In the late afternoon, Alice would open the shutters wide and leave them askew until the last light had faded from her room. Not so much to let light in but the breeze. Two regular guests who entered and filled the mostly empty space. She preferred the breeze.
When she first arrived here, it would enter like a loving memory. Slowly dancing around her face and bare arms. A warming embrace. A rare comfort.
Now it enters abruptly – slicing her cheeks and cutting through her clothes. Bringing only a chill. Though she doesn’t mind. Unlike memories, no breeze can be felt twice.
Occasionally, Alice would stand at the ledge and look out at the steady flow of the Arno. The smooth, shimmering centre flowed serenely – allowing her mind to quieten. Inhale.
Before long, her eyes would inevitably be drawn to the rough water where shards of white were thrown abruptly about in sprays, churned by unseen forces. The memory of the stream will carry the memory of the obstacles below – whether or not they are seen from above. Exhale.
Alice turned away from the window. The breeze passed through her long dark hair and out. Free to grow and soar. Not everyone is afforded that luxury. Alice tried to attach her memories to the breeze, hoping a thought would weigh less than the wind.
Six months previously Alice pinned the same hope on a plane ticket. Purchased uncertainly. On credit. She fought against the plan. The ticket sat in a drawer in the second bedroom amongst tiny, unused socks. To rest with the dreams of another life.
When the day came to fly, Alice felt moved to float. To soar.
She retrieved the ticket and allowed loose fingers to brush tenderly against the cotton. Their impression remained on her hand as she closed the drawer and left her life behind.
This was the place where Alice could begin again. Where the river flowed and the breeze would cradle her like a mournful lover.
The warmth of the sun. The bite of the breeze. Each comforting thought was betrayed by a pang of guilt. Each wind sweep would leave her and drift on through the shutters. Leaving her to clutch the pain of loss at her breast.
Her only constant.
I had been fascinated by the Medici for several years before travelling to Florence toward the end of 2008.
A charismatic, rule-bending, powerful, cheeky, ruthless family – the Medici were the dominate family in Florence for over 2 centuries. An especially admirable feat when considering that the political landscape of Florence was designed to not be dominated by a single family/group. The family ruled this beautiful city in all but title.
A quick snapshot of the Medici CV will offer a brief insight into their power:
The family were a key figure in the period of the High Renaissance.
Among the artists that they commissioned lay the names Brunelleschi, Donatello, Michelangelo and da Vinci.
Their reign lead to Mad Savonarola’s “Bonfire of the Vanities” (briefly seeing the Medici exiled before returning to their former glory – and to execute Savonarola).
Some of the architectural feats of the city regarded as being heavily influenced by the Medici include the Boboli Gardens and Palazzo Medici. This is not to mention their involvement in the establishment of the Uffizi Gallery (the world’s oldest art gallery).
The Medici Bank was one of the most powerful during the 15th Century.
The family later produced 4 Popes and 2 regent Queens of France!
As you can see – they were pretty big…people knew them.
After the family had been allowed re-entry to Florence for the second time in the mid 1500s, the Medici solidified their standing. Allessandro de Medici was anointed Duke of Florence and the wife of Cosimo I de Medici purchased the Pitti Palace.
The Pitti Palace was located on the Oltrarno (the other side of the Arno) – long viewed as the poorer side of the city. The Medici family, nonetheless, relocated to this grand palace.
The only problem was that it was a much greater distance to walk to the Palazzo Signoria (where political decisions were to be made) and, even greater, the amount of commoners they would encounter along the way!
Not to be derailed, the Medici commissioned Giorgio Vasari to construct a secret corridor that would extend from the Palazzo Signoria, through the Uffizi gallery, across the Ponte Vecchio above the Arno, above the streets of the Oltrarno, through the back of a church and finally into the Pitti Palace (or the other way around, depending which end he started at). The Medici had discovered a way to literally walk above their neighbours.
I had to seek out this corridor. Unfortunately, I discovered that it was closed to the public for repairs.
Through the Piazza della Signoria we ventured – excitedly, to the side of the building we spotted this small walkway:
From in front of the entrance to the Uffizi, we could spot the extension of the corridor to the far end of the clearing. Excitement was building as we felt we were walking surreptitiously in the footsteps of the greats or, at least, near them!
Into the Uffizi we went. What we saw inside is probably best left for another post, but it was amazing nevertheless. In a little room in the Gallery (which can be seen in the middle of the above photo) I took this photo of the Ponte Vecchio – where the corridor extended:
Out of the Uffizi, we continued our search. Reaching the banks of the Arno, we found the corridor again sneaking its way around the corner to run parallel to the river before snaking its way across, above the famous bridge:
Here, the corridor can be seen in the top half of the bridge:
A close-up of the corridor:
A close-up of the corridor in the Ponte Vecchio. Apparently, the meat market used to be located on the Ponte Vecchio but was replaced because the Medici did not want the smell entering the corridor. The meat market was replace by goldsmith shops (which are still located on the bridge):
We walked to the Ponte Vecchio and wandered across to the Oltrarno. It didn’t take long before we spotted the corridor above the shops and homes:
Along the cobbled streets we preyed, each iron-clad window signalling our successful journey. Here, the corridor detours slightly to the Church of Santa Felecita. The Medici, indeed, had their own viewing station from the corridor:
As I wasn’t specifically allowed to take photos within the church, I could not get a clear view (I had to take one for the sake of the ninjaesque mission!):
Exiting the church and continuing along the street we finally reached the end of our journey. We had successfully followed the path laid out by that great family to the Palazzo Pitti (though we’d seen more commoners than the Medici would have endured!):
And there you have it! Our journey through the beautiful streets of Firenze, from the centre of government, to the beauty of the river, stumbling across a church and finally a grand palace. It was a slight shame that we couldn’t go in, but in a way that added to the majesty of the exploration.
In case you’re travelling to Florence, this may be a tour you would enjoy. I’m not sure if they are currently allowing visits and I believe they only accept limited numbers each day, so perhaps book ahead?