Monday, 15 August 2022

Excellent 2022 Chianti wine vintage coming up

 

2022 Chianti wine vintage

Today we had another heavy rainfall here in Chianti, just 3-5 weeks before the Chianti vendemmia is due to begin, exactly when it was wished for. Already in June we knew that vines planted in Chianti indicated a bumper crop of grapes after five years of decline. Then the drought hit and growers became increasingly nervous. At first they hoped for a small but concentrated Chianti grape harvest, but as the drought continued it seemed there might be no harvest at all. Now, within a single week, we have had to massive downpours of rain which, combined with the extreme heat of the past couple of months, means grapes packed with concentrated flavour together with excellent juice volume.

The 2022 Chianti wine vintage will be phenomenal.
Get ready to stock your cellars early next year.

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST!

 


More about Tuscan wineries.

Pieve di San Cresci winery.


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Sunday, 10 July 2022

Things to see in Lucca

Last Saturday, when temperatures were down slightly, I paid a visit to Lucca, that lovely walled town in the west of Tuscany. I had forgotten just how pleasant Lucca is for a stroll - so compact, beautiful, full of things to see and virtually free of motorised vehicles within the walls.

Visit Lucca
 
Partial view of Lucca within the walls.

The main things to see in Lucca are described on the Lucca Tourist Information website. Here I want to describe some of the things that I personally enjoyed on this visit.

Map of Lucca

Map of Lucca

I arrived by train from Florence (1 hour 20 minutes) walked to the main entry portal of Lucca, Porta San Pietro, and followed my favorite route past Piazza Napoleone to Piazza San Michele to visit the church and admire there the very fine glazed, terracotta bas-relief by Luca della Robbia. 

The piazza was baking in the sun but luckily Lucca's streets are, for the most part, narrow and therefore shaded. Lucca is also noticeably well-endowed with excellent pasticcerie so that more than once I picked up a pastry to accompany very necessary cold drinks.

Pasticceria in Lucca

Pasticceria in Lucca

Lucca is also a remarkably good town for shopping, especially taking into account its small size. There are certain towns in Tuscany that attract wealthy visitors from nearby vacation areas and which therefore offer very high quality stock. Pietrasanta for example, attracts clientele from Forte dei Marmi and environs. Lucca is similar but, because of the large general tourist traffic, has in addition many moderately priced shops selling beautiful ladies' clothes, as well as a good number of leather goods and jewellery shops - the most famous of the latter is Gioielleria Carli, which has been owned by the same family since the 1600's. I found that Marchi, on via S. Lucia, had the best stock of "non-industrial" jewellery. Many of the others sell inexpensive "fashion jewellery". 

Gioielleria Carli
 
Gioielleria Carli, via S. Lucia, Lucca

In fact, the small size of Lucca, as for Pietrasanta, is a part of what makes the shopping good - there are a few streets packed with interesting stops all within an easy walk of one another. I leave aside the salumerie which, although attractive and full of good offerings, are not different from similar places scattered more diffusely in Florence and elsewhere. Via Fillungo is the main shopping street with many unique shops but also rather too many designer outlets selling the same old stuff. However, in the streets round about - via S. Lucia, for example - you will find many individually-owned clothes shops currently selling very nice linen outfits, among many other skirts, dresses and tops.

Next, time for lunch. Lucca is very well-provided with good quality restaurants. Prices are slightly higher than elsewhere in Tuscany but on the whole the quality of the dishes is very good. I went to my favorite - and the favorite of a great many others - Osteria Rosolo which is located in a small and quiet piazza, Corte Campana, off Via Pozzotorelli which exits the Piazza San Michele on its SW corner. As its name says, Osteria Rosolo is an osteria (a trattoria, a small eating house) and it offers more or less standard Tuscan fare (plus lamb chops). I come here for two reasons - the TASTE of the food is exceptional and the service is incredibly welcoming, informal and flexible. They have an indoor, air conditioned dining room but despite the general temperature, the tables outside were delightfully cool under the umbrellas. I was very hungry so I had linguine with vongole (both fresh and delicious) with a glass of local white wine. It was a trebbiano, a highly productive grape which usually yields a faîrly bland wine, but in this case it was excellent. Next, a fillet steak on toast with a sauce of mustard, cream and green pepper corns - fabulous, and cooked exactly to the degree I requested. With that I had a glass of cabernet sauvignon from Bolgheri - plus plenty of cold water. They willingly put my red wine in the fridge for a few minutes to cool it down a bit, an act of sacrilege forced upon me by the current heat wave.

Osteria Rosolo in Lucca

Fillet of beef at Osteria Rosolo in Lucca

For the afternoon, I picked two sights quite unique to Lucca, the Palazzo Pfanner and the Botanical Gardens.

Palazzo Pfanner (also known as Palazzo Controni) was constructed in 1660 and is now the home of the Pfanner family. Felix Pfanner (1818-1892), a brewer from Hörbranz on the shores of Lake Constance, came to Lucca and founded a famous brewery. He eventually bought the Palazzo from the Controni family. Pietro Pfanner (1864-1935) was a surgeon, philanthropist and Mayor of Lucca from 1920-1922.

Palazzo Pfanner in Lucca

Palazzo Pfanner in Lucca

As my intelligent and discerning readers will recall, I am a garden nut, and you can safely believe me when I say that the small garden of Palazzo Pfanner is delightful, especially on a hot day. There I relaxed in the shade. The garden is surrounded by high shrubs and bamboo so that only the fine campanile of the Basilica di San Frediano is visible. In summer the big terracotta pots holding the lemon trees are dotted around - these are housed in the limonaia during the winter months. A short walk bordered by larger than life marble statues leads to a small pond with a simple fountain in the middle of it. The best view of this walk is from the splendid loggia of the palazzo. The apartments of the palazzo that are open to the public are of moderately interesting, and among other things display some of the surgical equipment of Pietro Pfanner. The main reason for ascending the grand staircase is the view it affords out over the garden.

My next and last visit for the day was to the Botanical Gardens in the SE corner of Lucca. They can be reached from Palazzo Pfanner via the Piazza del Amfiteatro (well worth a brief visit - some of the stonework of the Roman amphitheatre can be seen in the walls of the apartment buildings now delineating the outline of the amphitheatre) and the Torre Guinigi, the famous tower with the trees growing on top of it, and then following the Via del Fosso and its fast flowing canal.

Botanical Gardens in Lucca

The Botanical Gardens in Lucca - Sequoia sempervirens

For such a small town, Lucca has an excellent Botanical Garden, with specimens ranging from a giant sequoia to a good collection of insectivorous plants. They have a huge ginkgo tree, surely one of the first specimens planted in Europe. Ginkgo leaves were known from fossils dating as far back as the Permian period. The last surviving genus is native to China and was first described by Engelbert Kaempfer in 1690 based on a tree he saw in Japan. Specimens soon found there way into botanical gardens throughout the Western world. Not only the plants are interesting. While I was at the gardens, a beautiful hoopoe was busily digging up worms just a few meters away from me. I could spend hours in these gardens and will surely return to them.

I suppose being sensitised by an afternoon of plants, I couldn't help but be fascinated by the miles and miles of tree and shrub nurseries in the Arno flood plain visible from the train back to Florence. It reminded me yet again how horticulture dominates the rural economy of Tuscany.

More about Lucca: https://www.lucca.info/

Lucca on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/lucca.tuscany.italy/


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Saturday, 2 July 2022

Mercantia at Certaldo, Tuscany, one of the best street theatre festivals in Europe

Mercantia, one of the best street theatre festivals in Europe, takes place this year, 2022, from 13 to 16 July in the attractive mediaeval walled town of Certaldo, Tuscany. Certaldo consists of the ancient Certalo Alto, on its hilltop, and Certaldo Basso, the modern part of the town in the valley below. Certaldo is very likely the place where Boccaccio was born and he certainly lived there towards the end of his life and regarded it as his hometown. It's therefore appropriate that Certaldo should provide popular entertainment today in the form of Mercantia, its famous street theatre festival.


Mercantia 2022 Certaldo
Mercantia Certaldo 202


Mercatia Certaldo 2019
Mercatia Certaldo 2019

Mercantia at Certaldo 2016
Mercantia at Certaldo 2016

The festival takes place in Certaldo Alto, the ancient upper town which can be accessed easily by funicular or on foot. Within the walls, there will be dozens of performers along the few streets of the town and also inside the courtyards, where stages are set up to host clowns and comedians, contortionists and acrobats, puppeteers and ventriloquists, magicians and illusionists, fire-eaters and dancers, actors and street musicians.

Mercantia street theatre festival at Certaldo, Tuscany
Mercantia street theatre festival at Certaldo, Tuscany

Tickets cost roughly €10.00 on Wednesday and Thursday, €12.00 on Friday and Sunday, €18.00 on Saturday. If you are planning to visit Mercantia more than once, you can buy the 5-day pass for about €30.00. I haven't seen the exact 2017 prices yet.

Certaldo street theatre festival
Certaldo street theatre festival
In addition to the street theatrical performances in Certaldo Alto, Certaldo Basso is packed for the duration of the festival with street stalls selling hand-made jewellery, clothing, masks, various kinds of art, herbal remedies and beauty products, hand-crafted leatherware and shoes, and a wide range of other arts and crafts, all of varying quality and price. No ticket is required for Certaldo Basso. There are also some stalls in Certaldo Alto.

www.chianti.info

More about Certaldo.

Map of the main sights of Chianti.


Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Thursday, 9 June 2022

Calcio Storico Fiorentino 2022

The 2022 Calcio Storico Fiorentino, that brutal competition among four Florentine teams, begins tomorrow, Friday 10 June 2022, with the semifinals taking place on Friday 10 June and Saturday 11 June instead of on Saturday and Sunday because a national referendum takes place held on Sunday the 12 June. The final takes place as always on 24 June 2022.

I guess almost every one has heard of the Calcio Storico Fiorentino, and in fact it's worth seeing this spectacle (once). Also don't forget that before the calcio itself there will be a splendid display of Tuscany flag throwing. Another Tuscan speciality that is well worth seeing, either on this occasion or another.

Flag throwers at the Calcio Storico Fiorentino in Florence

Flag throwers at the Calcio Storico Fiorentino in Florence

The Calcio Storico Fiorentino originated in the 16C in Florence and is played today in historical costume. The four teams are: Santa Croce (Azzurri, or Blues), Santo Spirito (Bianchi, or Whites), Santa Maria Novella (Rossi, or Reds), and San Giovanni (Verdi, or Greens). The game was invented by rich aristocreats and took place every night between Epiphany and Lent. The rules of the Calcio Storico were first published in 1580 by Giovanni de’ Bardi. These days it's a somewhat rougher event - actually, brutal is the appropriate expression and I sometimes wonder whether there are any "rules" at all. It's even rumoured that some players are released from jail for a day to participate - I don't think that's true.

On 24 June at 4 pm, the feast day of St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence, a spectacular parade in historical costume starts in Piazza Santa Maria Novella and wends its way through the centre of Florence to Piazza Santa Croce. The four contrade of Florence are represented and you’ll see the players going by as they go to play the final, even those who won’t be playing the final. The parade starts roughly around 4pm since the final should start around 5 pm.

Calcio Storico Fiorentino 2022
Calcio Storico Fiorentino 2022

To watch the match in Piazza Santa Croce, you need a ticket and they don't come cheap. Tickets cost 80 for Tribuna Onore Centrale, 60 for Tribuna Onore Laterale, 40 for Tribuna C and 29 Curve colori. These need to be bought in advance at the headquarters of BoxOffice Toscana on via delle Vecchie Carceri, 1, or at Teatro Verdi.

These are the hours:

  • Monday 6 June from 4 pm BoxOffice (at 9 am can pick up numbers for line) 
  • Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday7, 8, 9 June 9 am - 4 pm BoxOffice
  • Friday, 10 June from 12 - 7 pm only at Teatro Verdi (Via Ghibellina 99)
  • Saturday 11 June at Teatro Verdi, from 12 - 6 pm.
You can also watch on Toscana TV, channel 18, and various streaming services.

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Thursday, 2 June 2022

Covid regulations for visitors to Italy - all restrictions lifted 1 June 2022

UPDATE 1 June 2022

"As of 1 June, 2022, a Green Pass or equivalent certificate is no longer needed to enter Italy," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation tells us, "All Covid-19 related entry restrictions have been lifted."

From June 16, 2022, it is mandatory to use FFP2 masks to access and use the following means of transport within Italy: 

  • ships and ferries used for interregional transport services; 
  • trains used in interregional transport, Intercity, Intercity Night and High Speed passenger rail transport services; 
  • buses and coaches for transport services between more than two regions; 
  • buses and coaches used for rental services with driver; 
  • local or regional public transport services; 
  • school transport dedicated to primary, lower and upper secondary school students.
Furthermore, workers at, users of and visitors to health, social-health and social-welfare facilities, including hospitality and long-term care facilities, health residences, are obliged to wear respiratory protection devices (i.e. at least surgical masks).

UPDATE 12 February 2022: CNN have published an accurate and comprehensive article on the current Covid regulations for visitors to Italy. In essence, visitors from most of the countries that traditionally send many tourists to Italy can enter the country. It helps a lot if you have been vaccinated, preferably including a booster but this is not absolutely essential. Unvaccinated tourists must be tested, isolate for five days and show the results of a second negative test at the end of that time. Masks are still required pretty much everywhere, including outside, and in public transport they must be FFP2 masks.

Covid regulations for visitors to Italy

UPDATE 25 October 2021: Tourists from outside Italy are free to enter and travel around the country if they are in possession of certification that they have been fully vaccinated against covid19. The same certificate will allow entry into museums and other public spaces.

UPDATE 16 May 2021: Delta Airlines COVID-tested flights between the U.S. and Italy will open to all customers effective today, May 16, following the Italian government's lifting of entry restrictions enabling American leisure travelers to visit Italy again. My recommendation is that you should be vaccinated against covid19 before coming to Italy on vacation. I would even expect that to become Italian government policy.

UPDATE 9 May 2021: The latest hint from the Prime Minister is that Italy will welcome vaccinated visitors from Europe and America starting 15 May 2021. However, let's wait for the official announcement and rules.

STOP PRESS 5 May 2021: Italy is gearing up to welcome back European travellers in the second half of June, says Italian PM Mario Draghi. “We will have to provide clear and simple rules to ensure that tourists can come to Italy safely,” the Prime Minister remarked in his closing remarks at the G20 tourism ministerial meeting held today in Rome. “The European ‘green pass’ will be ready in the second half of June. In the meantime, the Italian government has introduced a nationwide ‘green pass’, which will enter into effect in the second half of May.”

26 April 2021: American tourists who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will be able to visit the European Union over the summer, according to the head of the EU’s executive body, more than a year after shutting down nonessential travel from most countries to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The fast pace of vaccination in the United States and advanced talks between US authorities and the European Union over how to make vaccine certificates acceptable as proof of immunity for visitors will enable the European Commission to recommend a change in policy that would see trans-Atlantic leisure travel restored by summer 2021.

I'm guessing that many of my readers are looking forward to coming to Italy again soon and are naturally pondering the question: "When will Italy be open to visitors again?" Before I give my opinion on that, let's divert ourselves with a brief look at a similar interruption that took place just as mass tourism was beginning.

In England at the beginning of the 19 C, one of the more frustrating aspects of the Napoleonic Wars (1803 - 1815) was the ban on foreign travel. The English were the continent's greatest travellers. Among the wealthy, the Grand Tour of the 18 C was still a living tradition. Both the classical curriculum at school and the training of manners at home confidently looked to the Grand Tour to complete their work, while the artist fretted to be back in the mellow light of the Campagna and the budding author to add his impressions to an already over-stocked market for Italian travel memoirs. For the ordinary tourist - the "Thomas Cook traveller" avant la lettre - the Peace of Amiens was the first chance to go abroad since the beginning of the war. When war broke out again 14 months later, most tourists on the Continent rushed for home. Only American citizens could travel freely. There was a brief sense of relief in 1814 when Napoleon was sent into exile on Elba, only to escape in February 1815 and rule France again for the 100 Days. His defeat by the British at Waterloo in June 1815 followed by exile to St Helena ended the wars definitively and the tourist trade jumped back into its full stride.

Visitors to Italy - the Uffizi in the 19th century

"Back into its full stride" - that's what we're all hoping for. But when? My best guess is that vaccination against the covid-19 virus will be sufficiently comprehensive in Italy and in the English-speaking countries by mid to late August this year, 2021, that travel to Italy will become possible and increase rapidly. I'm assuming, perhaps optimistically, that new virus mutants will not be resistant to current vaccines.

This might be helped by the introduction of what has been called a "covid passport" confirming that the traveller has been inoculated This kind of thing has been around since WW II in the form of a document confirming inoculation for diseases such as Yellow Fever, compulsory for the issue of a visa to travel to countries where that disease is prevalent. Visa-free travel calls for a slightly different administrative procedure, presumably involving airlines and/or immigration officers, but the principle is the same.

So that's my best guess right now. I will update that as events unfold, but my feeling is that you can book your accommodation for August onwards and flights as soon as the airlines start to offer normal schedules. As in 1815, there's huge pent up demand. I look forward to a good tourism season during the second half of 2021.


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Thursday, 19 May 2022

Open day of the villas and gardens in Florence 22 May 2022

Those of you who are enthusiasts for the villas and gardens of Tuscany have a great opportunity on Sunday 22 May 2022 to visit a great many of the villas and gardens that are usually closed to the public. Entrance is free. I can't emphasise enough what a wonderful opportunity this is to see some splendid architecture and historical gardens.

Palazzo Corsini and its garden in Florence
Palazzo Corsini and its garden in Florence

Open gardens in the Florence historical centre – opening hours 10 am to 1 pm – 3 pm to 7 pm.


San Francesco di Paola Garden, piazza San Francesco di Paola 3

Giardino Torrigiani, via dei Serragli 144

Palazzo Ricasoli Firidolfi (no reservation required), via Maggio 7

Palazzo Antinori di Brindisi Aldobrandini (no reservation required), via dei Serragli 9

Palazzo Frescobaldi (no reservation required), via Santo Spirito 11

Antica Torre Terrace (Fiesole Music School concert, 11 pm), via Tornabuoni 1

Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni (no reservation required), piazza Santa Trinita 1

Palazzo Corsini (no reservation required), lungarno Corsini 10

Palazzo Rucellai (no reservation required), via della Vigna Nuova 18

Palazzo Antinori, piazza Antinori 3

Palazzo Gondi, via dei Gondi 2 and piazza San Firenze 1

Antellesi Garden (no reservation required), piazza Santa Croce 21

Fondazione Mello – Le Colonne Art Studio, borgo Pinti 24

Palazzo Leopardi – Marcello Tommasi Art Studio, via della Pergola 57

Palazzo Ximenes Panciatichi (Fiesole Music School concert, 3 pm), Borgo Pinti 68

Palazzo Grifoni Budini Gattai (Fiesole Music School concert, 4 pm), piazza Santissima Annunziata 1

Palazzo Niccolini (Fiesole Music School concert, 12pm, no reservation required), via dei Servi 15

Palazzo Pucci, via de’ Pucci 4

Palazzo Ginori (Fiesole Music School concert, 5 pm), via de’ Ginori 11

Read my post on the Florence open day gardens I visited in 2015. 

Palazzo Antinori in Florence
Palazzo Antinori in Florence


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Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Open gardens day in Florence: Cortili e Giardini Aperti a Firenze

As my faithful readers will remember, I am an enthusiast for the formal gardens of Tuscany, especially those of the larger villas of Tuscany. I therefore always look forward to Open gardens day in Florence (Cortili e Giardini Aperti a Firenze) which in 2022, takes place on 22 May, when the private gardens of Florence are open to the public - see the list here. In 2018, I took the opportunity to visit some gardens in the Oltrarno which I either hadn't seen before at all or only a long time ago.

The one I want to describe in some detail is the Giardino San Francesco di Paola which extends upwards and away from the former home of Harry Brewster, "the last of the cosmopolites of Florence". Brewster, a descendent of William Brewster of the Mayflower, was also the grandson, on his mother's side, of the German sculptor Adolf von Hildebrandt, whose studio occupied part of the former Minimite convent of San Francesco di Paola. The convent is located at the foot of Bellosguardo, the beautiful hill that dominates the Oltrarno. It was an evocative experience for me to walk up Via Villani to the circular Piazza San Francesco di Paola. Although there are 19 C and modern buildings on two sides of the piazza, the old church and the wall and gate of the convent are still there, just as described by Brewster. The main structure was long ago divided up into apartments and, alas, the building is looking much the worse for wear. Indeed, so are some of the remaining Hildebrandt sculptures standing in the loggia at the back of the villa.

Villa of San Francesco di Paola
The loggia of the Villa of San Francesco di Paola - much in need of some restoration

However, the garden is beautifully kept up, as is the hay shed (fienile) which Brewster converted into a neat, strangely English-looking, cottage covered in roses and surrounded by a small lawn, where he himself lived in frugal simplicity writing his books. One continues up a series of irregular steps to Brewster's beloved belvedere from which there is a beautiful view of Florence, which because of its lower altitude, is almost more beautiful than the vista from the top of Bellosguardo.

Giardino San Francesco di Paola
View of Florence from the belvedere in the Giardino San Francesco di Paola

Next I walked to entrance of the Giardini Torrigiani not far from the Pitti palace. I have often passed the fine iron gates of these gardens - little did I know that there are 17 acres of gardens hidden behind the walls in the centre of the Oltrarno. In fact, the Torrigiani gardens are the largest private gardens within city limits in all Europe.

Torrigiani gardens in Florence, Italy
A view of a small part of the Torrigiani Gardens, In Florence

The Torrigiani gardens were originally planted by the founder of the Italian Botanical Society, the oldest such society, and the garden still has an uncommonly wide variety of trees, especially exotic species, in keeping with its 19 C “English Landscape” style. The gardens were designed at the height of the Romantic movement in the early 19 C, forming an idyllic oasis of green around the original 16 C villa. The garden hosts rare tree species, wide English-style lawns, herb and vegetables gardens, sculpted lions, a beautifully restored greenhouse and remains of the city walls built under Cosimo I in 1544. The layout of the garden is also profoundly symbolic and I strongly advise visiting it with a good Tuscan garden guide book in hand.

Giardino Torrigiani a Firenze
The astronomical tower in the Torrigiani gardens

Last but not least, I visited that exquisite jewel of a garden, the Giardino Corsi Annalena, nearby on via Romana. This garden is located on land formerly owned by the monastery of San Vincenzo which was founded in around 1441 by Countess Anna Elena (Annalena) Malatesta. During the long struggle for supremacy between Florence and Sienna, the area was dominated by the fortifications created by Cosimo I de’ Medici, including an underground passage that until this day connects the Boboli, Corsi and Torrigiani gardens. Following the destruction of the fortifications in 1571, the area was left abandoned for many years. In 1790, the Marquis Tommaso Corsi purchased the land, then known as the "Moors’ Garden", and the architect Giuseppe Manetti designed what can be considered the first English garden in Florence. It was completed during the years 1801 to 1810. If you have the chance to visit this beautiful garden, please don't miss it.

Giardino Corsi Annalena in Florence
The Giardino Corsi Annalena in Florence


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Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Donatello exhibition in Florence

This year's block-buster exhibition in Florence is dedicated to Donatello and goes under the not unjustifiably immodest name of "Donatello, the Renaissance." As for some of the previous exhibitions at the Palazzo Strozzi, the Donatello show is partially housed also at the Bargello (separate ticket required). Opening hours are 10 am to 8 pm every day except Thursday when the doors remain open until 11 pm. Donatello, the Renaissance stays in Florence until 31 July 2022, after which it will travel, with variations on the loans and probably the catalogue, to the Staatliche Museen in Berlin and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Tickets are linked to an entry time slot and can be booked on-line at https://palazzostrozzi.vivaticket.it/.

Donatello Exhibition in Florence 2022

Donatello Exhibition in Florence 2022

I strongly recommend this exhibition to any one interested in Renaissance art - indeed, to almost any art lover. The aim of the exhibition is to reconstruct the artistic development of Donatello throughout his long life (1386 to 1466) and to confirm him as one of the most important and influential masters of the Italian Renaissance by exhibiting his work next to workd by other Italian Renaissance masters such as Brunelleschi, Masaccio, Andrea Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, Raphael and Michelangelo. A remarkable number of Donatello's works, normally never loaned, have made their way to the Palazzo Strozzi for this exhibition, making it far more ambitious than the two exhibitions organised in 1985 and 1986 commemorating the 600th anniversary of Donatello's birth. Not much is missing and two pieces that are mssing can be seen nearby - the Magdalene of the Duomo Museum and the Giuditta of the Palazzo Vecchio.

Donatello Exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence

Donatello Exhibition in Florence 2022

It's a great exhibition - don't miss it if at all possible!


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Tuesday, 10 May 2022

When do the poppies appear in Tuscany?

Wild flowers in Tuscany.


This is the time of year when many readers ask me, "When do the poppies appear in Tuscany?" Of course, the exact time varies a bit from year to year, but right now, the end of April and beginning of May, is the time to see poppies and many, many other species of wild flowers in Tuscany. This is basically because April is one of the two rainy months in Tuscany (the other being October) and as long as the temperature and rainfall are more or less average, flowers will spring up everywhere - ploughed fields, olive groves, vineyards, roadside.

The picture below shows a bunch of wild flowers that I picked yesterday during the course of a 20 minute walk through my olive grove here in central Chianti. Those are just a few of the more spectacular blooms that had sprung up since the thunderstorm the day before, irises and poppies among them.

wild flowers of Tuscany
Tuscan wild flowers

Poppies of the Val d'Orcia

When visitors to Tuscany ask about poppies in bloom, they're usually referring to the red poppies that blanket the Val d'Orcia at this time of year. This display is most spectacular on the ploughed hills of the heavily alkaline Crete Senesi in the Val d'Orcia before the crops are planted, and is the object of many a photographic excursion to that area of Tuscany during the last days or April and early May. Cultivation of agricultural land is often detrimental to wild plant species but not so the Tuscan poppy which, indeed, is also known as the "corn poppy" because it thrives on land subject to the annual rhythm of grain cultivation. This species is also famous under the name "Flanders poppy", the emblem of the fallen soldiers of World War I. Papaver rhoeas, the variety of papavero (poppy) that has become known as the Tuscan poppy, probably originated in Egypt, where the cyclic agricultural practices regulated by the annual flood of the Nile began favouring this spectacular plant. By growing on disturbed soil and seeding itself profusely during its growing season, the poppy has found a perfect harmony with the agricultural practices for the past 3,000 years or so and remains of poppies have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs.

Poppies in the Val d'Orcia of Tuscany
Poppies blooming in the Val d'Orcia of Tuscany

Orchids in Tuscany

Not everyone realises that there are more than 40 species of orchid native to Tuscany. Ophrys speculum is one of the most common and easiest to recognise of the Tuscan orchids, but the diligent flower enthusiast will soon discover several other common species that are currently in flower. Many of these are found in or near bogs high in the Apuan Alps, but others are common throughout Tuscany, especially in the hilly vineyards and fields of Chianti. The flowers of members of the genus Ophrys are famous for their resemblance to female insects, to the extent that male insects, bees in particular, attempt to copulate with them, hence pollinating the flowers. Although many authorities list between 50 and 150 species of Ophrys in Europe, molecular genetic analysis suggests that there might be as few as 10 species, with the other apparent species being variants arising from hybridisation. Nevertheless, whether they are different species or not, this genus alone provides a huge variety of floral pleasures for country walkers in Tuscany.

A Tuscan orchid, Ophrys speculum
A Tuscan orchid, Ophrys speculum

More about the orchids of Tuscany.

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Sunday, 8 May 2022

Anglo-American Florence since the mid 19th Century

Not everyone realises just how small Florence was in the mid-19th Century compared with today. The city walls were still intact. The latter weren't demolished until between 1865 and 1871 when Florence was provisional capital of Italy. I recently came across a provincial map dating from 1841. To the NE, Florence more or less ended just behind the railway station!

Florence in 1841
Florence in 1841

During the second half of the 19th century, a third of the population of Florence was made up of foreigners, the majority of them from England and America - the Anglo-American Florentines - along with numerous Germans, French and Russians. The English foreign colony between 1850 and 1930 included the poet Walter Savage Landor, Robert and Elizabeth Browning with their literary salon in Casa Guidi on Via Maggio, George Nassau, the third Earl Cowper, the countess of Orford, Lady Sybil Cutting (the mother of Iris Origo) at Villa Medici, Longworth Powers, Janet Ross, Norman Douglas, Vernon Lee, Bernard Berenson at Villa I Tatti and many, many others. The last direct connections to the last of the Anglo-American Florentines was probably Sir Harold Acton (1904 - 1994) whose father moved into Villa La Pietra in 1903, or perhaps Harry Brewster who passed away in 1999.

Aside from those who made Florence their home, there was a constant stream of illustrious visitors who came to stay for months at a time. In 1869, Henry James made his first visit to the city that became one of his favorites and one of the settings for his wonderful novel, The Portrait of a Lady.

Since that time, the city has spread out across the flood plain of the Arno, virtually swallowing up Prato and, no doubt soon, Pistoia to the NE, and with hardly a patch of green separating its outskirts from Signa and Lastra d Signa.

Florence in 2022
Florence in 2022

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Saturday, 7 May 2022

Palazzo Chigi Zondadari in Sienna opens to the public

Everyone visiting the main piazza of Sienna, especially during the Palio, will have seen, although perhaps not particularly noticed, the Palazzo Chigi Zondadari which is located on the higher side of the Piazza del Campo and provides the perfect view of the Palio. However, very few know that the interior of this palazzo is spectacularly decorated and furnished.

From 8 May 2022, the Palazzo Chigi Zondadari in Sienna opens to the public on a permanent basis.

Palazzo Chigi Zondadari in Siena

Palazzo Chigi Zondadari

The Palazzo was built for Cardinal Antonfelice Zondadari (1655 - 1737) and his brother Bonaventura (1652 - 1719), first Marquis Chigi Zondadari and founder of this aristocratic dynasty. The palazzo has been the Siennese residence of the family since 1724 and was the last palazzo to be constructed in the Piazza del Campo.

The Palazzo Chigi Zondadari is a typical baroque-neoclassical structure designed by Antonio Valeri (1648 - 1736), the last pupil of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who was brought in from Rome to modernise and expand the pre-existing mediaeval buildings that were were purchased by the Chigi at end of the 17 C.

Bust of Pope Alexander VII by Bernini
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Bust of Pope Alexander VII by Bernini

The palazzo is a linear structure, with five rows of windows, an internal courtyard and a splendid main staircase. The main floor is the most interesting. The halls and galleries have frescoed ceilings, house a collection works of art, archaeological finds, paintings and sculptures, among them a fine bust of Pope Alexander VII by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and three rooms have their walls decorated in spectacular Venetian "corami" from the 1780s.

Salotto Rosso of the Palazzo Chigi Zondadari

Salotto Rosso of the Palazzo Chigi Zondadari

Among the renowned artists who worked on the palace were Placido Costanzi, a pupil of Francesco Trevisani, one of the most important artists who was a followers of Carlo Maratta and of Benedetto Luti. Cardinal Antonfelice Zondadari entrusted the execution of some frescoes depecting episodes from the life of Pope Alexander VII and Cardinal Zondadari to Placido Costanzi. Another painter who worked on the noble floor was Marco Benefial, a pupil of the Carraccesco Bonaventura Lamberti. Francesco Nenci who completed the decoration of the rooms during the 19 C.

Tuscany Toscana
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