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Florence Secrets and Curiosities
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FLORENCE CULTURAL GUIDE: EVERY DAY LIFE...This Every Day Life Guide will help you understand terms, traditions, proverbs and curiosities while in Florence:
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» Florentine Secrets and Curiosities
Description: The “palle” of the Medicis are the symbol of this powerful family which led Florence through the most fascinating and original times of this city and forged it for ever. But where does this symbol come from?: it is said that...
Description: The “iris”, also known as “giaggiolo” in Florence, which has been the symbol of the city of Florence since the period of the first “popolo” in the Middle Ages, must not be confused with the lily of France. The iris is a very common flower which grows on Florentine countries in two colours: white and lilac. The symbol used to be a white iris on a red backgroung, and it remained such until the conflicts between Guelfi and Ghibellini finally led the Ghibellini to take that symbol as theirs and Florence then adopted the red iris on a white base. And it remained and still is Florence’s symbol, which Florentines are very proud of.
The Giardino dell’ Iris, located near Piazzale Michelangelo, is open to the public on May, the month of iris flowering. It has been hosting since the 1950’s the Concorso Internazionale, where the best new varieties of irises are awarded, perhaps with the intent of going on with the secular research of red iris hybrids? With no results so far... In the meantime, the spectacle of colours and smells is definitely worth a visit.
Description: The name of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It comes from Fiorenza, which was given in honour of the flowering time. Fiorenza, on its part, has its origin on the latin name Florentia.
The period of the official foundation of the city by the Romans coincided with the blossoming time in Spring, and the Romans dedicated the celebration, the Ludi Florales, to the goddess Flora. From the Floralia, then, comes the name Florentia.
Description: The streets “borgo Ognissanti”, “borgo Albizi”, “borgo Pinti”, among others, take their name from the original “borghi” of the Middle Ages. The word “borgo” derives from the germanic “burg” which meant a small complex of houses and buildings...
Description: There are several “trattorie” and “osterie” which are called “buca”, generally followed by the name of the owner. “Buca” means “hole” in Italian, because these places used to be or still are under ground...
Description: One of the frescoes which arises more curiosity these days in Florence is Dante’s “real” portrait: it is in the headquarters of the Arte dei Giuducu e dei Notai, by Via del Proconsolo. According to it, Dante had dark skin and a long but not aquiline nose...
Name: Greek perfume merchants
Description: Since the Middle Ages Greek perfume merchants used to live in Florence, where?, exactly where “Borgo de’ Greci” is today. Herbs, perfumes and all other ingredients used as medical and beauty remedies were an important element in commercial relationships between the Romans, and then the cities and regions which developped throughout the centuries, and the Greeks...
Description: The name “Tuscany” derives from “Toscana”, which, on its part, has its origins in the 10th century. The original name was “Tuscia”, being this one of the eleven regions of Italy in Roman times...
Description: Cantinette (cellars) of Florentine palaces were also the place from where wine and olive oil were sold through small windows to the people on the streets.... Several of these places developped through time into spots where to eat and taste wine, which still exist nowadays...
Description: the name “banca” (bank) derives from the “banche”, “panche” (wooden benches) placed along the palace walls on the streets where people rested and a few... took the opportunity to lend and exchange money...
Name: Lorenzo Il Magnifico
Description: Lorenzo Il Magnifico sang...out of tune, and...had no sense of smell.
Name: Olive Oil
Description: Olive oil was the main ingredient for medical recipes and for well-being in the Roman empire:
- olive-tree leaves were used as astringents and purifiers, and against ulcers and headaches
- boiled with honey was good for curing inflammations
- with wine and water, for red eyes
- the water of the burnt tree trunk, for healing
- the tree roots mixed with honey, for expectorization
- for massage after a bath
- for covering the body before physical training
Olive trees were considered sacred even by the Etrurians. Olive oil was so respected among Christians that it became a religious symbol, giving solemnity and depth to all religious rituals.
Its importance was forwarded through times by monasteries and this precious oil was used for lighting the altars and for all rituals regarding Christianity, including those concerning the Templars.
In what concerns physical trainings in the Roman empire, men used olive oil for covering their bodies, so that their muscles and whole body kept warm... but this is not all... According to Plinio, the mix of sand, olive oil and sweat removed from the body was much used for medical purposes...
The Florentine streets “della Vigna Vecchia” and “della Vigna Nuova”, right in the centre of the city, derive from some of the multiple locations of the vines which developped during the Middle Ages.
Description: Wine in ancient times, like olive oil, was much used as a medical remedy for different conditions:
Description: On a cornerstone of the right wall of the Palazzo Vecchio, close to the steps to the entrance, there is a sculpted profile of a man...who had been called throughout the centuries the “Importuno”, the “bothersome” or “annoying”. This man used to interrupt Michelangelo’s walks on this very place.... One day, while this man was again annoying him, Michelangelo lent on the wall of the Palazzo and sculpted the man’s face on the wall behind himself... and there “l’importuno” has remained for ever...
Name: Ponte Vecchio
Description: Ponte Vecchio,before acquiring the actual aspect, which has been since the Renaissance, was built and rebuilt from Roman times until the XIV century four times: it was destroyed the first and fourth time by two important floods, and the second and third times by two fires...
During the Renaissance, the Ponte Vecchio hosted all the butchers of Florence, who were moved from the centre, and consequently the meat market, because it was considered that the waste and strong smells produced by their work were better diluted and eliminated on the river.
They even started to create their own small rooms on the bridge, which are evidenced by the wooden poles still propped up in the bridge...
...but after a while, they were moved again... and were substituted by the goldsmiths and host jewellers ever since.
Description: Lumicino (tiny light, generally produced by a candle) -tiny candle lights were put in front of the Church of Oratorio di San Martino, in the Middle Ages, to signify that they had finished the material resources to keep on helping the poor they gave hospitality to in their fraternity, and asked for the help of the community...
Description: Means shame. From “ver-gogna” that in Renaissance times was referred to those public acts in which the wrongdoer was exposed to the mockery of the people.
Name: Loggia and Mercato del Porcellino
Description: Loggia and Mercato del Porcellino take this name from the bronze “small pig”, which actually is a wild boar. In Medieval times it was called Mercato della Seta (Silk Market) and then Mercato della Paglia (Straw Market). In the Renaissance it was called Mercato Nuovo to be distinguished from the Mercato Vecchio, which was in Piazza della Repubblica.
Description: Bischero is a very Florentine word, and its origin is not sure; there are a few hypothesis:
Anyway, a “bischero” has made a “bischerata”, which is not exactly a successful thing, it has resulted in a failure, and that because this person hasn’t thought enough before acting..
Name: Civic Numbers
Description: In Florence, civic numbers:
Description: The ancient Greek game “sferomachia” (game with a sphere, a ball) is the original and first football game in history. This game was transferred to the Romans, who gave it the name of “harpastum” (lit. “harshly teared”) because it was played hand-to-hand, commonly raising sand and dirt... That’s why it was very apreciated by Roman legions too, who considered it a highly entertaining exercise...
...and it is perhaps them that introduced “harpastum”, which in the meantime changed its name into “calcio” (lit. “foot kick”) in the colony Florentia, into other territories such as Great Britain, which modified some elements and transformed it into the modern “football”. The characteristic of hand-to-hand football still exists today in rugby, modern football and “calcio fiorentino”... and the hand-to-hand fight can be found in modern wrestling..
Description: The word “Rificolona” comes from the poor joyous countrywomen, who descended from the countryside for the festivities of the Santissima Annunziata and whom the Florentines called “fierucolone” or “fieruculone” (and sang “...ona, ona ma che bella rificolona...”, “...what a nice “rificolona”)...Why?, because they actively participated at the fair, “fierucola”, of Piazza Santissima Annunziata, together with their voluminous backs...
The association of the word, which gradually became “rificolona”, to the colourful shaped lanterns was clearly due to the lanterns the countrymen used during the entire period of the fair.. which then acquired the varied shapes, again, for the colourful shapes of these women...
Name: Civic Year
Description: Even though the gregorian calendar had already established the 1st of January as the first day of the year, the beginning of the civic year in Florence was the 25th of March, which was also the beginning of Spring, a typical “Florentine syle” administrative establishment... Only in the XVIII century (exactly 1752) Florence adapted to the universally established date, being this such an extraordinary event that it was immortalized in a marmour block in Loggia de’ Lanzi (Piazza della Signoria), where it still is...
Name: Annunciazione Legend
Description: A legend recounts the the face of the Virgin Mary in the fresco of the “Annunciazione” in the Church of Santissima Annunziata is painted by the angels…
Description: Calendimaggio is the “calende di maggio”, the first day of May, an ancient and very popular and colourful Spring festivity. During the festivities young people sang the “maggi” (songs) and walked in groups, called the “cantamaggio”, following the “queen” or “bride” of May from house to house with bunches of flowers decorated with ribbons, the “maji” (representing Spring), to give to all engaged young girls. The singers were called “maggiaioli” and specifically serenades were called “maggiolate”.
During the Calendimaggio of 1274 Dante met Beatrice for the first time....
Name: Fra’ Girolamo Savonarola
Description: A memorial round stone in Piazza della Signoria, close to the fountain, indicates the exact point in which Fra’ Girolamo Savonarola was hanged and burnt. Originally, after the frair’s death, a marmour block was there, on which the “Saracino” was placed during the “giostra” (joust)..and it was commonly covered with flowers in memory of “il Savonarola”’s death.
Name: Arte dei Fornari
Description: The ancient Arte dei Fornai (the “art of the bakers”) had San Lorenzo as their patron:
Description: Befana is a modification of the word “epifania”, which in Florence became the feast of the beginning of Carnival. This feast included processions of masked people engaging in “misteri” (lit. “mysteries”), medieval religious representations, dedicated to the religious event of the “manifestation”, and more specifically to the Three Kings. Their chants and songs were called “befanate”. The religiousness of these processions became feebler and feebler through time, until the Befana became a grotesque sort of ragdoll and eventually the popular witch it is today, and the festivity, carrying the significance of good and bad, fear and mystery, principally involves children:
Description: Carnevale (from which also derives the English word “carnival”) comes from the original latin word “carnem levare” (lit. “to eliminate meat”), relating to the last banquet before the abstinence of Lent...
Name: Via dello Studio
Description: Via dello Studio (lit. “studies street”) takes the name from the first University of Florence, called Antico Studio Fiorentino (ancient florentine studies), dating back to 1348. In the same building of Zecchi is a representative fresco.