The Stendhal Syndrome

The hospital of Santa Maria Nuova is the oldest active hospital in Florence. It was founded in 1288 by Folco Portinari, Beatrice‘s father (Dante‘s muse and inspiration). The building retains a significant historical and artistic value, and contains works by various artists, including Giovanni della Robbia, Giambologna, Alessandro Allori, Michelozzo, Andrea del Castagno.

The hospital enjoys a privileged position, because it is located in the historical centre, near the major tourist attractions.

In 1977 the Florentine psychiatrist Graziella Magherini, head of psychiatry unit at Santa Maria Nuova, began observing some cases of foreign tourists visiting Florence affected by acute episodes of sudden and short-term psychic suffering. All these patients had a good level of school education, a strong interest in the works of art, and they were travelling alone from Western Europe or North America. Their psychic discomfort invariably occurred after their arrival in Florence, always inside the museums during the observation of the works of art. The patients reported rapid heartbeat, fainting, dizziness, hallucinations. In total 106 cases were identified, analyzed and reported by Magherini [1] [2] [3].

It is worth noting that this psychosomatic disorder is not listed as a recognised condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Is it really possible that a work of art can upset the human mind so deeply?

In 2018, a foreign visitor to the Uffizi had a heart attack after seeing Botticelli‘s Birth of Venus [4]. What’s peculiar with this condition is that Italians seem to be totally immune to it [5].

From the analysis of the patients’ symptoms, someone in Magherini’s group thought of Stendhal, so that since then this alleged condition is called Stendhal syndrome, hyperkulturemia, or Florence syndrome [6] [7] (Dostoevsky was thought to be affected as well [8]). But why Stendhal?

Marie-Henri Beyle (Stendhal), portrait by Olof Johan Södermark, 1840

We read from Stendhal’s travel book Rome, Naples et Florence on January 22, 1817 [9]:

“At the risk of losing all those little things you have around you when you travel, I had to stop the carriage as soon as I had finished the passport ceremony. I have looked so often at views of Florence that I knew it in advance; I was able to walk there without a guide. I turned left, passed a bookseller who sold me two descriptions of the city (guides). Only twice I asked for directions from passers-by who answered me with French politeness and a peculiar accent, finally I arrived in Santa Croce. There, to the right of the door, is Michelangelo‘s tomb; further on, the tomb of Alfieri, by Canova: I recognize this great figure of Italy. Then I have seen the tomb of Machiavelli; and opposite Michelangelo lies Galileo. What men! And Tuscany could join Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch. What an astonishing meeting! My emotion is so deep, that it almost goes to piety. The dark religious aspect of this church, its simple roof, its unfinished façade, all this speaks vividly to my soul. Ah! if I could forget!…. A monk approached me; instead of repugnance almost to the point of physical horror, I found myself as a friend to him. Fra Bartolomeo from San Marco was a monk too! This great painter invented the chiaroscuro, he showed it to Raphael, and was the precursor of Correggio. I spoke to this monk, with whom I found the most perfect politeness. He was well pleased to see a Frenchman. I asked him to open the chapel in the northeast corner, where the frescoes of the Volterrano are. He took me there and left me alone. There, sitting on the kneeler of a prie-Dieu, the head upside down and leaning against the desk, to be able to look up at the ceiling, the Sibyls of the Volterrano gave me perhaps the greatest pleasure that painting has ever given me. I was already in a kind of ecstasy at the thought of being in Florence, and the vicinity of the great men whose tombs I had just seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of the sublime beauty, I saw it up close, I touched it, so to speak. I had arrived at that point of emotion where the celestial sensations given by the fine arts and passionate feelings meet. When I left Santa Croce, I had a heartbeat, the so-called nerves in Berlin; life was exhausted in me, I was walking with the fear of falling. I sat down on one of the benches in Santa Croce square; I read again with delight these verses by Foscolo, which I had in my wallet; I did not see the flaws: I needed the voice of a friend sharing my emotion. […] The day after tomorrow, the memory of what I had felt gave me an impertinent idea: it is better, for the happiness, I thought, to have the heart as well as the cordon bleu“.

Stendhal says that he visited Santa Croce on January 20, 1817, but the date is fictitious (on that day he was not in Florence, but in Rome); the visit occurred on September 26, 1811, as Stendhal writes in his Journal 1810-1811 on September 27, 1811 [10]. The episode was not included in the first edition of Rome, Naples et Florence in 1817, but only in the second edition in 1826 [11].

At the opposite of the Stendhal Syndrome there is the Paris Syndrome, which is a condition of disappointment felt by tourists when visiting Paris, feeling that Paris is not as beautiful as they thought. But this is another story.


[1] G. Magherini, La Sindrome di Stendhal. Firenze: Ponte Alle Grazie, 1989.

[2] G. Magherini, La sindrome di Stendhal. Il malessere del viaggiatore di fronte alla grandezza dell’arte, Milano, Ponte alle Grazie, 2003.

[3] Barnas M. Confrontations: an interview with Florentine psychiatrist Graziella Magherini.

[4] J. Jones, Stendhal syndrome: can art really be so beautiful it makes you ill?, The Guardian December 18, 2018.

[5] C. Haberman, Florence’s Art Makes Some Go to Pieces, The New York Times, May 15, 1989.

[6] I. Bamforth, Stendhal’s Syndrome, British Journal of General Practice, 2010.

[7] T.R.J. Nicholson, C. Pariante, D. McLoughlin, Stendhal syndrome: A case of cultural overload, 2009.

[8] E.J. Amâncio, Dostoevsky and Stendhal’s syndrome, Arquivos de Neuro-psiquiatria, 2005.

[9] Stendhal, Rome, Naples et Florence (1826).

[10] Stendhal, Journal (1810-1811) IV, Le Divan, Paris.


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November 29, 1924: Giacomo Puccini dies

Giacomo Puccini in his deathbed – Bruxelles November 29, 1924

It all started in February 1924 with a sore throat that at first you had probably not given importance to. But, despite the remedies proposed by the doctors, that sordid disease did not heal.

Then they told you that you were serious, but you could do it. From your home in Viareggio you departed for Brussels with death in your heart, with the hope of being able to cure that terrible disease. You alternated between moments of despair and moments of hope.

Turandot was there, unfinished. After composing Liù’s death procession, you interrupted the score with a E-flat minor chord, played by piccolo, violins, violas, cellos and double basses. But you wanted to, you had to heal, to finish your work. It only took a few days. You carried with you 23 sheets of sketches. You were thinking about the final duet. You wrote: “It must be a grand duet. The two almost otherworldly beings enter among humans through love and this love must at the end invade everyone on stage in an orches­tral peroration” [1]. But you couldn’t work.

After Dr. Ledoux’s terrible surgery on your throat, which lasted 3 hours and 40 minutes, you couldn’t talk anymore. Your son Antonio (Tonio) put a block and a pencil in your hands and you wrote: “Will I be saved?”. Then everyone said yes, because the worst was over [2].

But it wasn’t true.

A few days later, on November 28 at about 4 pm, your stepdaughter Fosca was in your room, happily writing a letter to your friend Sybil Seligman to express her joy and hope about your recovery. But that letter was never finished. When Fosca went out of the room to find Sybil’s address, at about 6 pm, you suffered a heart attack and collapsed in your armchair [5]. Dr. Ledoux promptly removed the radium needles from your throat and make an injection [4]. But it was all useless. You spent a restless night, suffering from the torture of thirst, with a gasping respiration and an incessant tossing. You wrote on a paper: “I feel worse than yesterday – hell in my throat – fresh water”. You lost your patience when your son Tonio refused to go to bed. Your hands were constantly moving. At dawn of 29th, the Papal Nuncio Monsignor Micara arrived at the clinic with the Italian Ambassador Orsini-Baroni, called by Tonio. Tonio asked you: “There is Monsignor with Orsini-Baroni. Shall I let them in?”. You said yes, but only Micara was admitted at your bedside, on the pretext of visiting you, and gave you the last benediction. Then entered the nun who assisted you, and that you gently stroked and called Suor Angelica. She placed a bunch of violets in the room every morning, left by an unknown admirer for you in the porter’s lodge. She said that they were the violets sent by Mimì. She approached a small crucifix to your lips. Your agony began. In one last, tragic gesture of farewell to your loved ones, you raised your hand, as if to say goodbye to Fosca and Tonio, who were there next to you. Your fingers ran over the coverlet, as though they were playing some melody, your lips seemed to be whispering an accompaniment. After you had drawn two deep breaths, your head fell on its side [2][3].

On Saturday November 29, 1924, at about 4 am Giacomo Puccini, the most important Italian composer of the 20th century, died in Brussels.

That was the end of Italian melodrama.

Turandot’s last bars composed by Puccini – Act 3


[1] G. Puccini, letter to Adami, November 16, 1924
[2] G. Adami, Giacomo Puccini, Il romanzo della vita, Il saggiatore 2014.
[3] R. Specht, Giacomo Puccini, the man, his life, his work, 1933.
[4] M. Carner, Puccini, a critical biography, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1959.
[5] V. Seligman, Puccini among friends, The MacMillan Company, 1938.

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Remembering Enrico Fermi

Enrico Fermi was born in Rome on Sunday September 29, 1901. During high school, he developed a deep interest in physics. He was then suggested by a colleague of his father, engineer Adolfo Amidei, to take the admission test for the prestigious Scuola Normale Superiore, which he effectively passed, first in the ranking, in 1918. He attended both the School and the University of Pisa, graduating in physics in 1922.

In 1924 he was initiated into the Masonic Lodge “Adriano Lemmi” in Rome.

After short visiting periods of study in Göttingen and Leiden he joined the University of Florence in 1924, where in 1926 he developed the Fermi-Dirac statistics, and then moved to Rome, where he was appointed Professor of theoretical physics (the first academic chair in Italy in that field, sponsored by Orso Mario Corbino).

IEEE Milestone celebrating Enrico Fermi’s Statistics – School of Engineering, Florence (Italy)

Fermi and his group of via Panisperna boys made a fundamental discovery in 1934, in the field of radioactivity, regarding the so called slow neutrons.

Fermi left Italy in 1938, after the proclamation of the racial laws of the fascist regime, with his wife Laura Capon, who was Jewish.

After a short trip to Stockholm, to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics, he eventually turned to America, having accepted an academic position at Columbia University.

On December 2, 1942 Fermi, coordinating a group of scientists, succeeded in making the first human-made self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction with the Chicago Pile-1, under the west viewing stands of the original Stagg Field. After the discovery of fire by humans, hypothetically about 125,000 years ago, the nuclear era had begun.

During the WWII, he joined many other scientists in the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, under the supervision of Robert J. Oppenheimer, which developed the atomic bombs detonated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing between 129,000 and 226,000 people, on August 6 and 9 respectively, 1945.

During the summer of 1954 Fermi, after a trip in Italy (where he taught at the International School of Physics in Varenna) and South America, feeling ill went to Billings Hospitals in Chicago. He was visited by a intern doctor who didn’t make the correct diagnosis. A further visit by a chief surgeon, and an exploratory operation, revealed an incurable stomach cancer.

Emilio Segrè, who soon came to visit Fermi at hospital, recalls:

“I found Fermi at Billings Hospital, fed by a tube that ran directly into his stomach. The patient was measuring the flow of the fluid by counting the drops, using a stopwatch, as though performing a physiology experiment. He was perfectly aware of his condition and started talking about how many months or weeks he might survive, and what he would do in the short span still allotted him.[…] In a lighter vein, he told me he had been blessed by a Catholic priest, a Protestant pastor, and a rabbi. At different times the three had entered his room and demurely and politely asked permission to bless him. He had given it. ‘It pleased them and did not hurt me’, he added.[…] Among other things, Fermi observed that since his wife, Laura, had just finished her book Atoms in the Family, his death would come at the right moment for promoting it, and that he hoped the literary success he anticipated for it might help her overcome the difficult time she faced. At the end of the afternoon I left. When I got out of the hospital, I felt ill; the emotional upheaval produced in me by the visit was too much for my constitution. I could scarcely stand, and I remember going into the first bar I came across to fortify myself with a cognac, something exceedingly rare, perhaps even unique, in my life. I returned to Berkeley gravely upset, and as soon as possible I went back to Chicago. I found Fermi much worse and in a more somber mode. He spoke of his sufferings and of other subjects I will omit. We talked until late in the evening. During the night, I was awakened by a phone call announcing that Fermi had died”. [1]

It was Sunday November 28, 1954 and Enrico Fermi, one of the greatest physicists of modern history, was 53 years old.

At the memorial service St. Francis’ Cantico delle creature (“Canticle of the Creatures”) was read.


[1] E. Segrè, A mind always in motion: The autobiography of Emilio Segrè, Plunkett Lake Press, 1992.

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To Giuseppe Verdi

Giuseppe Verdi at Villa Sant’Agata in his late years

10 Ottobre

Hai cantato
la gioia e la tristezza,
l’amore e il dolore,
l’esaltazione e il terrore,
l’amicizia e l’inimicizia,
la generosità e l’egoismo,
la speranza e la disperazione,
la vita e la morte.

Hai riscattato gli umili,
difeso i deboli,
consolato gli afflitti,
combattuto i soprusi,
sbeffeggiato i potenti,
ridato dignità ai diseredati,
sofferto con gli ammalati,
risollevato gli ultimi.

Ci hai fatto cantare a squarciagola,
fino al colmo della passione.
Ci hai fatto sussurrare parole
di dolcezza e affetto,
di mestizia e malinconia,
di speranza e nostalgia.

Hai teso la tua mano verso di noi,
ci hai rialzati quando eravamo caduti,
ci hai sorretti quando ne avevamo bisogno,
e hai asciugato le nostre lacrime.

Ci hai indicato la luce
quando luce non vedevamo,
ci hai tracciato un sentiero
quando un cammino non trovavamo,
ci hai lasciati correre liberi
per le infinite distese della Natura,
ci hai insegnato ad accettare
quel che di buono e cattivo ci dà la vita.

E quando siamo tornati, cresciuti,
volentieri ti sei seduto in mezzo a noi,
e insieme abbiamo brindato e scherzato.

Hai cantato tutto questo, per noi,
perché tu stesso lo avevi conosciuto.
Ma prima di andartene ci hai salutati
con una risata aperta, genuina e totale,
perché, dopotutto, ne è valsa la pena di vivere.

Oggi ti voglio ricordare così, quando l’Orchestra si muove in un disegno di semicrome, e una settima diminuita prelude a quel momento supremo di Otello che finalmente bacia Desdemona.

E tutto è compiuto.

Otello kisses Desdemona, Otello, Scene 3, Act I

October 10

You sang
joy and sadness,
love and pain,
exaltation and terror,
friendship and enmity,
generosity and selfishness,
hope and despair,
life and death.

You redeemed the humble,
defended the weak,
consoled the afflicted,
fought off the abuse of power,
mocked the powerful,
restored dignity to the dispossessed,
suffered with the sick,
raised the last.

You made us sing our hearts out,
to the height of passion.
You made us whisper words
of sweetness and affection,
of sadness and melancholy,
of hope and nostalgia.

You extended your hand to us,
you got us up when we fell,
you supported us when we needed it,
and wiped our tears.

You showed us the light
when we couldn’t see a light,
you’ve traced a trail for us
when we couldn’t find a path,
you let us run free
through the endless expanses of Nature,
you taught us to accept
what good and bad gives us life.

And when we returned, grown up,
you willingly sat in our midst,
and together we toasted and joked.

You sang all this, for us,
because you knew him yourself.
But before you left, you greeted us
with an open, genuine, total laugh,
because, after all, it was worth living.

Today I want to remember you like this, when the Orchestra moves in a drawing of semiquavers, and a diminished seventh preludes to that supreme moment of Otello finally kissing Desdemona.

And everything is done.

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June 24 in Florence and Leonardo da Vinci

In the Codex Atlanticus (folio 673 recto) we find the last dated annotation from Leonardo da Vinci:

A 24 di giugno il dì di san Giovanni 1518 in Ambosa nel palazzo del Clu

(“On 24th of June St. John’s Day 1518 in Ambosa in the Palace of Clu”)

Leonardo’s last dated annotation, Codex Atlanticus, folio 673 recto

Château de Cloux at Amboise was the residence put at disposal of Leonardo by the king Francis I. Maybe Leonardo remembered St. John’s day, the patron saint of Florence, with a hint of nostalgia, given his distance from Florence in a foreign country.

St. John the Baptist was chosen as the patron saint of the city of Florence only after the conversion of the city to Christianity. Initially, the patron of the city was the god Mars, whose statue was placed at the beginning of the Ponte Vecchio. On August 23 406, the roman militias headed by Stilicho and the Florentines defeated the Ostrogoths of Radagaisus, during the Siege of Florence (Battle of Faesulae). According to the tradition, Florentines said it happened thanks to the miraculous intercession of Saint Reparata, bishop Zenobius of Florence decided to dedicate their first christian cathedral to Saint Reparata (now co-patroness of the city), and Florence started celebrating the day of the martyrdom of the saint (8 October).

The statue of Mars remained in the city until 1333, when a flood of the Arno destroyed it. Dante remembers the statue with these verses in the Commedia (Paradiso, XVI, 145-147)

Ma conveniesi a quella pietra scema
che guarda ’l ponte, che Fiorenza fesse
vittima ne la sua pace postrema

(“Thou near our city camest. But so was doom’d:
Florence! on that maim’d stone which guards the bridge
The victim, when thy peace departed, fell”)

During the period of Longobard domination (VI-VIII century) Saint John the Baptist was recognised as the patron saint of Florence, and the Baptistery named after him was consecrated in 1059. Though, the first celebrations on June 24 in honor of St. John the Baptist only started to took place in the XIII century.

Florentines celebrate June 24 with many events: flag throwing, a historical procession, a historical soccer match (known as Calcio Storico Fiorentino) between the finalist teams of Florence’s quartieri, played in Piazza Santa Croce, and the spectacular fireworks (called by the Florentines fochi).

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The birth of Opera in Florence

Do you like the Opera? Do you know that it was born in Florence?

The story starts with the Camerata de’ Bardi, a group of humanists and musicians active in Florence since January 14 1573. Their members used to meet in Palazzo Bardi, residence of Giovanni de’ Bardi (who later joined the Accademia della Crusca with the nickname Incrusciato).

Palazzo Bardi, in via de’ Benci 5, Florence

Camerata’s members included Vincenzo Galilei, father of the most famous Galileo Galilei, Giulio Caccini, Emilio de’ Cavalieri, Francesco Rasi, Girolamo Mei, Ottavio Rinuccini and Jacopo Peri (nicknamed Zazzerino). The name Camerata was first used by Giulio Caccini.

Jacopo Peri in his performance costume of Arion in the 5. intermedio of La Pellegrina (1589)

Discussing music, literature, science and art related topics, with the goal of proposing a reinassance of the ancient Greek dramatic style, they developed a new delivery style: the stile recitativo (and in particular the so called recitativo secco) through which a melodic line was used to tell a story, accompanied by simple chords played by a harpsichord or a lute. Vincenzo Galilei, in his Dialogo della musica antica et della moderna (Dialogue on Ancient and Modern Music), thought about simplicity as a way to rediscover the ancient Greek tradition, writing about “a return to the simplicity of ancient monody” [3].

Plaque that remembers the Camerata on Palazzo de’ Bardi in Florence

This musical conception eventually evolved in a singing style that revolutionized the way of making theatre: it was the birth of the recitar cantando, the acting while singing. The first Opera to be written was the Euridice by Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini, composed in Florence, with a libretto of the poet Ottavio Rinuccini. The first performance was in Florence on 6 October 1600 at the Palazzo Pitti (Peri sang the role of Orfeo).


[1] Vincenzo Galilei (1581), Dialogo della musica antica et della moderna.
[2] Giovanni de’ Bardi, Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol. 6 1994.
[3] Pirrotta, N., Fortune N., Temperaments and Tendencies in The Florentine Camerata, The Musical Quarterly, XIJ2, 1954, 169-189.
[4] Donington, Robert (1981), The Rise of Opera. New York.
[5] Grout, Donald Jay (1947), A Short History of Opera: One-Volume Edition. New York, Columbia University Press.
[6] Palisca, Claude V. (1989). The Florentine Camerata: Documentary Studies and Translations. Music Theory Translation Series. New Haven, Yale University Press.
[7] Katz, R., Collective ‘problem solving’ in the History of Music: The Case of The Camerata, Journal of the History ofldeas, XLV/3, 1984, 361-377.

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Manzoni in Florence and the national language issue

Alessandro Manzoni is one of the most prominent figures of the Italian literature, and the author of the famous masterwork I promessi Sposi.

Manzoni is regarded as the italian writer who gave the decisive contribution for the foundation of the linguistic unity of Italy.

Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873), portrait by Francesco Hayez

After the barbarian invasions, that contributed to collapse the Western Roman Empire, Italy was divided in small statelets, and over the centuries was invaded by the Germans, French, Spanish, Austrians and so on. Every italian statelet had a separate jurisdiction and developed its own customs, traditions and…language.

From a linguistic point of view, you can well say that Italy in the 19th century, when Manzoni lived, was a conglomerate of dialects, ofter very dissimilar from each other.

Manzoni started the draft of his novel on 24 April 1821 and completed it on 17 September 1823 [1]. The title of the book, Fermo e Lucia, was not decided by the author, but suggested on 2 April 1822 in a letter of Ermes Visconti to Gaetano Cattaneo. At that time, Manzoni had not effectively dealt with the national language issue: this version of the book (that remained unpublished until 1915, when was published by Giuseppe Lesca with the title Gli sposi promessi [3]) was a mixture of literary language, dialects, latinisms and even foreign languages.

In a letter of 3 November 1821 to Claude Fauriel, Manzoni observed: “Quando un francese cerca di esprimere, com’egli può meglio, le sue idee, vedere un po’ quanta abbondanza e varietà di modi egli trova in quella sua lingua […] Immaginatevi, invece, un italiano, non toscano, che scriva in una lingua la quale egli non ha quasi mai parlato, e che (se pure egli è nato nel paese privilegiato) scrive in una lingua parlata da un picciol numero d’abitanti d’Italia […] manca intieramente a questo povero scrittore [Manzoni si rivolge a sé stesso] il sentimento, per così dire, di comunione col suo lettore, la certezza di maneggiare uno strumento egualmente noto ad entrambi […] Poiché, in tal caso, che cosa significa la parola italiano? Secondo gli uni, quanto si trova registrato nella Crusca, secondo altri quello ch’è compreso in tutta l’Italia o dalle classi colte…“.

(When a french tries to express, at the best he can do, his ideas, you can see how much abundance and variety of modes he finds in that his language […] Imagine, instead, an italian, not tuscan, who writes in a language that he has almost never spoken, and that (even if he was born in the privileged country) writes in a language spoken by a small number of italian inhabitants […] it lacks entirely to this poor writer [Manzoni speaks to himself] the sentiment, so to speak, of communion with his reader, the certainty to manage a tool equally known to both […] Since, in that case, what does it mean the word italian? According to some, what is registered in the Crusca, according to others what is understood in the whole Italy or from the cultered classes…).

Manzoni, evidently unsatisfied with the first work, worked at a revision of the book that was published in 1827 (this version is called the ventisettana, from the year of publication ventisette, 27) with the title I promessi sposi, and the subtitle storia milanese del secolo XVII, scoperta e rifatta da Alessandro Manzoni (milanese history of XVII century, discovered and redone by Alessandro Manzoni). Indeed, Manzoni in the introduction of the book states that he adapted the novel from an anonimous manuscript. Though, according to Giovanni Getto, Manzoni took the novel from the Historia del cavalier perduto by Pace Pasini [11][12], scholars generally looked at Manzoni’s statetement as a literary expedient to add more realism to the story [13][14].

Manzoni, urged to find a way to clean up his book with a new italian common language (that would contribute to establish the language unification of Italy), eventually came to Florence on 29 August 1827, with all his family (14 people!): his wife Enrichetta Blondel, his mother Giulia Beccaria, his six sons and five housekeepers. He took up residence in the Hotel delle Quattro Nazioni (Hotel of the Four Nations), formerly belonged to the Gianfigliazzi family, now Palazzo Gianfigliazzi-Bonaparte, in Lungarno Corsini, 4.

Palazzo Gianfigliazzi-Bonaparte, Firenze

Palazzo Gianfigliazzi-Bonaparte, commemorative plate of Manzoni’s visit of 1827

But, why Florence?

Since the Dolce Stil Novo, the tuscan literary school emerged as a model of stilistic beauty, the most notable exponent being Dante Alighieri. The fortune of the tuscan school consolidated with the works of Francesco Petrarca and Giovanni Boccaccio. Later on, Niccolò Machiavelli, in his Discorso o dialogo intorno alla nostra lingua, stated that the florentine language must be considered as the superior language to be preferred. It is worth noting that all these writers were of florentine origins. With centuries of distinguished literary fortune of the tuscan school, it’s not surprising then, that Manzoni looked at the florentine language as the model to follow. Lacking a florentine vocabulary, he thought that the best option for him would be to study the language directly on site.

During his stay in Florence, Manzoni had the occasion to meet a number of personalities at Gabinetto Viesseux (at that time in Palazzo Buondelmonti), including Giovan Battista Niccolini, Gaetano Cioni, Mario Pieri, Terenzio Mamiani, Giacomo Leopardi, and Pietro Giordani. He was particularly interested in listening to the native florentines speaking, and overall took advantage of the help of Cioni and Niccolini, often consulted for linguistic issues. He became a friend of Cioni, who frequently met at his house in via del Campuccio 64, near via dei Serragli.

In a letter of 17 September 1827 to Tommaso Grossi he used an expression that became famous [4]: “Ma tu sai come sono occupato: ho settantun lenzuola da risciacquare, e un’acqua come Arno e lavandaie come Cioni e Niccolini, fuor di qui, non le trovo in nessun luogo” (but you know how much I am busy: I have seventy-one sheets to wash, and a water like that of Arno and laundresses like Cioni and Niccolini, far from here, I don’t find anywhere).

According to Niccolò Tommaseo [5] “Si lagnava a ragione il Nostro che i Toscani confondessero con la lingua viva in loro il linguaggio dei testi; e che quand’egli ito nel ventisette in Toscana a lavare, diceva, i suoi panni sudici, rileggendo col Cioni il romanzo, e domandandogli se tale o tale parola si dicesse, il Cioni, che pure d’eleganze viventi ne sapeva più che altri molti, rispondesse: «Si dice; l’ha il Lippi». «Io non domando, – replicava il milanese, – se il Lippi l’abbia scritto, ma se a Firenze si dica»” (he rightly complained that Tuscans confused with the living language in them the language of the texts; and when he came in 1827 in Tuscany to wash, as he said, his dirty clothes, reading with Cioni the novel, and asking him if that or that word you’d say, Cioni, even if he knew more than many others about living elegances, replied: «You say it; Lippi has it». «I do not ask, – replied the milanese, – if Lippi wrote that, but if in Florence you say it»).

Manzoni departed from Florence on 1 October 1827, continuing the long revision of his book, that culminated with the publication of the definitive version in 1840 with illustrations by Francesco Gonin and an appendix (Storia della Colonna Infame) [6]. This version is called the quarantana, from the year of publication quaranta, 40.

I Promessi Sposi, frontespice of the last edition (1840)

In the following years, Manzoni was a firm supporter of the adoption of florentine (not to be confused with a generic tuscan language) as the national language. Invited by the Ministry of Education Emilio Broglio, in 1868 he wrote the report Dell’unità della lingua e dei mezzi di diffonderla (On the unity of language and the ways of disseminating it) [7]. He wrote: “Uno poi de’ mezzi più efficaci e d’un effetto più generale, particolarmente nelle nostre circostanze, per propagare una lingua, è, come tutti sanno, un vocabolario. E, secondo i princìpi e i fatti qui esposti, il vocabolario a proposito per l’Italia non potrebbe esser altro che quello del linguaggio fiorentino vivente” (one of the most effective ways and of a most general effect, particularly in our circumstances, to disseminate a language, is, as everyone knows, a vocabulary. And, according to the principles and the facts here exposed, the vocabulary of Italy couldn’t be other than that of the living florentine language). In the same year he wrote on the same topic in his Lettera intorno al vocabolario (Letter on the vocabulary) [8], and was extremely clear that the only way to disseminate a national language would be the redaction of a florentine vocabulary, and that the florentine language had to be the national idiom: “Carissimo Bonghi, […], voi, da bon amico e da bon complice, avete detto che per fiorentino intendevo fiorentino. E sta bene” (Dearest Bonghi, you, as good friend and good partner, said that for florentine I intended florentine. All right).

The florentine vocabulary, promoted by the Ministry of Education (Nòvo vocabolario della lingua italiana secondo l’uso di Firenze, curated by Giovanni Battista Giorgini, who was Manzoni’s son in law, and Broglio) was eventually published between 1870 and 1897 [9].


[1] L. Caretti, Manzoni. Ideologia e stile, Torino, Einaudi, 1975.
[2] A. Manzoni, Fermo e Lucia, a cura di Silvano Salvatore Nigro ed Ermanno Paccagnini, 2ª ed., Milano, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 2009.
[3] Gli sposi promessi per la prima volta pubblicati nella loro integrità di sull’autografo, da Giuseppe Lesca, Napoli, F. Perrella, 1915-1916.
[4] A. Manzoni, Carteggio, parte seconda (1822-1831), a cura di Giovanni Sforza e Giuseppe Gallavresi, Milano, Hoepli, 1921.
[5] N. Tommaseo, Colloqui col Manzoni, Firenze, Sansoni 1929.
[6] A. Manzoni, I promessi sposi; Storia della colonna infame, inedita: storia milanese del secolo XVII scoperta e rifatta da Alessandro Manzoni, Tipografia Guglielmini e Redaelli, 1840.
[7] A. Manzoni, Dell’unita della lingua e dei mezzi di diffonderla, coi tipi della Perseveranza, Milano, 1868.
[8] A. Manzoni, Lettera intorno al vocabolario, in Opere Varie, Redaelli dei fratelli Rechiedei, Milano 1870.
[9] G. B. Giorgini, Emilio Broglio, Novo vocabolario della lingua italiana, Firenze, Cellini, 1870.
[10] F. Capelvenere, Manzoni a Firenze e la risciacquatura in Arno, Franco Cesati editore 1985.
[11] G. Getto, Echi di un romanzo barocco nei «Promessi sposi», in Lettere italiane, XII (1960), pp. 141-167.
[12] Il Manzoni e Vicenza. Il “Cavalier Perduto” del vicentino P. P. e i “Promessi sposi”, in Manzoni, Venezia e il Veneto, a cura di V. Branca – E. Caccia – C. Galimberti, Firenze 1975, pp. 89-124.
[13] E. N. Girardi, Manzoni e Cervantes, in Manzoni reazionario, Cappelli, Rocca S. Casciano 1966, pp. 87 ss.
[14] G. Santarelli, La finzione di un manoscritto ritrovato ne “I promessi sposi” del Manzoni e nel “Cicerone” del Passeroni, Aevum 43, Fasc. 3/4 (Maggio-Agosto 1969), pp. 324-327.

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The birth of Freemasonry in Florence

Everyone knows that Florence is a city of art and beauty, but it happens to be also a city of…mistery.

Freemasonry is an organisation which dates back its origins from the operative stone masons who built cathedrals and castles in the middle ages (indeed freemason means worker in freestone).

Through the course of the history Freemasonry developed from being operative to speculative (modern freemasonry), organised in masonic lodges.

The birth of modern Freemasonry is often referred to a precise event: 24 June 1717 (the solemnity of St. John the Baptist), when four english lodges met at the Goose and Gridiron, in St. Paul’s Churchyard, and decided to merge into the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster. After that, the spread of Freemasonry across England and Europe was unbelieveably fast.

Freemasonry eventually reached Italy in 1731 when a masonic lodge was founded in Florence (the most ancient italian lodge which we have documented knowledge about) by Charles Sackville 2nd Duke of Dorset, Earl of Middlesex. This lodge is simply known as Loggia degli Inglesi (Lodge of the Englishmen). It seems that the first Worshipful Master was Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland, followed in August 1732 by Sewallis Shirley; First Warden was Rev. Joseph Spence, tutor of Charles Sackville, who was the Second Warden. They held their meetings in an inn of via Maggio, and then at a hotel managed by the brother Collins.

Charles Sackville, 2nd Duke of Dorset, Earl of Middlesex (1711-1769)

The first italian to be initiated in the florentine lodge was the physician Antonio Cocchi; on 4 August 1732 he wrote in his diary Le Effemeridi (which was written in italian, english, french, german, latin, greek and hebrew and is now conserved at the Biomedical Library of the University of Florence) “…in the evening I was received among the Free-Masons and remained to supper. Their Master was Mr. Shirly (Shirley), others were Capt. Spens (Spence), Mr. Clarke, Capt. Clarcke, Mild. Middlesex, Milord Robert Montaigu, Mr. Frolik (Frolich), Mr. Collins, Baron Stosch; initiates with me were Sr. Archer and Mr. Harris“.

Antonio Cocchi (1695-1758)

Overall, the first italian mason was the violinist and composer Francesco Xaverio Geminiani, who was initiated at Queen’s Head lodge on 1 February 1725.

Francesco Xaverio Geminiani (1687-1762)

The birth of masonic lodges in Italy also drew the attention of the Catholic Church. On 28 April 1738, Pope Clement XII (who, irony of fate, was florentine) issued a papal bull (In eminenti apostolatus specula) which banned Catholics from becoming Freemasons. Nowadays, Catholics are still prohibited from joining Freemasonry, as confirmed in 1983 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with its Declaration on Masonic Associations.

Pope Clement XII (1652-1740)

From there on, freemasons’ life became every day more complicated; they were regarded as heretics by the Inquisition and imprisoned (notable examples include Tommaso Crudeli, Giacomo Casanova and Alessandro Cagliostro).

Tommaso Crudeli (1702-1745)

Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798)

Alessandro Cagliostro (1743-1795)

Freemasonry apparently pursues the personal improvement of the person, with a detailed scheme of rituals and symbols, that every member must follow through a precise path of symbolic grades.

Freemasonry is also generally known as a secret society but, if you ask a freemason about it, he probably will reply that Freemasonry is a confidential society.

At this regard, Florence is the italian city with the highest concentration of masonic lodges. The Grand Orient of Italy (the biggest masonic organisation in Italy) has about 43 lodges in Florence (and one in Fiesole)! Have you ever spotted one of them?


F. Sbigoli – Tommaso Crudeli e i primi framassoni in Firenze: narrazione storica corredata di documenti inediti, Ditta Natale Battezzati Editore, Milano 1884.

J. H. Lepper – The Earl of Middlesex and the English Lodge in Florence, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Being the Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge n. 2076, London, LVIII, 1947.

W. J. Songhurst – The Earl of Middlesex and the Sackville Medal, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Being the Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge n. 2076, London, XXXVIII, 1925.

M. Pellizzi – The English Lodge in Florence, Ars Quatuor coronatorum, Being the Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge n. 2076, London, 105 (1992), pp. 129–137.

C. Francovich – Storia della massoneria in Italia. I Liberi Muratori italiani dalle origini alla Rivoluzione francese, Ghibli 2013.

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The florentine side of the Euro coins

Today I was thinking about money.

But not about money in the trivial sense of making money, instead I was reflecting about the semantic aspect of money.

More precisely which message does a coin carry with itself, apart from its intrinsic monetary value?

In the course of history, kings and emperors have mint coins with their effigies; that was a way to declare sovereignty, economic power and prestige.

Later on, many governments started to mint coins and making bills with the effiges of famous scientists, artists and writers.

For the case of Italy we saw, among others, Giuseppe Verdi, Galileo Galilei, Guglielmo Marconi, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Alessandro Volta, Leonardo da Vinci, Alessandro Manzoni.

That said, if you happen to be on a coin or a bill with your face, then you have seriously made an outstanding work, and it’s worth mentioning and celebrating your genius worldwide.

And then the Euro came.

Every country adopting the Euro currency had to choose their preferred side of the coins, Italy included. Having to deal with 8 coins, and accounting for an immense cultural heritage, with dozens of famous musicians, artists, scientists and hundreds of monuments, Italy had to come to a compromise by selecting only a few of their representative idols and symbols.

So we have Castel del Monte (0.01 €), Mole Antonelliana (0.02 €), the Colosseum (0.05 €), the Birth of Venus (0.10 €), Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (0.20 €), The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius (0.50 €), the Vitruvian Man (1 €), Dante Alighieri (2 €).

Namely, of eight coins there are three coins speaking about Florence (the Birth of Venus, the Vitruvian Man and Dante Alighieri). Counting the fact that the Marco Aurelio was placed in the Capitoline Hill by Michelangelo, half the coins deal with Florence.

A city alone, that was chosen to represent, with its history and beauty, nearly the 50% of a whole country.

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The insurrection of Florence (update)

There is an update about the liberation of Florence occurred on August 11 1944, during World War II.

It is well known that the nazis, on the night of August 3 1944, mined all the five bridges (Ponte San Niccolò, Ponte alle Grazie, Ponte Santa Trinita, Ponte alla Carraia, Ponte alla Vittoria), to prepare their retreat from Florence.

Only Ponte Vecchio was saved.

It has been argued that the nazis chose to save Ponte Vecchio from destruction since it was Hitler’s favorite bridge (lieblingsbruecke) [2] [3].

Moreover, mining Ponte Vecchio would have been useless because, once collapsed, it would have been possible to cross the river anyway, due to the huge amount of ruins it would produce in the water.

But now a new book provides a different account of the facts [1]. It seems that the nazis mined Ponte Vecchio, but a citizen called Burgassi (nicknamed Burgasso), knowing where the electrical wires had been placed (in via de’ Ramaglianti), demined the bridge.

The story is indeed interesting but the doubt remains.


[1] Di Pietra e d’Oro – Il Ponte Vecchio di Firenze sette secoli di storia e di arte, Maria Cristina de Montmayor, 2016.

[2] L. Giannelli, M. Tarassi, “Operazione Feuerzauber – La tragica estate 1944”, Scramasax, 2014.

[3] G. Festerle, B. Rock, C. Tauber, Italien in Aneignung und Widerspruch, De Gruyter, 2013.

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