see skilled craftsmen
and their apprentices, clad in clean linen overalls,
bending over their benches, busy at their work.

Where the living-rooms in these tiny houses
are it would be difficult to say, were it not that
one can retrace one's steps to the broad street
or quay which runs along the north bank of the
river, and which is known as the Lung' Arno,
from which we can obtain an outside view, as it
were, of the ancient bridge.

Then we see that, built out from the back of
the houses which are crowded upon it, there are
numberless little extensions — odd rooms, bal-
conies, and loggias — which literally overhang
the river, and cling, like swallows' nests, to the

By Bridge and River

walls of the original buildings. It is in these
that the families of the goldsmiths dwell, and
delightfully quaint and cosy places of abode
they must be.

Along one side of the bridge, rising above the
shops, is a curious stone gallery, which runs the
whole length of the structure, and loses itself in
the houses which crowd down to the water's
edge on the southern bank of the river, and at
the other side in a stately building which abuts
on the Lung' Arno.

Having noted all this, let us go back to the
centre of the bridge, and, leaning over the
parapet, under one of the open arches, gaze
down into the green waters of the Arno, and
think for a moment of the story of the growth
of the city, and of the part which this ancient
structure and its predecessor played therein.
It will not be wasted time, for it will help us to
understand better the meaning of many of the
things which we shall see in Florence.

We think first of all of the Etruscans, that
strange, artistic people about whom so little is
known, who came from the East at least a
thousand years before the Christian era, and
took possession of the greater part of northern
Italy, establishing themselves in colonies on the

Things Seen in Florence

tops of high hills, where they could defend them-
selves with comparative ease against all comers.

One of these colonies fixed on the hill of
Fiesole, which stands to the north of Florence,
and overlooks the valley of the Arno at this
point. There they built for themselves a citadel
and walled town.

For many centuries, while as yet the city of
Florence was unthought of, the Etruscans lived
and flourished there, as they did in other parts
of the country. Then gradually the Romans
obtained the supremacy, and the Etruscans
became the conquered race. It must have been
in those days, when the " Lords of the World '"
were spreading their network of highroads all
over Europe, that the first little bridge over
the Arno was built, to carry the highway which
led to Rome.

Then it was that the dwellers in Fiesole, who,
through marriage and other causes, were
gradually losing their individuality, and be-
coming merged in the Roman nation, came
down from their homes on the hilltop, and
began to build houses for themselves near the
end of the bridge, in the flowery meadow which
lay between the river and the hill on which their
city stood. This we know, because Etruscan

By Bridge and River

remains have been found near the side of the old
market-place, now occupied by the modern, and
exceedingly ugly, Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele.

The little cluster of houses grew and extended
till at last it blossomed into a township, for
which a name had to be found to distinguish it
from the parent city on the hill.

Numerous explanations have been given why
the appellation of Florence was chosen. Some
say that it is derived from the name of a Roman
general, Florinus, who encamped in the meadow,
and fell in a skirmish with the Fiesolans.
Others, that it is a corruption of the word
Fluentia, and that the town was so named
because it was situated at the junction of the
Arno and the Mugnone, a stream which flows
into the Arno at this spot.

But the most popular and reasonable, as well
as the most picturesque, derivation is that the
name was taken from the lilies, the Iris Florentia,
which grew, as they grow to-day, in wild pro-
fusion in the fields.

When, a century before the Christian era, the
distinguished Roman general, Sulla, acquired
by force of arms the Dictatorship of Rome, he
punished all who had sided with his rival,
Marius, by depriving them of the Roman

Things Seen in Florence

franchise, and bestowing their territory upon
his own soldiers.

The Fiesolans and Florentines seem to have
been amongst the number, for the old records
tell us that their land was taken from them and
bestowed on one of Sulla's legions. The new
colonists speedily gave to Florence the character
of a Roman town, laying it out, in miniature, on
the model of Rome. It was believed to be under
the special protection of Marta, or Mars, the
god of war, and a statue of this god was erected
on the north bank of the river near the end of
the old bridge.

A hundred and sixty years later Christianity
was introduced. As early as a.d. 313 we find
a bishop established here, who had, for his
cathedral, a little church, dedicated, it is sup-
posed, to San Salvador, which stood where the
magnificent Duomo now stands.

Thus, at a very early date we find the nucleus
of the present city : the bridge, which was her
raison d'etre, the church, and the market, which
was held in what had been the Roman Forum,
and which existed as the Mercato Vecchio until
not so many years ago.

With the market-place and the bridge in our
minds, we can trace for ourselves the gradual

By Bridge and River

growth of the city's prosperity, a prosperity
which had brought it, by the end of the twelfth
century, to the proud position of a small
commonwealth, which was governed by its own
magistrates, and owned no allegiance to any
outside power.

With a highroad which connected them, on
the one hand, with all parts of the great
continent which lay on the other side of the
Alps, and which, on the other, led direct to
Rome, and with easy access to the seaports
both of the Mediterranean and the Adriatic,
the merchants of Florence were not content with
merely carrying on their business at home, but
pushed their way farther and farther afield,
until they were known, especially as traders in
silk and wool, in every part of the known world,
from Syria to Great Britain.

And, luckily for themselves, they were not
ashamed of their trades, even when they grew
so rich and powerful that they lived in palaces,
and founded families who ranked with those of
the nobles of the land ; but banded themselves
together in Arti, or guilds, and were as proud
of belonging to the guild of the hosiers, or the
silk merchants, or the armourers, or the gold-
smiths, as someone at the present time might be

Things Seen in Florence

of belonging to a family " which came over with
the Conqueror/'

It shows us something of the manly pride
and satisfaction which these old Italian burghers
took in their honest handicrafts, when we read
that no one, not even a noble, might become
one of the eight Priori, or governing magistrates
of the city, unless he belonged to one or other
of the trades guilds.

But although these merchant princes were
proud of their city, and of the means by which
she had risen to the position of influence and
power which she held, they were terribly jealous
of one another, and no sooner did the head of
one family show signs of becoming of more
importance than the heads of other families
than the latter, forgetting for the moment their
own petty quarrels, banded themselves together
to overthrow their upstart neighbour.

So there were constant frays and fights going
on in the narrow streets, just as " bickers" and
" tulzies " used to go on between the members
of the various Scottish clans in the streets of
the Scottish capital. So, in order that they
might have strongly guarded places of refuge,
these rich Florentine merchants built for them-
selves enormous mansions, which bore, and still


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> M N

IT. • —

By Bridge and River

bear, the proud name of Palazzi, or palaces,
but which were in reality fortresses, and, when
the doors were bolted and barred, could quite
well stand a siege if need be.

Those palaces still remain in the streets to-
day, massive and impregnable as ever, and, as
we walk through their lofty rooms, and examine
the vaulted ceilings and frescoed walls, the
wrought metal and quaint woodwork that adorn
them, we realize what strange contrasts the
lives of these city fathers presented.

They took their full share in the rude and
barbarous strife and bloodshed that went on in
the streets, while, at the same time, they lived in
stately dignity, and did all that in them lay to
encourage art and culture. For, awakening in
the year 1294 to the fact that cathedrals were
being built in Pisa and Siena, and not wishing to
be outdone in municipal zeal by the signoria of
these neighbouring and rival cities, they be-
stirred themselves, and, securing the services of
a skilled architect, Arnolfo di Cambio, set to
work to' build in haste, not only a cathedi'al,
but a palace for themselves as well, in which
they could transact municipal business, also a
palace for the Bargello, or head of the police,
and another great church, that of Sante Croce.
33 c

Things Seen in Florence

Of course Arnolfo did not live to see these
buildings completed, other men had to be found
— Giotto, Brunelleschi, and Ghiberti — to finish
them, but it seemed almost as if the need arose

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