Last night I sent an email on the chance that we could book into a private tour of the 2nd and 3rd floors of the Palazzo Davanzati. The ground and 1st floors are always open to the paying public. The higher floors are only by pre-booking. There’s also a limit of 25 people. It was a chance we decided to take. This morning, after about 09:30 I had a response. It was a yes.
Palazzo Davanzati is a rare thing. A survivor from the past that avoided the decimation of the late 19th century when Florence was ‘cleaned up’ in order to reduce the reach of the cholera epidemic. Whether the flattening of the buildings helped is neither here nor there. What is important is that the Palazzo Davanzati missed out.
And because of that, we were able to have our visit today.
The ‘house’ has gone through quite a few owners and changes over the centuries. Originally it was built in the latter half of the 14th century. It was built by a rich merchant family called Davizzi. Then, in 1516, it was sold to the Bartolini clan. They didn’t have it for long, selling it to the Davanzati family in 1578. They kept it in their family until 1838.
After a tragedy in the family, the property was divided up until it was eventually bought by an antiquarian called Elia Volpi. In 1910, he turned it into a museum, displaying the unique decorations and objects within. Unfortunately he started selling off bits and pieces at auctions, changing the contents as he went.
The next owners were a couple of Egyptian antique dealing brothers, Vitale and Leopoldo Bengujat. They acquired what was left and set about filling it with loads more stuff. Until 1951 that was. That was when the Italian state bought it and kept it open as a museum.
All was well until 1995 when the whole place was in danger of falling down. It was quickly closed for extensive restoration and repair work. That took 20 years.
In 2005 it was partially re-opened and by 2012 the whole place was once more accessible. And that’s what we saw today.
But the above history makes it sound like just so much bricks and mortar. It is so much more than that. The rooms are amazing and the furniture and artworks are just as brilliant. And the walls just take your breath away.
The photo above might look like a wall papered room but it’s not. The whole room has been painted. By hand. It’s amazing. And it’s not just the one room. Most rooms are painted and in different patterns.
In fact, the 3rd floor has a frieze around the top of the wall showing a complete story (a French romance from the 13th century called La Chastelaine de Vergi). This is the bedroom of Paolo Davizzi and Lisa of the Alberti who married in 1350. Apparently the frieze is supposed to bring them luck in their marriage because it certainly doesn’t end well in the story. In fact, it’s all a bit Hamlet if you ask me.
Of all the things in the house, possibly my favourite is the painting of Icarus. Actually, I have to admit to not knowing what it was when I saw it in the house. I was drawn to it because it appeared to be a couple of people manhandling an angel which felt like just the kind of Biblical story I’d enjoy. I took a photo then looked for some sort of explanation in the room. I was not successful.
Mirinda to the rescue. She bought the guide book and there it is. The complete explanation.
The painting shows a naked Icarus (I don’t now why he’s naked) atop a rock about to fly away with his home made wings. The chap on the left is probably Daedalus, his dad. He is warning him not to go because he shouldn’t try and venture too far from the realms of what is natural for a man. Naked or not.
The woman on the right is most likely Pasifae, the wife of Minos and the Minotaur’s mother. She helped Daedalus and Icarus escape from Crete. She appears to be securing the wings to Icarus all ready for his fateful flight.
Given how pale he is and the overall lack of clothes, I hope he’s wearing sun screen.
It’s only a small painting but for some reason, I really liked it. Of course there were lots more to admire and fall in love with. There was also this woman.
But I fell in love with her a long time ago.
We spent quite a long time at the Palazzo. Some of it I spent being taught Italian by a chap with a limp and a speech impediment. My Italian was pretty poor before but now I think it’s going to be worse. He did teach me to say I was happy but it kept coming out as ‘banana’ rather than ‘buona’. Mirinda overheard me repeating what she thought was banana and, using her unique echo location skills, she found me waiting for her.
We finally left, narrowly avoiding the worlds dullest display of net curtains…I mean lace.
Across the road I saw what appeared to be a lovely pizza place. Mirinda said lunch was my choice. We walked over and into La Bussola.
What an amazing place for pizza. Highly recommended by me and I know a good pizza when I eat one. My goose sausage with truffles and tomato was heavenly. Fra Angelica couldn’t have painted a better pizza. Mirinda had one with walnuts and pear on it and it was pretty good as well. We both really liked La Bussola.
Eventually, though, we had to leave. We figured it was about time we saw the Ponte Vecchio given we hadn’t yet and this was our last day.
Then we walked down Danger Street. Two years ago, Mirinda discovered her favourite shop in Florence. It sold antique miniatures and she spent about an hour talking to the owner and buying a number of them. They are beautiful, it’s true.
Unbeknownst to me, we once more started to walk up Danger Street. Then I realised where we were. I spotted the shop (it’s still there and there were quite a few miniatures in the window) and I think the woman inside recognised Mirinda. Before she could cast her buying spell, Mirinda showing great character managed to drag herself away. It was a close call.
I have to say that Florence has been very crowded this last week. I think it’s because the weather has been so good. In 2017 it rarely stopped raining and it was very cold. This time the sun has almost always shone and the temperature not really dropped below 8 degrees during the day. I think it brings the tourists out.
The Ponte Vecchio was chockas. It was a large swirling mass of humanity flowing across it. We merged into the stream and were gently pulled along with it.
We then headed for Santa Croce, another Room with a View special tick box item.
Here I was very annoyed with a tour guide. There was a short queue at the ticket office. We were a patient third of three couples. Then, as the first couple bought their tickets and headed inside, this tour guide pushed in and demanded four tickets for his group. The ticket lady just did as she was told.
There was a lot of chat which was also annoying.
The time was ticking away and, seriously, how come the tour guide gets first dibs on entry to a place that is in danger of closing? Seriously I’d have kicked him except I’d have fallen over.
I guess it’s one of those things that I find extremely annoying (like cars and pollution and Brexit). The way that tour groups are given precedence because the tourist site reckons that they are more important because if they stop coming then the money will dry up.
That maybe true but it sucks when your holiday is held up because group after group after fucking group gets in before you and jams up everything you want to see. God, I hate groups at tourist sites!
Speaking of God…we were in one of his more impressive houses.
Santa Croce has become the graveyard for the great and the good of Florence. Except for Dante. His memorial is there but his body is not. Florence didn’t like him so he went and died somewhere else.
That somewhere else was Ravenna. The good people of Ravenna did get on with him and so they buried him. Then Florence became jealous and wanted his body back. The good people of Ravenna hid his body and poked their collective tongues out.
So Dante was never buried in Florence. Not that you’d realise that given the monument they built for him in Santa Croce.
My favourite bit of the church (and it’s very very big) was this painting in the Medici Chapel. It depicts Jesus on his trip to limbo. It’s called the Harrowing of Hell and it’s between his crucifixion and resurrection when he pops down to free the righteous who shouldn’t be there.
This comes as a surprise to me. How could there possibly be people in hell who shouldn’t be there? Who is in charge of these things? Can God actually get these things wrong? And, also, does it mean there’s bad people in Heaven? This all sounds a bit cack handed if you ask me.
If the painting above is anything to go by, it’s not just the righteous that are set free, there’s quite a few breasts as well.
Having had our fill of Santa Croce – or rather having had as much as we could before the place closed for the night – we headed back to the apartment. We stopped for the obligatory ice cream, then walked for the final time through the still crowded night time streets of Florence.
It’s a city we both love. Very much.
We’ll be back.