15. Pitti Palace Picnic Day


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Apr 28th, 2011
15. Pitti Palace Picnic Day

Once there was an extremely powerful family in Tuscany called the Medicis. They were bankers and grand-dukes and mothers of kings and archbishops and probably popes too. Fortunately for us, they were also patrons of the arts and architecture, so they built huge extravagant palaces and stuffed them with artworks. Their logo (coat of arms) is everywhere in Florence; five cannon balls on a shield shape.
Today we visited one of their palazzos – the Pitti Palace with its huge formal gardens. We took a picnic to eat in the grounds and set off hoping the lovely spring weather would hold. To get there from our street, we only had to cross the Ponte Vecchio (or rather, push through the billing and cooing crowds over the bridge), go up the street a short way, following the Vasari Corridor, and there it was, the huge facade now sporting banners advertising the current exhibitions.
There were several sections to the vast art gallery-cum-museum that the building is today, and we got to see most of it.

Out the back door of the Pitti Palace: The outdoor theatre, marble bleachers

First off, an amazing multi media exhibition of wine making through the ages with appropriate sculptures of Bacchus and video presentations and ancient mosaics and wine-presses, real amphorae and even a model of a working vineyard and winery – a copy of one discovered frozen in time at Pompeii – exactly as it was on the day the ash fell.
The gardens were not in their full spendour as it was early spring, most of the trees still with tight green buds – but still grand and magnificent, with fountains and sculptures, taking up the entire hillside behind the palace. The garden looked a little neglected actually, hedges allowed to grow too tall and unclipped, grass a bit long, no displays of spring bulbs the flowerbeds as you would expect in the grounds of an English palace. But we found a great spot overlooking a pond-and-statue fountain, and spread out our cheese and olives and wafer-thin smoked ham and crispy bread. And a couple of picnic size cartons of wine of course. Very pleasant in the warm spring sunshine with a breathtaking view over Florence’s north bank.

This is view from our Pitti Palace picnic spot

At the top of the hill via more minimum-maintenance pathways, there is a grand house with a lovely terrace overlooking olive groves and the city. In this ‘pavilion’ is a wonderful china and porcelain museum with a mind-blowing collection of exquisite things dating from the 12th century to the 19th.

The Porcelain museum with its own formal garden

Delicate porcelain - with a pic of the Pitti Palace done a century ago

Then back down the hill past a wild area (birds and little creatures allowed to repopulate the space) to the main palace, past a marbe Pegauss, and to another gallery where there was a Costume section, showing the history of fashion, from a set of mediaeval clothes (taken off the bodies in some grandee’s tomb, eeeuw, isn’t that grave-robbing?) to flapper dresses by Lanvin and Dior, from the Twenties.

Pegasus of the PItti Palace

On the way home we gave in to a conspicuous Florentine habit – the consumption of ice cream. Italians claim to have invented it (but in fact Marco Polo brought the recipe back from China). Everywhere you go in Florence at pretty much any time of the day, people old, young, local, visitor, are wrapping their lips round some luscious gelato. Gelaterias are all over the place, it’s hard to find a street without at least one. A small cone normally costs Eur.2 or 2.50, but they do pile it on, and they are quite happy to give you a taste of 2 or even 3 flavours. The artisan or ‘artigianale’ gelaterias have the best, house-made, ice cream, and there are always a dozen flavours to choose from, including tiramisu and almond and dark chocolate. James has decided his favourite is ‘nocciola’, hazelnut.
I found out that ‘tiramisu’ literally translated means ‘pick me up’ (because of the coffee and sugar, presumably).

Strolling back, footsore and heads full of images, to the Santa Croce square, which marks our ‘home’ territory, the sun was still up, we sit on one of the stone benches and watch the families strolling, people walking their little dogs and kids playing with footballs. A popular group game is to form a circle with one player in the middle. The guys in the circle pass the ball to each other, and the middle man tries to intercept it. If he succeeds, he leaves the circle with the ball, and the guy who let it be captured goes into the middle. And so on till suppertime.
There are iron drinking fountains in all the main piazzas in Florence. Water comes out of the spout when you twist a cone-shaped handle on the side, free and clean for dog and person, it is clear, cold and safe to drink. On the other hand,  the horse-troughs no longer work. The horses which trot the tourist carriages around the old city must have their own supply. There is a sort of sacking hammock suspended under their tails to catch the horsecrap, not allowed on the streets these days. I wonder where the horses are stabled at night – can’t be very far away, because they are there at 10 am and work till 8pm. I wonder too if the horses ever get a day off in a green field to relax and run about, or if their lives are spent in a stable in the town.

Florentine working horse. Note horse-nappy under tail


1 Comment

  • Connie

    06 May 2011

    I remember that ham- it practically melts in your mouth. Delicious. That picnic was what I hoped and imagined you would enjoy – a well-deserved break from years of slog. May there be many more days like it for you! x

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