In plain sight

Bridget Babcox
May 8, 2014

Though most tourists head for Florence’s better-known attractions, less famous spots around Florence are also brimming with history—most in plain view. Here are four legend-rich sites to explore.

 

SOMETHING OUT OF PLACE

When in piazza Duomo, it is natural to look up and admire the dome that dominates Florence’s cityscape. But finding this secret site involves looking down. First, wander behind the dome and look for something that does not quite match its surroundings: a marble circle in the middle of the cobblestone pavement. The origin of this circle dates back to the year 1600, when, during a thunderstorm on January 17, the copper ball at the top of the Cupola fell to the piazza below. The marble circle marks where the ball landed.

 

A PERMANENT GRUDGE

From piazza della Signoria, turn onto via della Ninna and pause for a moment to admire a carving on the right-hand façade of Palazzo Vecchio’s entrance door. The carving, which depicts the profile of a man, is supposedly done by Michelangelo. According to legend, Michelangelo was dissatisfied with the punishment of one of his debtors, believing the man should endure the public humiliation of pillory (being shackled to a wooden frame) for longer than the allotted time. To ensure that the man’s public embarrassment would last much longer, Michelangelo carved the debtor’s profile into stone. The punishment endures even today, perpetuating an ancient grudge.

 

TRICKS OF THE TRADE

On via Porta Rossa, off piazza Santa Trinita, Palazzo Bartolini-Salimbeni is an elaborate reminder of the cunning trick that led to the Bartolini family’s rise to power. Legend says that during a business dinner in Venice, a Bartolini wool merchant drugged his fellow guild members with opium, causing them to fall asleep. Without competition, he was then able to secure a multitude of business deals, propelling his family to a position of wealth and prestige. The Bartolini family made no secret of this dirty trick. The far-left windows on the second and third floors of the Palazzo have stone inscriptions that read per non dormire (‘for not sleeping’), and adorning the window frames and eves are carved bunches of poppy seeds, representing the plant from which Bartolini obtained the opium.

 

A WINDOW TO NOWHERE

After a court scandal, a man named Pandolfo Pucci sought to seek the ultimate revenge on Cosimo di Medici, the ruler of Florence at the time. He arranged for assassins to kill Cosimo as he made his weekly journey to the church of Santissima Annunziata. Luckily for Cosimo, the plot was discovered, and his life was spared (the same could not be said for Pandolfo Pucci, who was sentenced to be hanged). Yet Cosimo could not shake the unease he felt every time he passed by Palazzo Pucci, so he had the window bricked up where the assassins had plotted to hide. Walk by Palazzo Pucci: even today, the ground-floor window closest to via dei Servi remains walled up.

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