Florence’s phantoms

The ghosts and ghouls haunting the city

Rose Mackworth-Young
October 24, 2013

Any place as steeped in history as Florence (and Tuscany, for that matter) is bound to have its share of ghosts. Here are a few of the city’s best-known stories of restless souls.

 

Poisoned and parted

One of Florence’s greatest love stories revolves around Venetian beauty Bianca Cappello and Francesco I de’ Medici, future Grand Duke of Tuscany (see TF 160 at http://tinyurl.com/myccsxp). Just a few years after their secret and scandalous marriage they were poisoned by arsenic, probably on the order of Francesco’s brother, Cardinal Ferdinando. They endured 11 days of acute suffering before dying within hours of each other. He was buried with his previous wife, while Bianca, who had never been accepted by his family, was taken to a common grave in San Lorenzo. Murdered by her brother-in-law and cast out, even after death, by her other relatives, Bianca is said to roam the frescoed palace her husband built for her on via Maggio, a restless soul searching eternally for her husband.

 

Snapping a spectre

Most visitors to the romantic piazzale Michelangelo do not realise that there may well be an unwelcome and belligerent presence drifting unseen amongst them. In 2001, a young couple celebrating their anniversary there recorded the occasion with a couple of photos. The next day, uploading the photos to their computer, they got a shock. Staring back at them from one of the pictures was the translucent face of an irate, ghostly man. The couple sent the photo to be analysed by experts, who could find no trick and declared it to be genuine. Most people have concluded that it is the ghost of medieval nobleman Baldaccio D’Anghiari. Unjustly accused of treason, he was stabbed to death and thrown from a window of Palazzo Vecchio in 1441, most likely on the order of Cosimo del Vecchio. Having come to such a terrible and unmerited end, his ghost is unsurprisingly unable to rest in peace and searches still for justice. Truth or legend? Ghost or trick of the light? View the photo at http://tinyurl.com/FlorenceGhost and make up your own mind.

 

Eternal love

It is said that the residents of Palazzo Budini Gattai, in piazza Santissima Annunziata, never close the shutters of the far right window on the second floor. Legend has it that they are too afraid. Many years ago, a young married couple lived there, deeply in love. When he was summoned to war, she waved goodbye from this window as he rode across the square. Every day the noblewoman sat sewing and waiting at the open window, looking out for her husband to come riding back to her from across the piazza. Months turned into years, but he never returned. She continued to wait for him until her death, in that very room. After her funeral, the servants finally closed the shutters. At that point, mayhem broke out. The furniture started shaking, lights flashed and paintings fell off the walls. The uproar continued until the shutters were opened once more. At least one has been left open ever since to allow her ghost to continue to sit by the window, ever hopeful that she will see her beloved, triumphant from that ancient war, returning to her across the square.

 

 

GHOST-SOURCING

 

Tormented in Tuscany?  Freaked out in Florence? Some TF Facebook fans told us their ghost stories.

Send your stories to redazione@theflorentine.net or share them on social media #hauntedflorence.

 

Beatriz Ageno: The Badia a Coltibuoni in Chianti (near Gaiole) is haunted. I used to work for a tour operator that stayed the night there and did cooking lessons. Even my sceptical colleagues who did not believe in ghosts got freaked out when they saw apparitions. Usually it was a woman in 16th-century style clothes sitting in the window or at the foot of the beds.

 

Kathleen Mulhern Graham: In Chiesa di Santa Margherita de’ Cerchi, I have never had an experience that didn’t leave me shaken afterwards. The first time I entered the church, even though it was empty, I felt like I was walking into a crowded room of strangers. The strangest feeling. I started testing my students to see what they were feeling, with each new student group I took into the church. I didn’t tell them about my experiences, just left them to feel whatever they were going to feel. Everyone turned to leave at exactly the same time (five or ten minutes after entering the church) without any prompting from one another, and everyone was in a hurry to get out. Some students burst into tears as soon as they entered. Some had instant headaches or nausea. I would say Chiesa di Santa Margherita de’ Cerchi is the most haunted place I’ve ever been.

 

Chris Pace: There is the ‘Casa dei Fantasmi’ in Pisa, located a couple hundred meters from the Campo dei Miracoli. Supposed to have scared off many of the previous inhabitants.

 

Caro Suzanne: I believe pretty much all of Florence is haunted, particularly Santa Croce. A lot of activity everywhere all the time, it’s like a huge vortex of spiritual energy, not to mention frenetic energy of tourist crowds and so much going on all the time. Not in a bad way though, I have never encountered anything malicious, just often the feeling of being watched when walking alone in certain areas.

 

Ann Bardue: My tale takes place in Marcialla at the agriturismo Ripa Buia. I have stayed there many times and experienced the paranormal, as has my daughter. Frequent loud noises like a loud CLAP waking me out of a sleep. I was the only one to hear it at all. Then one evening, my daughter saw a large burly man coming down the steps, wearing what she called Viking apparel. And he was headless!

 

Hannah Hartsig (co-author of Florence for Free, florenceforfree.wordpress.com): Thousands of shoppers, sightseers, and travelers pulse through Via dei Cerritani everyday. Yet few notice the two deadened eyes that watch them from above. Santa Maria Maggiore, only two blocks from the Duomo, is one of the oldest churches in Florence. For over one thousand years the church watched the history of Florence unfold - or should I say someone watched. On the north wall of the church, along Via dei Ceritani, high above the street, a small head emerges from the stone. Who does this head belong to? Although Florentines have spun many theories, the most common attributes its existence to a cursed monk. As the legend goes, a man accused of sorcery was being dragged to Piazza Santa Croce to meet his death by being burned alive. As he passed by Santa Maria Maggiore a monk leaned his head out a small window and shouted to the crowd below not to give the man a drink as it would prevent him from dying (something the monk must have learned in Sorcery 101 class). Unfortunately, the monk must have slept through the part of class which addressed never insulting a sorcerer. When he said these words, the angry heretic cast a spell on the monk which turned him to stone and trapped his head on the side of the church for eternity.   Meg Dillon (co-author of Florence for Free, florenceforfree.wordpress.com): Off Borgo Santi Apostoli is a beautiful piazzetta with a small Romanesque church and a picturesque garden, a splendid Florentine setting. Standing here admiring Piazza del Limbo, one might even forget that the bones of newborns rest right below your feet. Yes, this picturesque site was once home to a tragic cemetery for babies that died before being baptized. Because they never received the rite that allowed them to enter Heaven, their souls were believed to linger in Limbo for eternity, even though they had never sinned. This very spot was dotted with tiny graves to remember these pure-yet-damned, fated to haunt the edge of Hell, their parents' memories, and all visitors to this very piazza. Is that a chill or a child that just brushed your arm? Here, you never can be too sure...

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