Sailing through Florence

Discovering another side to the city for Verrazzano Day

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April 3, 2014

April 17, Verrazzano Day: a point of departure for an exciting voyage between Florence and the New World. Captain Vieri Mannucci reveals the secrets of the extraordinary links that Florentine sailors and explorers built with America.

 

During April, on a glorious, clear-skied Florentine morning unique to spring, warmed by the brightly shining sun, let's set sail from our winter homeports. This is not just any walk through the streets of Florence; we are sailing onward and outward, like a ship in a fresh breeze, confident that we are about to learn something new, something that has the power to change us as people.

On April 17, 1524, the Florentine (yes, he was born in Greve in Chianti, but for most of his life he lived in a house near piazza Santa Croce!) explorer and navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano (1485–1528) dared a deep approach into New York Bay. He had cast off three months earlier aboard La Dauphine, bound for the eastern coasts of North America. He was the first European to observe and open the entrance to the Hudson River.

 

He passed by the approximate point where now, 490 years la

ter, we admire the Statue of Liberty, changing the world forever.

 

A few years earlier, in 1497, another great Florentine explorer, navigator and geographer Amerigo Vespucci coined the expression ‘New World’ (Mundus novus). This triumphant title described what he understood to be an entirely new continent. (In his famous letters to his friend Lorenzo de’ Medici, he called it ‘la quarta parte della Terra’.) Amerigo Vespucci’s theories certainly proved true, given that part of the planet has been called America ever since.

 

Since then, Florence has held a special role in the West, maintaining a warm friendship with America over the centuries. We should remember that the Mayflower, the ship that transported the Pilgrim Fathers from Plymouth, England, to Massachusetts, USA, in 1620, belonged to the Florentine Guicciardini family and, of course, carried on her bows Florence’s symbol: the Giglio, or the Mayflower.

 

This Verrazzano Day (or for any other day for that matter), take a look at some of our city’s beautiful sights from a different point of view: in every street, square or church in Florence, you can find clear allusions to the art of navigation and the brilliant minds of Florentine explorers.

 

Vieri Mannucci is an International America’s Cup Class sailor and captain under the Red Ensign as well as principal at VMByachts RYA/MCA Yachtmaster Training Centre (www.vmbyachts.com).

The front of Santa Maria Novella shows a sundial and an equinoctial sphere. The sails decorating the façade are a symbol of the Rucellai family, ship owners and patrons of the church.

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