The month of June has been action-packed in Florence. I keep hearing of exciting things going on, and here I’ll share with you a few of my favorites…
Museo degli Innocenti
The Florentine newspaper calls the opening of the new Museo degli Innocenti “the most awaited museum event of 2016,” and I agree it does sound pretty interesting. The building was originally the Ospedale (hospital) degli Innocenti, founded by a wealthy patron in the fifteenth century and completely dedicated to children. It’s mission was to take in abandoned children, usually left on the doorsteps due to the family’s extreme poverty, to care for them, educate them and eventually connect them with apprenticeships, domestic service jobs or other employment. The portico in front of the building complex was designed by Brunelleschi, the same famed Renaissance architect that would later design il Duomo (the dome atop Florence’s cathedral). In this his first commissioned work, his goal with the portico was to create a doorway to the city— a place where all were welcomed and would be cared for and protected. To this day, important work on behalf of children still takes place within the institution. There are programs for at-risk youth, research centers that work with the government on issues of childhood, daycare programs and more.
On June 23rd, after a 3-year and 12.8 million euro expansion project, the portico opened in a new way, welcoming visitors to a unique experience of 1,500 square meters of exhibit space, with the original mission still in mind- children. In addition to the 80 works of art from famous Italian artists such as Botticelli, the draw of the museum is its focus on the children of the past, present and future. Historians were able to uncover enough information to highlight 70 of its former residents, and visitors will relive their stories through visual and audio exhibits. The museum is meant to be “about children, for children,” as many of its activities and information labels are hip-high for adult visitors. As always with this institution, children are welcome and are the focus. I look forward to bringing my kids to this museum, and to adding this experience to the list of great things to do with kids in Florence.
St. John the Baptist Feast Day
I’ll never forget the warm June day spent with my husband and very small children, exploring the streets of Florence on the kids’ first visit to the city in the summer of 2009. We had walked for hours and had the best time, enjoyed an “early” dinner by Italian standards (8pm I believe), and were exhausted and ready to head to our rented apartment. Unexpectedly, we were thwarted in our efforts by people crowding the streets in a festive mood. I remember thinking, is this a flash mob? Is this what they do every Tuesday night?
We soon learned that we had stumbled upon a very important Florentine holiday, the feast day for St. John the Baptist, who is the patron saint of Florence. Every June 24th, Florentines take to the streets to celebrate their patron saint with parades, parties and an impressive fireworks display that would have American fire marshals suiting up for action.
Before I began traveling regularly to Italy, I never knew much about patron saints. Italy is a very Catholic country, and many of its cities, large and small, have patron saints that watch over the city. The citizens are thought to live under the tutelage and protection of their patron saint. A couple of years ago the kids and I visited a church in Cortona, where Santa Margherita’s 13th century remains are mummified at the altar. These patron saints are taken seriously!
The origin of the relationship between St. John and the city of Florence goes back so far, it’s hard to find hard facts on the subject. But we do know that Florence’s patron pre-Christianity was the god Mars (god of war), and after converting, they quickly chose this very important Christian figure as their patron saint. In 1059 the Baptistery was built in the Piazza del Duomo (way before the dome itself was built), and dedicated to St. John.
One of the events that takes place on St. John’s feast day is the final match of the Calcio Storico Fiorentino. This historic sporting event, which dates back to the 16th century, is a bit soccer, a bit rugby, a bit wrestling and a lot of entertainment. It gets pretty violent as the 2 best local teams compete in the piazza outside Santa Croce church. Each team is comprised of 27 men, bare chested and without helmets, duking it out on a sand “field” while a screaming crowd, the impressive facade of Santa Croce church and a statue of Dante look on. It’s been called by some the most unusual sport in the world. As I write, I’m struggling to find out the results of the 2016 match. I believe that the white team (Bianchi) from the Santo Spirito neighborhood were victorious over the reds, blues and greens. In any case, I’m sure it was quite a spectacle.
In celebration of the Italian Senate’s recent legislation recognizing same sex civil unions, a series of parties and events were set up in the gardens of a Florentine palazzo— the first ever Toscana Pride Park. Highlights include a conference on same-sex parenting, a performance by Milan-based group Nina’s Drag Queens, as well as film screenings, book readings, parties and more. The celebration took place over several days in mid-June. During a time with much negativity and hate-related violence in the news, I am thrilled to hear of this celebration of love and diversity. I hope this becomes the first annual celebration and that I get a chance to catch some of the fun in the future.