The Great Flood of Florence

Among those cleaning up the Santa Croce courtyard after the flood are Marcello Gori (left standing on the ground), who was my employer at The Leather School, and Padre Franchi (second from right) who became head of the Franciscans at the Basilica.

Some of the men who would become my friends in Florence labored to clean up the Santa Croce courtyard after the flood. Massimo “Max” Melani’s head is just visible (third from the left on the truck bed). On the ground are Marcello Gori (left), who was my employer at The Leather School, and Padre Franchi (second from left) who later became head of the Franciscans at the Basilica.

By Walter Sanders

When I moved to Florence in 1971, the city was still recovering from the disastrous flood of November 4, 1966. High water marks—stained by mud, heating oil, and gasoline—stretched like taut ropes across building facades near the Arno.

It was harsh stuff that floated to the top. And below the crest mark, on walls around the city, were murky shadows of flood residue.

These ugly reminders faded with time, but have been memorialized with plaques designating the height of flood waters throughout the city. Five floods from five different centuries are noted by these marble plaques; none are as high as those commemorating 1966.

I worked at the Scuola del Cuoio, the Leather School,  from 1972 through 1975. The workshops and showrooms were located in the old Franciscan monastery attached to the Basilica of Santa Croce, one of the hardest hit victims of the flood. I still remember the stains, and even the faint smell of fuel, on the exterior and interior walls of the courtyard.

Kayla Metelenis and Diane Cole Ahl

Kayla Metelenis and Diane Cole Ahl

Those memories rushed back when I attended a presentation “Looking Back at the Flood of Florence in 1966: Disaster, Recovery, and Cultural Conservation,” sponsored by the Art Department and The Ideal Center of Lafayette College, Easton, Pa.

Sharon and I had met the one of the presenters, Diane Cole Ahl, Rothkopf Professor of Art History, when she curated a traveling exhibit of “Offering of the Angels” from the Uffizi at the Michener Museum, Doylestown, Pa.

Ahls’s student Kayla Metelenis ’15, art history major, was co-presenter.

Learn more about the great flood

Pazzi Chapel Restoration

Commissioned by the Pazzi family, the Chapel

Ornate sculpted rosettes, terracotta cherubim roundels and the colourful tin-glaze terracotta by Luca della Robbia decorate the interior of the Pazzi Chapel loggia. It is built in pietra serena, a grey sandstone that, by its very nature, tends to crumble over time.

By Walter Sanders

Many fortunate lovers of Renaissance art journey to Florence, but few get to the splendid Pazzi Chapel—one of architect Filippo Brunelleschi’s 15th Century masterworks–part of the complex of the Basilica of Santa Croce. If you have been to the Pazzi recently, you may have noticed the façade is in need of some repair. After 650 years, who wouldn’t need a little touch up?

The video in the Kickstarter campaign launched by the nonprofit Opera di Santa Croce paints a loving portrait of a jewel. The Opera is seeking donations to match the 50 percent of the funding it has already raised.

I’ll focus on what the Pazzi Chapel means to me. I first experienced it as an art history master’s student. Viewing it from the courtyard, I was underwhelmed. The façade looked severe, and a little top heavy, with the illusion of the tall porch and cupola being supported by impossibly spindly columns.

But there’s something transformative about entering the Chapel. I felt serenity, order, cool spatial integrity. I was amazed how hushed the interior was, muffling clamor from nearby Piazza Santa Croce. And, over time, I learned to love the façade.

I worked inside Santa Croce, at the Scuola del Cuoio (The Leather School), and lived just off the square. Santa Croce and the Pazzi Chapel became integral aspects of my daily life. In some respects, the Pazzi Chapel became a personal escape, a calm island. I needed only to look at it to feel the peace.

Sharon and I met in Santa Croce, and four years later married there. No, not in the Pazzi Chapel but in the Medici Chapel in the adjacent sanctuary of the Basilica.

The Pazzi means a great deal to us, and we are helping to support the renovation (#crazyforpazzi).

Do you have a Pazzi story? Share it here and please consider a contribution to help restore this Renaissance treasure.

Tuscany Tours 2015

Is 2015 the year for your Tuscan dream to come true?

Escape with SimpleItaly to the private Villa Pipistrelli!

Few experiences are as memorable as sharing time and a spectacular destination with an intimate group of friends, colleagues, or grown-up family.

This intimate curated adventure is all about cultural immersion, relaxation, and good times. You’ll feel as if Villa Pipistrelli is your home because you’ll unpack once and “move in” for a week of wonders . . .

Pecorino cheese-making demonstration and tasting.

Olive oil comparison blind tasting.

• Watercolor painting class.

Pasta making session and tasting.

Wine estate tour with tasting.

• Magnificent medieval Siena—home of the Palio—and a private tour of the Brucco contrada with author Dario Castagno.

• Outing to the stunning hill town of Montepulciano.

• Presentation on the restoration of Villa Pipistrelli conducted by antiques expert Susan Pennington.

• Lavish buffet breakfasts and gourmet evening meals prepared by a private chef at Villa Pipistrelli.

• Free time to explore Montestigliano, the 2,500-acre Tuscan estate on which Villa Pipistrelli is tucked away.

• Social time with author Jennifer Criswell and other English-speaking experts on the culture, cuisine, and lifestyle.

Click here for the full itinerary to make 2015 the year for your Tuscan dream to come true!

Four week-long itineraries are reserved for you to choose from:
April 11–18, 2015
April 18–25, 2015
October 3–10, 2015
October 10–17, 2015

Kanye West and Kim Kardashian Choose Florence

Will Florence's 16th century Forte Belvedere--constructed to protect the Medici city-- withstand the hordes of paparazzi at Kimye's nuptials?

Will Florence’s 16th century Forte Belvedere–constructed to protect the Medici city from enemy armies– withstand the hordes of paparazzi at Kimye’s nuptials?

How hip is the Oltrarno, across the Arno River from Florence’s tourist-action-packed centro?

Extremely hip.

Hip-hop genius Kanye West will wed reality TV princess Kim Kardashian in the 16th century Forte Belvedere, perched on the southern hilltop of the Oltrarno, on Saturday, May 24, 2014.

Walter and Sharon recently explored the less-traveled quarters of Santo Spirito and San Frediano in the Oltrarno and filed this report for goitaly.about.com.

October 2014 Tuscany Tours

SimpleItaly's happy campers by the granaio at Fattoria Montestigliano where Villa Pipistrelli is situated.

SimpleItaly happy campers in front of the granaio at the Tuscan farm estate Montestigliano where Villa Pipistrelli is situated.

You can put yourself in this picture! Escape to the private Villa Pipistrelli this October for the next Tuscany Tour:  Harvest Celebration with SimpleItaly. Two different week-long itineraries are reserved for you to choose from: October 11-18, 2014 OR October 18-25, 2014. This intimate adventure is all about cultural immersion, relaxation, and good times. You’ll truly feel as if Villa Pipistrelli is your home because you’ll unpack once and “move in” for a week of wonders . . .

  • Sessions on making pecorino cheese, watercolor painting, pasta making, and more
  • Tours of wine estates
  • Magnificent medieval Siena–home of the Palio–and a private tour of a contrada museum
  • Gourmet evening meals prepared by a private chef at Villa Pipistrelli
  • Afternoon at a sagra, a local harvest festival, mingling with the locals
  • Free time to truly explore the natural beauty and experience the daily rhythm of Montestigliano, the 2,500-acre Tuscan estate on which Villa Pipistrelli is tucked away
  • Private meetings with English-speaking experts on the culture, cuisine, and lifestyle

Click here to read what folks are saying about our trips. Click here for the full itinerary to put yourself in the picture!