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Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Florence Ghost Tour

Giotto's belltower (campanile) in Florence, Italy.Image via Wikipedia

The dark side of the Lily's city

Many European cities are famous not just for their fascinating beauty, but also for the air of mystery that surrounds them. There is no need to go as far as the Scottish castles; just think of the Golden Lane in Prague, a famous meeting point for alchemists, or of the city of York in England, which was long ago thought to be the most haunted city in Europe (and that is still thought to host a restless ghost in each of its apartments). Florence, the pearl of the Renaissance, cradle of the most armoniuos and rational art, seems to have little to do with witches and damned souls. But this is not exactly so. Even the home city of Dante and Michelangelo offers a large selection of dark alleys that will give the unaware passer-by goose bumps and shivers when suddenly perceiving the presence of some kind of supernatural powers… ghosts, poltergeists, the living dead, wizards... and vampires!

The girl who was buried alive in Death Lane

The little street that connects via delle Oche to Piazza Duomo is now called Via del Campanile, as it faces the majestic Campanile di Giotto. Yet, this pretty little street was once called by another name: Death Street. This name originated from a macabre event that once occurred right here. A poor young girl named Ginevra degli Almieri happened to be buried alive by mistake. She fortunately woke up from her death-sleep before it was too late and somehow managed to set herself free (the story does not tell how, though). As soon as she was out of her casket, she ran straight back to her husband. The poor man, however, was so shocked when he saw her, that he thought she was a ghost and did not let her in. The same thing happened when the girl reached her parents' place. They were so scared when they saw her, that they chased her right away. Only the young Antonio Rondinelli, who had always been desperately in love with her, although scared to death, managed to overcome his fear and let her in. The story has, at least, a happy ending. The Bishop of Florence untied the girl from her wedding vows and allowed her to marry Antonio. In the end, the poor girl had already had the misfortune to be buried alive and to be rejected by her former husband. That made her more than free to marry again!

The curse of Via de' Cerretani

If you happen to walk along via de' Cerretani, raise your head and look up. You will not miss an ancient stone bust sculpture stuck on one of the walls of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. The legend surrounding this bust is based upon a deeply disturbing character who I will now tell you something more about. Cecco d'Ascoli, a wizard, necromancer and fortune teller, was also the author of magic books labelled by the Church as blasphemous and heretical, such as 'The Acerba', whose publication, in 1327, earned him a death sentence. As the story goes, while Cecco was being taken to the scaffold, a priest appeared at a window of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore and told everyone not to give the condemned any water, or he would never die. It seems like Cecco D'Ascoli was planning on asking for a glass of water as his last wish, whereby, thanks to a special magic water trick, he would instantly dissolve and escape. When he heard the priest's recommendations, he turned to look at him and laid a curse upon him. The priest immediately turned into a stone and got stuck forever in the same, exact position he was while speaking his last words.

Dracula in Borgo de' Greci

In 1439 Florence hosted a very important Ecumenical Council whose aim was to reconcile Rome and Constantinople. On this occasion, the Byzantine Emperor Giovanni VIII Paleologo was accommodated in Borgo de' Greci, in a building that is today called Palazzo Peruzzi. This event was represented by Benozzo Gozzoli in his 'Cavalcata dei Magi'. If you look closer at the painting, you will be able to spot a very special character amongst the crowd of pages surrounding the Emperor. It is Dracula in person! Also known as Vlad Tepes, the cruel voivoid of Valacchia inspired Bram Stoker and his popular novel. Now, we may easily end this tale with an image of the shadow of Dracula drifting through the streets of Florence, but I would like to tell you one more story, the story of the kindest ghost of Florence.

Piazza Santissima Annunziata: A ghost at the window

A big, elegant building faces the splendid Piazza Santissima Annunziata, a masterwork of the Florentine Renaissance. It is Palazzo Gattai, a building of the 16th century that is easily recognisable for its particular orange colour. If you look at the building, you will certainly spot a window, the last one to the right, and you will notice that one of the two blinds is always half open. The melancholic sprit of a young noblewoman has been drifting in that apartment for a very long time. The story tells how the poor girl became stuck the day after her wedding, when her husband left to war. Year after year she waited for his return, but he never came back. When the gentle girl died, someone went into her room and tried to close the window she had been waiting at for such long years. At once, though, all the books in the room started to fly all over the room and the closet doors started to slam. Today, we would call such an event a typical manifestation of a poltergeist. After this supernatural and quite scary incident, it was decided that the blinds would always be left open. Since then, the spirit of the young woman has become quieter; today, she is still sitting at that window, waiting for her beloved husband to return.

Florence Holiday Apartments
We rent two apartments in the very center of Florence, (by two-minutes walk you are in the Duomo square) equipped with all the comforts : air conditionning, tv-sat and everything you need to cook your own meals. A nice cheap way to visit Florence!




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