Valkyrie - Florence Special Edition - Spring 2019 - Issue 4


Berry College multimedia journalism students examine Florence, Italy’s public spaces for insights into Florentine culture.



What the places and spaces in this

Italian city tell us about its residents

Spring 2019

Special Edition





page 4

page 7

page 29 page 12

page 23

4 Project Florence

Berry College multimedia journalism students examine Florence,

Italy’s public spaces for insights into Florentine culture.

7 Le Murate

This historically closed space is a cultural and social hub for the

neighborhood. This former convent and prison demonstrates

how the city balances its past and present.

12 Sacred Spaces of Worship

The convergence of the practice of religion and tourism in the

sacred spaces of Florence is examined. What is the role of tourist

and how is that balanced with locals practicing their faith?

19 Local Jews Face Challenges

Though tourism has caused local Jews to move outside the city

center, Jewish tourists from other places create opportunities for

Florentines to be in touch with new ways of living Judaism.

20 Immigrants and Diversity

Look at how Sesto Fiorentino, a Florence suburb, fosters diversity

and welcomes immigrants. St. Mark’s English Church provides

support, resources and Italian language education to refugees.

23 Rebirth of a Piazza

Piazzas are the public squares in Italian neighborhoods.

Florence’s Piazza del Carmine was redesigned for its first new

look in more than 70 years.

26 Soccer Like a Backyard Brawl

Calcio Storico is historical soccer held in Florence once a year. Its

a mix of rugby, MMA, soccer and American football, but its much

more than just violence. Florence is the only place that has this.

29 Remembering and Forgetting

Monuments and statues can reveal much about a city and its

past. What is remembered and what is erased from history can

also reveal how Florentines view their past.

30 First Area Mosque Coming?

Sesto Fiorentino may see its first mosque in near future.

The Spaces of Florence Team, front row, from left, Sarah Storey, John Catton, Brooke Cobb, Jessica

Hayhurst, Hannah Clark and Haley Edmondson. Back row, from left, Bailey Albertson, Ashley Foreman,

Shannon Bostic, Sean Martinelli and Meridith Beretta.

The Spaces of

Florence, Italy

FLORENCE, Italy – The 20 or so multimedia elements of

“The Spaces of Florence” digital magazine, produced by a

team of 11 student journalists from Berry College, seek to

read the public spaces and places of Florence as texts in an

effort to understand at least part of what makes the Florentines

and their postcard-perfect city tick.

How any city’s residents utilize public space can say

much about them and the society of which they are a part.

Spending a month in Florence, or Firenze, Berry’s international

multimedia journalists saw firsthand how important

and vital public spaces, such as Italian society’s bedrock

piazzas, are to Florentines, who use those piazzas for

everything from meeting a friend to re-enacting a medieval

full-contact form of soccer known as calcio storico.

“You see the same basic elements all over Italy,” said

Mario Pittalis, an architect responsible for two new projects

in Florence, including a wholly restored Piazza del

Carmine. “You see a piazza with the church, with the main

palazzo (or house) of the wealthiest family, and all around

[the piazza] the people who make the neighborhood go.

You see that repeated over and over in Florence, even elsewhere

in Italy.”

Florence also features dazzling, world-renowned sacred

spaces, led by the Brunelleschi-designed Duomo, green

spaces, cafés and trattorias, gelaterias, and the piazza-on-a

Multimedia journalism

students examine city’s

public spaces for insights

into Florentine culture

river known as Ponte Vecchio.

The foundation of Florence as a village or city dates to

Roman times, and this is evidenced by remnants of the old

city wall and its entry gates. In order to better defend itself,

Florence sits at the confluence of two rivers that seem more

like streams, the Arno and the Mugnone. Somewhat rectangular,

the city is organized around its main churches and

piazzas, including Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza Signoria,

Piazza Santa Croce, and Piazza della Duomo. Today home

to nearly 400,000 as part of a metro area of 1.5 million,

Florence somehow remains a city the 14th century poet

Dante Alighieri would be able to easily navigate today. But

it is also one that has to meet the challenges of 21st-century

commerce and living, including the tides of tourists

that wash in and out each and every day.

The international multimedia journalism project would

not have been possible without the invaluable help of several

people in Florence who were very generous with their

time and expertise. Berry College, its Department of Communication,

and the faculty and students of “The Spaces

of Florence” thank Lilie Lamas and Daniela Grosso of

ACCENT Florence, Michele Gaeta and the New Bahia Café,

Mario Pittalis, everyone at Caffe Ricchio, Tomas Jelineke

and all of our many sources for the stories.

A small group of students travel to Pisa for a day

trip to see the Leaning Tower and explore the city.

And of course, they also sampled the local gelato.

Mario Pittalis, an

architect with the

city of Florence,

is interviewed by

Berry students.

A weekend excursion to Rome provides the opportunity

for photos of the Vittorio Emmanuel II Monument,

called the wedding cake by locals.

Left: Piazzale


offers a



point to

lookout over



are waiting

to view the


4 Spaces of Florence


Left: Le Murate’s

renovated space

features elements

that reflect the

history of the

space, such as this

prison door and

the window bars

seen throughout

the space.

Florence’s Le Murate:

Historically closed

space transforms into a

cultural, social hub

Popular gathering place demonstrates city’s

balancing of history and modernity.

Story and Photos By Ashley Foreman

FLORENCE, Italy — Le Murate, a complex that once served as a

convent, then later became a prison, now flourishes in 2018 as a multipurpose

space for socialization, artistic events and residential living.

This community is representative of Florence’s effort to modernize,

while also respecting and preserving the rich history of the city.

“We have the responsibility to preserve the history in the present

but also leave space for the future generations to build their own layer,”

said Mario Pittalis, the architect responsible for Le Murate, through

a translator. “With the new, you add meaning . . . with the ancient you

have to create something to offer. . . . You’re offering something to this

older element.”

Pittalis, an architect with the City of Florence, said he wanted to

incorporate the site’s historic aspects into his design for the renovation,

but that he wanted Le Murate to be more open and welcoming.

The result, which opened in 2011, is a design The Florentine news

magazine called “one of Florence’s major architectural success stories

of the past 20 years.”

For most of its existence, Le Murate has been used to contain people

within its walls, first nuns as a convent and later male prisoners as

a prison. Pittalis re-imagined the space as a chic, modern complex that

mixes commercial, residential, cultural, artistic and social.

Le Murate, meaning “the walled,” was opened as a convent in

1424 for nuns that were relocated due to flooding, said Deirdre Pirro

a writer for The Florentine. When it closed in the early 1800s, Le

Murate remained abandoned until 1845, when it re-opened as a

prison. After 140 years as a prison, the complex closed in 1985 due to

poor conditions and overcrowding, Pirro said. Neglected for nearly 25

years, renovations began anew in 2009. As it is configured today, Le

Murate opened in 2011.

Respecting History

Pittalis described the new Le Murate as combining layers of history

built upon and incorporating each previous redesign.

“You have to think of all these different elements of history,” Pittalis


Once the inner courtyard of the

For example, Le Murate’s courtyard, Piazza delle Murate, where

Le Murate convent and later prison,

previously nuns prayed, today is used by high school students as a

this common area now allows the public

place to study for exams, he said.


to gather for a drink at Caffè Letterario, enjoy

Spaces of Florence

a free concert or simply commune with friends.


Right: When Le Murate served

as a prison, the only light in this

hallway came from small windows

at the ends of the hallway,

according to Mario Pittalis, the

complex’s architect. The corridor

has been opened up and today

serves as a pedestrian street.

Left: Le Murate is frequented by

teenage students who gather

and study together for their high

school exams, according to

Claudia Della Lunga, a student

from a local high school.

Renovated areas consist of two square courtyards surrounded

by residential apartments. In fact, low-cost residential

was a priority for the project from the city’s perspective,

according to Marco Toccafondi, a city officer

for social housing programs who worked on finances and

design approval on the Le Murate project.

Also a goal was reviving the surrounding neighborhood,

Toccafondi said.

A pedestrian walkway lined with stores, an art gallery

and offices connect the apartments and is one of the elements

of Le Murate that best exemplifies Pittalis’s efforts

to integrate history and modern design.

“This was the most important corridor of the prison

and (it) was absolutely closed,” Pittalis said. “Now it is a

pedestrian street.”

He described how the only source of light in the

hallway came from two small windows at the ends of the

walkway. Pittalis’s redesign opened the walkway to the

public by removing most of the ceiling and allowing air

and sunlight to permeate the space.

Thriving as social, cultural space

Since its opening, Le Murate has become a popular

meeting place and social and recreational hub for a neighborhood

that is but a short distance from the Basilica di

Santa Croce, according to Pirro. Anchoring the space’s

social life is Caffè Letterario, which serves food and drinks,

hosts artistic and literary events that are free to the public,

and puts on concerts, dance recitals and sporting events.

Another contributor to the artistic culture at Le Murate

is Le Murate Progetti Arte Contemporanea, an organization

that plans artistic events at Le Murate, according

to Ennio Bazzoni, a publisher who works at the Nardini

Editore bookstore at Le Murate.

Recently, the organization hosted a short film festival

that brought over 500 short films and their creators to

Florence and, more specifically, Le Murate, according to


Le Murate is a space that is different from the rest of

Florence in that visitors can enjoy the space without feeling

obligated to pay for it, he said.

Revival of area

Prior to 2009, “Le Murate was a huge black hole in the

town center, historically closed for the people,” Toccafondi

said. Today it is an economic and social facilitator. Le Murate

has given life back to the complex and the surrounding

neighborhood as a whole, said Pirro. She credited Le

Murate’s new-found popularity for helping restaurants

and other businesses in the area to open up and see good


“Le Murate is now a cultural hub of the town,” Toccafondi


Reading Florence as text

The renovation of Le Murate is just one example of

how architecture is used to help define and negotiate its

relationship with its past.

“You’re living in a museum, you’re not living in a city,”

Pirro said. “No matter where you look is history. You

eat and breathe it every day of your life. And that’s what

makes (Florence) so fascinating for so many people.”

8 Spaces of Florence


LE MURATE: A timeline from

convent to multipurpose facility

1424. Le Murate

originally served as a convent

for nuns. These nuns were

initially located on a bridge

where the present day Ponte

alle Grazie is located, said

Deirdre Pirro, writer for the

English news magazine The

Florentine. They were moved

to Le Murate because their

original location constantly

flooded due to its location on

the Arno River. “It was called

Le Murate because they were

cloistered nuns. They were

walled in basically, that was

the life they chose.”

After years of abandonment, Le Murate was redesigned

and reopened as a prison. In its early years, the prison

housed men convicted of a variety of crimes, Pirro

said. “When Italy was fighting for its independence as

a kingdom, many very well known freedom fighters, if

you will, were imprisoned there. So it wasn’t just ruffians

and criminals,

but the

major part



The “alluvione,”

or flood, occurred

when the water

from the Arno

River spilled out

of the river bed

and moved into the

streets of Florence.

The water

level reached

six meters high

inside Le Murate,

according to Bazzoni. Once the water level rose, the

prison guards allowed prisoners to leave Le Murate

and seek shelter from the flood at the surrounding

houses, Pirro said. While most of the prisoners left the

flooded area, seven prisoners helped rescue the governor

and his family, who were trapped inside Le Murate,

Pirro said. Once the flood was over, all but three of the

prisoners voluntarily returned to Le Murate.


The conditions at Le Murate deteriorated

over time, to a point where prisoners

were unhappy with the building

that they were required to live in and

incited a riot which

contributed to the

prison’s later closing,

said Pirro.


In 2011, the renovation

of Le Murate

was completed and

opened to the public

Pirro said. This

began the new and

current era in the life

of Le Murate.



Habsburg-Lorraine Grand Dukes banished from

Florence and the Napoleonic forces invade. After

Napoleon’s invasion of Italy, he ordered the closing

of monasteries and convents across the country to

increase the funding

for his militaristic

efforts, leaving

Le Murate to fall to



When the fascists rose to power in Italy,

anti-fascists were sent to Le Murate before

the government decided

what was to be done with

the criminals, said Pirro. At

the same time, Le Murate

became a holding area for

Jewish criminals who were

to be sent to concentration

camps, said Ennio Bazzoni,

a publisher at the Nardini

Editore bookstore at Le



At this time a large portion of the prisoners

at Le Murate were convicted terrorists,

as this was a period when Italy was

the target for

terrorism, said



Due to overcrowding and poor conditions,

Le Murate ceased operations

as a prison and inmates were

moved to a new

facility, Pirro

said. Le Murate

then remained

abandoned until

the renovation

many years later.

10 Spaces of Florence




Story and Photos by Jessica Hayhurst

Sacred spaces and places throughout Florence are faced with an

existential dilemma: How to participate in the city’s biggest revenue

generator, which is tourism, while at the same time preserving

themselves as sites of religious practice.

“There needs to be complete, unhindered access to sacred

spaces,” Rev. William Lister, a priest at St. Mark’s English Church

in Florence, said.

Lister’s ultimatum is understandable, but ensuring that access

when the site also is a popular tourist destination can be a challenge.

Tourists line up outside Florence’s Duomo, for example,

long before the cathedral opens its doors, and worshipers have to

enter by a side entrance policed by a contracted security detail.

It’s especially challenging when it is those same tourists who

pay the bills of upkeep. Entering the Duomo, its baptistery, and

climbing Giotto’s campanile cost 18 euros per person. To enter

the Santa Croce basilica, tour its museum, and visit its operational

leather-working school, visitors must pay eight euros.

To enter Florence’s only synagogue, tourists pay 6.50 to a company

hired by the synagogue to handle this tourist-facing activity.

“We force [tourists] to come only during the time of visiting

because the [tourism and worship] cannot match each other without

a problem for both of them,” said Amedeo Spagnoletto, rabbi

of the Jewish Synagogue of Florence.

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, known as the Duomo, and St. John’s Baptistery are structures that

date back to 1296. As the biggest Dome in Florence, it attracts millions of tourists, hosts daily mass, and

hosts multiple masses on Sunday.

Spagnoletto explained that visitors come with different

expectations than those coming to worship, which is why

the synagogue vigorously separates the two functions of

tourism and religious practice. To the extent a site is overrun

with camera-wielding tourists, its religious life and

sacred space is threatened.

“We are focusing much more on the Florentine Jews than

the outside tourists,” Spagnoletto said.

To protect themselves as sacred spaces, many religious

sites prohibit photography, require silence inside, specify

dress codes, restrict access to tourists, and close to the public

during services and for prayer.

Competing Goals

But sacred spaces must also make practical choices to

financially support the use of the building.

St. Mark’s, a relatively small Anglican church on the

Oltrarno, or other side of the Arno River, operates on 468

euros per day, collected mainly from offerings and revenue

from various events hosted throughout the year, Lister said.

He estimated that the larger basilicas, like the Duomo and

Santa Croce, likely cost tens of thousands of euros per day

to maintain.

“These are enormous, old buildings,” Lister said. “They

have to be maintained.”

Continued on page 14.

12 Spaces of Florence


Church Celebrity

For the larger churches, revenue comes largely from

selling tickets to see their artwork, crypts, architecture

and, often, holy relics. The Basilica of Santo

Spirito, usually called Santo Spirito, also

on the Oltrarno, is a prime example,

drawing its share of Instagold-hunting

tourists by charging admission

to see Michelangelo’s wooden

crucifix. A smaller basilica with

unique charm, Santo Spirito also

boasts of having been designed

by Filippo Brunelleschi, the

architect of the Duomo, as well.

“People come here because

they like the art here,” said Giuseppe

Pagano, a priest at Basilica Santo Spirito.

“It’s very special.”

“The church

is a place for the

prayer, for the silence.

It’s not a museum, it’s a


Giuseppe Pagano

Basilica Santo Spirito


Privately owned, Santo Spirito houses 38 side chapels

featuring various works of art that range from the

14th century to the 17th century, including Michelangelo’s


Pagano said the church strives to

avoid becoming a prime tourist attraction

specifically because it is a sacred

space and place. The main church

is open to the public, but tourists

are asked to respect the sacredness

of the space by following a few


“We don’t like people to take pictures,”

Pagano said. “We must conserve

the church. The church is a place for the prayer,

for the silence. It’s not a museum, it’s a church.”

Continued on page 16.

Right: St. Mark’s English Church makes no distinction

between tourists and anyone else. All are welcome.

14 Spaces of Florence


Tourists visit Capella Brancacci in a neighborhood across the river from the historic city center of Florence.

‘Perfect’ Frescos

Some of Florence’s sacred spaces are so popular as tourist sites that they have to remind visitors of

that fact. This sign is prominent in the basilica of Santa Croce, one of Florence’s “Big Four” basilicas.

As a percentage of all Catholic churches in Italy, these

“celebrity” basilicas and cathedrals are rare. Their revenue-generating

practices are, therefore, rare, as well.

“Certainly there are a lot of bills to pay, but normally

the Catholic church approaches that in a free will kind of

way,” said Rev. Scott Francis, a priest at Santi Apostoli,

an English-speaking Catholic church in Florence.

He said it is far more customary for churches to simply

welcome and accept voluntary donations than to hire

third-party companies to run touristic activities and

enterprises, like tours and gift shops on the premises.

Normal Practice

not the Catholic church.

“With the Catholic church it would actually be kind of

scandalous, almost, to say you must pay to come into the

church,” Francis said. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Often what sells in Florence is history and tradition:

• Basilica di San Lorenzo was first consecrated in


• Construction of Cathedral of Santa Maria del

Fiore began in 1296 and completed in 1436.

• The Basilica of Santa Maria Novella broke

ground in 1279 and was consecrated in 1420.

Like Santo Spirito, Capella Brancacci has

largely shunned the touristic light. Tucked

away in a relatively quiet neighborhood on

the Oltrarno, Brancacci features frescos that

have been described by many art historians

as “perfect.” But the church building appears

relatively plain from the outside.

Tourist visitation in the privately owned

Brancacci is restricted to specific hours and

to one chapel of the church. And silence is

rigidly enforced, perhaps a holdover from its

days as a monastery.

Like Brancacci, at the Great Synagogue of

Florence, the only synagogue in the city, the

emphasis is on the faith community it serves,

not on being a tourist attraction. Spagnoletto

said it is the very vitality of religious practice

that tourism endangers that is the chief

appeal to Jews visiting Florence and coming

to the synagogue.

At St. Mark’s, because it is an

English-speaking church, the majority of

those attending are tourists, students and

ex-pats, Lister said. Though called to serve

this transient population, Lister said he

believes each and every person is on a journey.

Thus, he aims to facilitate growth along

that journey.

In fact, many sacred spaces, such as the Duomo and

Santa Croce, are actually state-owned, Francis said. The

touristic operations are regulated, therefore, by the state,

However, it is their very traditions and roles as active

churches that are threatened by the tides of tourists

crashing on their shores.

16 Spaces of Florence


A place where cultures and religions are coming together

Story and Photos by Jessica Hayhurst

Florence’s Jewish Community

Struggles in the Face of Tourism

FLORENCE, Italy – Amedeo Spagnoletto, who was

installed as rabbi of Florence’s only synagogue in late

2016, has a vision to revitalize the Florentine Jewish community.

“We are focusing much more on the Florentine Jews

than the outside tourists,” Spagnoletto said about the focus

of the synagogue under his leadership. Specifically, he said

the synagogue will look to the future by expanding its

programs in education.

Spagnoletto replaced Joseph Levi on October 11, 2017.

He said in June 2018 that he is taking discrete steps

toward emphasizing education, including twice-a-week

Talmud Torah classes for youth between 7 and 18 years

old, even though financially these classes operate at a loss.

The synagogue also runs a preschool for children

between the ages of 3 and 6 years old.

Spagnoletto is also taking steps to re-open the elementary

school to continue children’s education of Judaism

beyond the two days a week after preschool now offered.

“The challenge is to send them to Jewish camps in the

summer and the winter in order to balance this lack of

Judaic knowledge,” Spagnoletto said.

The elementary school closed 35 years ago due to a

lack of enrollment. Spagnoletto traces that decline to the

growth in tourism to the city and, as a result, the flight

into the hills by Jewish residents.

As a result, there are increasingly fewer families who

regularly come to the synagogue for services and for their

children’s education. Spagnoletto said that even if 60

percent of children in the Jewish community came to the

school, enrollment would total less than 20 students.

While the synagogue is a place that welcomes anyone,

he said, it faces many struggles to remain the center of

religious practice for many of Tuscany’s Jews. The biggest

challenge is simply Florence’s popularity among tourists,

including Jewish tourists.

Many of the synagogue’s members have moved outside

of the city center to live in the hills, far away from

the tides of tourists that make travel to the synagogue

increasingly difficult.

“It is a lot for someone to drive in every day to drop

their kids off at school, to come to services on Friday,”

Spagnoletto said. “Where are they going to park? How

early do they need to leave the home to get here?”

And yet, the synagogue is and must be a place for Jewish

people to connect, he said. For Jewish visitors to the

city, the synagogue must help connect them with Jewish

tradition and community in a new way.

“For the Jewish people of Florence, it’s a way of feeling

alive and also to be in touch with new ways of living Judaism,”

Spagnoletto said of the benefits to Florentine Jews

of having so many Jewish visitors from other places.

It is this connection to tradition that Spagnoletto said

produces a thriving community.

In order to preserve the sacred, which includes Jewish

religious practice at the synagogue, while remaining

accessible to tourists, including, and even especially, Jewish

tourists from around the world, the synagogue has hired a

company to handle admissions to the site. A ticket includes

access to an upstairs museum and the small bookshop on

the premises.

Tourists can visit inside the synagogue only from 10

a.m. to noon most weekdays, and visitors are only allowed

to the synagogue’s services if they are attending to participate,

he said.

“This is a place where the cultures, the religions, are

coming together,” Spagnoletto said.

Rabbi Amedeo Spagnoletto

Left: The Jewish Synagogue of Florence, the only synagogue in the city, opened

in 1882. The building houses a museum detailing the history of Florentine

Jews, and the complex runs a preschool for 3- to 6- year-olds.

18 Spaces of Florence


and it opened two refugee centers to provide housing. The

refugees are coming from mostly north African countries

and Pakistan, Falchi said.

Referred to by locals simply as Sesto, the city is home to

about 49,000 residents, approximately 10 percent of whom

are foreign residents.

Unlike those in other Italian cities, Sesto’s small refugee

centers are in locations that allow for and encourage dialogue

between local community members and the refugees

to help newcomers learn about Italian culture, customs and

the economy, Falchi said.

By offering housing inside the city, Sesto is being deliberate

about allaying potential fears of the immigrants by

Italians. Housing diverse populations in the same places and

spaces allows diverse groups to get to know one another

and “see the human part of each other and learn from each

other,” Falchi said, translated by Lilia Lamas.

Whether making decisions regarding politics, religion

or social issues, Falchi has been on the initiative to foster an

inclusive community open to those of diverse backgrounds,

according to Lamas, a resident of Sesto, and according to

much of the newspaper reporting on Falchi in Italy.

something not common before his election, Lamas said.

Freedom of religion

“The liberty of religion is very important,” Falchi said.

“I have inherited the history of the city of the region that

has very strong convictions for religion or for the freedom

to practice whatever religion you choose.”

Like any city, however, the effects of Falchi’s efforts

come with their challenges.

“Unfortunately you still have a lot of narrow-minded

ideas that people think immigration is automatically bad,”

Lamas said. “So hopefully the initiatives that the city creates

or whatever the government implements to create

more integration will help to change people’s minds and

not just think that anything bad that happens is blamed on


Lamas, whose family emigrated from Mexico to the

United States, where she grew up in Southern California,

said that, “when people start complaining about immigrants

I’m like, ‘look don’t complain to me, I am one.’ You

can’t segregate people. You can’t treat people differently.”

Florence Suburb

For example, the mayor has fostered events in

Sesto designed to encourage

social activity,

Embracing Diversity,

Accepting Immigrants

Sesto Fiorentino, a progressive city outside of Florence,

fosters a diverse community by welcoming immigrants

and helping them settle.

Story and Photos By Haley Edmondson

FLORENCE, Italy – While debates about immigration take

place globally, one small Italian city is offering solutions,

including asylum, to immigrants.

Sesto Fiorentino, a suburb of Florence, has a progressive

history that dates back to the late 19th century and

the election of Giuseppe Pescetti, Italian Parliament’s second

socialist. That tradition is being carried on today by

Lorenzo Falchi, a 38-year-old socialist who won Sesto’s

mayoralty in late 2016.

Under the mayor’s leadership, Sesto has opened itself up

to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. For example,

earlier this year the city agreed to host 100 asylum seekers,

Piazza Vittorio Veneto, Sesto Fiorentino’s main piazza, in front of town hall.

20 Spaces of Florence


Outreach to

Immigrants in


(Re)Birth of

a Piazza

St. Mark’s English Church uses art and storytelling to foster dialogue.

Story By Haley Edmondson

FLORENCE, Italy – Only a short bus-ride away from

Sesto, in the center of Florence, St. Mark’s English

Church is host to events and outreach programs that

provide financial and humanitarian support to many

of the immigrants, refugees and homeless in the


“From a church perspective, we are keen to ensure

that refugees are not regarded as a ‘problem’ but as

human beings,” said Father William Lister, chaplain

and assistant diocesan director at St. Mark’s.

One event held at the Anglican church every two

to three years, “Dignity through Art,” provides a way

to change perceptions in the face of prejudice. The

event is a showcase of artwork created by 24 local

artists who meet with a homeless person to hear his

or her story and create portraits, Lister said.

St. Mark’s hosts a similar event involving refugees

and members of a Florence writing group in which a

creative piece is written about refugees that becomes

the foundation for an artist to paint a picture. The

goal, again, is to lessen or even change misperceptions

about refugees.

The work of the church is about “challenging our

own perceptions of ourselves and how we relate to

one another,” Lister said. Through discussion groups

and lectures, people of diverse religious backgrounds

are given the opportunity to share their views, he


Lister said he considers the result of these discussions

“thriving dialogue.”

“Society generally is becoming much more polarized,”

he said. “People are breaking up more than

coming together. It’s more important than ever for

churches and other public institutions to try to draw

people together.”

Father William Lister

It is important to provide opportunities to those

who need them, Lister said, especially immigrants

and refugees who want to contribute and who are

capable of contributing to their new community and

country but need a little help along the way.

St. Mark’s provides resources such as food, sanitary

products and financial support for refugees and

homeless people through established organizations

in the city. The church also supports those seeking an

education of the Italian language. Many immigrants

are eager to learn the language and take courses

either online through various institutions or in a

classroom of 20 to 30 students, according to Lister.

“These people are looking forward because they

can’t go back, and they have to make a choice,” Lister


Florence’s Piazza del Carmine at the Nexus of Past and Future

FLORENCE, Italy – To “read” the spaces and

places of Florence as texts for what they might tell

visitors about the city’s residents, its rhythms and

values, the logical starting point is the piazza, the

public space often referred to as “the living room

of Italy.”

Piazzas, which are public squares that are rarely

square and rich in variety, serve as a sort of social

glue holding Italian society together, and they are

where a city’s and neighborhood’s residents, regardless

of socioeconomic class or occupation, come

together on a daily – and nightly – basis.

In June 2018, visitors to Florence were afforded a

rare opportunity to see a piazza being born, or in the

case of Piazza del Carmine, re-born. As designed

by Florence architect Mario Pittalis, the new Piazza

del Carmine returns it to Italy’s beginnings and to

nature, he said.

With the newly designed piazza, its first re-do in

nearly 70 years, “we wanted to balance restoration

with modernity,” Pitallis said, as translated by Lilia

Lamas. “We wanted to return it to how it was, but as

a way of looking forward and adding life.”

From 1950 until the piazza was closed for renovations

in 2014, cars covered the main or central area.

Pittalis has once again moved the cars off, opening

the space again to social, cultural and commercial

expression. But absent a large fountain or statue of

any kind, the piazza’s open design allows the cars

to return for big neighborhood happenings, such as

weddings and funerals.

“A lot of people wanted a modern piazza,” Pittalis

said. “They believed it was very important to

make a fountain, a Las Vegas-like fountain, like Yellowstone

-- a geyser. Maybe with some music. They

want planters. Others want monuments, a statue.

We decided no, not at all. We present an empty


Piazza del Carmine now is the only piazza in

this richly historic city to feature a limestone surface

rather than cement blocks. The limestone gives

the piazza an unfinished look, and it allows grass to

poke up through the pores and crevices. For Pittalis,

this was a way to return nature to the life of the


“A lot of people have accused it of looking unfinished,

undone,” he said. “But that’s the way we

wanted it – a line of transition from the past to

the future. And in lime, the plants can find space to

grow up.”

22 Spaces of Florence




Cosimo de Vita

Mariotti said she sees the renovated piazza as “a

chance to organize something in the square now

that it is only for pedestrians and not for the cars.”

For Pittalis, these reactions have to be gratifying

because they affirm what he said he tried to do

with the design.

“This work was very criticized,” he said, pointing

out that only one neighborhood resident championed

the design when it was unveiled. “I decided

to be stubborn. The problem they’ve done with the

other piazzas (in Florence) is fill them up with people,

like sheep.”

Contributed by Sarah Storey

Social Building Blocks

Piazzas are a central part of Italian culture.

They are places that allow people who live around

them to interact, for neighborhood kids to play

in, for relaxation and commerce, and for evening

concerts and movies. The re-opening of Piazza del

Carmine on June 16 featured a concert by Maggio

Musicale Fiorentino, operatic arias, a wine tasting,

choral music, and a film presentation projected on

the facade of the piazza’s church, the Church of

Santa Maria del Carmine.

For nearly seven decades the piazza was little

more than a parking lot. Now, after Pittalis’s

re-design and 1 million euros, it resembles (again)

the kind of piazza that is the core of many of Italy’s

smaller villages. Like piazzas throughout Italy,

it is anchored by a church, the Church of Santa

Maria del Carmine and its world-renowned frescos,

and rimmed with residences, shops and cafés.

On the concrete apron are trees that have been

planted to offer shade to the space’s new benches,

which are unique in Florence. Designed by Cosimo

Famous Frescos

Santa Maria del Carmine houses the Brancacci

Chapel and includes a former monastery.

The chapel is home to Masaccio’s and Masolino’s

famous frescos, which have been called by many

art historians as among the finest in the world.

“These frescos are among the most important

artifacts of human history, not only of art,” Pittalis

said. “And they are resonant. The same suffering

you see in the faces of Adam and Eve you see

today in the victims of the war in Syria.”

The monastery once housed the Carmelites,

who are credited with the foundation of the piazza

in the early 13th and 14th centuries, when the

church was sanctuary from the dangers outside

de Vita, they feature the “Big Four” basilicas of

Florence in their seat backs, the Duomo, Santa

Croce, Santa Maria Novella, and San Lorenzo. De

Vita’s benches are mix of natural stone and manmade


“I think [the piazza] will start to have another

life, because this place for the last 30 years was for

cars and it was a disaster,” said de Vita, an urban

designer. “Now I think what happens is you can

have people talking in the square like in Santo

Spirito and other squares. You have a place to meet

and where kids can grow and play and have fun.”

Both Pittalis and de Vita live in the Carmine-Santo

Spirito neighborhood. De Vita said he

appreciates how the newly configured piazza honors

how the square was historically, even how it

was when it was first established in 1200, before

the parking lot.

the city wall. From these origins until a re-design

in 1950, the space was open, even empty.

New to the piazza is a sculpture in wood of a

lion by Sedicente Moradi, which was unveiled as

part of the dedication on June 16. The new piazza

design is “very representative of the old district

of Florence,” said resident Fabrizio Nencioni.

“It is not only for the tourists but also for us,” for


For Carmine resident Barbara Mariotti, the new

Piazza del Carmine is “one of the most beautiful in

Florence. It matches part of the quarter and is full

of life. It is also full of people living here, Florentine

people living here.”

The mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, came to officially open the new Piazza del Carmine.

One of the four benches

commemorating Florence’s

“Big Four” cathedrals, this

one the Basilica of Santa


Piazza del Carmine is on the

Oltrarno in Florence, near the

church and piazza Santo Spirito,

just outside of what once was

the outer city wall guarding the

city center.

24 Spaces of Florence


The Fighters

of Florence:

Calcio Storico a

‘Sport’ that

Celebrates City’s

Long History

The story behind one

of the world’s most

dangerous games

FLORENCE, Italy – On the third Sunday in June, Florentines

throughout the city come together to celebrate

the feast day of the city’s patron saint, St. John the Baptist.

The day is punctuated with parades of nobles in period costumes,

with Catholic mass services, and it culminates with

the final match of Calcio Storico, or “historical soccer.”

Imagine a game every bit as violent as a backyard brawl,

but at the same time rich with tradition and revered as part

of local and national identities, much like baseball or football

in the United States. Oh, and somewhere in the middle

of all of that is something that resembles a soccer match.

Many other elements seem borrowed from other sports,

as well.

“It’s a mix of rugby, MMA soccer and American football,”

said Alessandro Gargani, a former Calcio player and

now the social media coordinator for the Santo Spirito team.

Players can use almost any means necessary to get the

ball past the opposing players and, thus, score. Kicking,

punching and choking are not against the rules, but integral

parts of the game.

The ‘Rules’

A match, which begins with a cannon blast, consists

of two teams of 27 players each (four goalkeepers, three

fullbacks, five halfbacks, and 15 forwards). Head-butting,

punching, choking and kicking all are allowed, though

sucker punches will likely draw a whistle from one of the

many “referees.” Played on a field of sand, the two sides

switch after each score, which is worth one point.

“It’s a game as tough as guts,” journalist, author and

Florence native Deirdre Pirro said. “It is a very violent

In Calcio Storico, play does not stop for injured players, so teammates must

play around each other even if they are down on the pitch.

Story and Photos By John Catton

game. It has to be seen in order to be believed. It’s very

unique in Florence and to Florence.”

Each team represents one of Florence’s original, historical

neighborhoods: Santa Maria Novella (Reds), Santa

Croce (Blues), Santo Spirito (Whites) and San Giovanni

(Greens). All players are volunteers; they make no money

from the sport. This year, the victors were the Reds, playing/fighting

under the banner of the golden sun.

In total, there are only three Calcio matches played each

year. Teams must win the first match to go to the final

played on top of Piazza di Sante Croce on San Giovanni

day. There are two semifinal games a few weeks before the

two winners of the semifinal matches play one another on

the third Sunday in June.

The match is always played in Piazza de Santa Croce.

This city square is converted to a stadium for the games, as

bleachers soon become part of the landscape that includes

the Basilica di Santa Croce, home to the burial vaults of,

among others, Donatello, Galileo and Michelangelo.

The Calcio pitch is 80 meters by 40 meters and has nets

on either end, and the object of the game is to place the ball

into the opposing team’s net to score a caccia, or goal. The

team with the most goals scored during the regulation 50

minutes wins the day.

In a game where getting beaten up is simply de rigueur,

how one approaches the game is critical, according to Gargani,

who formally played for the Bianchi team.

“In order to play you have to think less,” Gargani said.

“Because if you think about what you’re about to go

through, you might not end up going through with it. Getting

hurt is part of the game.”

However, for Gargani, the result of winning the finals is

well worth the physical price.

“Just to be on a team and wear your neighborhood colors

is a great honor, the biggest in Florence,” he said. “The winner

is the winner of Florence and the winner of the world.”

Taproot into history

For native Florentines, the sport is more than a violent

game, more than an odd game; it is a matter of pride. It

is an expression of pride for the neighborhoods in which

Florentines live and their very particular histories and


The game has its roots in ancient Greek tradition, but the

game that is seen today dates back to the 16th century when

the rules were codified by the Florentine writer, Giovanni

Bardi. The sport was widely popular among the nobility,

played by popes and clergy.

The contemporary game re-creates a match played in

1530, when the English army of Henry V invaded Florence.

The Florentine neighborhoods played matches in

Santa Croce square to demonstrate their unity against the

invaders, according to Donn Rislo, author of Soccer Stories:

Anecdotes, Oddities, Lore and Amazing Facts.

Another King Henry, the French King Henry III, reportedly

saw a match in 1574. This Henry described it as “too

violent to be a game, but too tame to be a war,” according

to Edward Brooke-Hitching, author of Fox Tossing, Octopus

Wrestling and Other Forgotten Sports.

Even today, the sport has remained essentially unchanged

since it was played in the 16th century. On the day of the

final match, the scene in Santa Croce is one that would be

very recognizable to a 16th-century Florentine: A parade

of flag bearers and soldiers carrying the standards of each

of the neighborhoods enter the stadium before the match.

Costumed men and women represent the nobility that once

vied for power in Florence both on and off the pitch. Trumpets

fill the air as the players enter the field. And players

wear the same uniforms as their predecessors in the 16th

century, even though they are usually in tatters by the end

of the match.

A Florence native and the daughter of a former Calcio

Storico referee, Daniela Grosso, said she was born “into a

family where Calcio Storico was simply a permanent part

of her upbringing.”

She said she believes that the game is a peek into the

psyche of Florentines.

“Calcio reveals the inner personality of Florentines that

goes beyond class,” she said. “I don’t care if you are from

a noble family, if you are involved in Calcio Storico, you

always have people’s respect. For modern Florentines, it

represents a time when Florence was real and in a sense,

what we wish Florence still would be today.”

Members of the lay Catholic religious organization, the

Knights of Malta, gather before San Giovanni Mass in Florence’s

Duomo which precedes the Calcio Storico match.

The traditional prize for winning the final match is a

Chianina calf. A parade in historical costume precedes

this match as well.

26 Spaces of Florence





The equestrian statue of Ferdinando I, grand duke of

Tuscany, in the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata.

How a Medieval City

Remembers and Forgets

Story and Photos By Meridith Beretta

FLORENCE, Italy – By “reading”

the sculpture of Florence,

visitors can learn something

about what this Renaissance city

chooses to remember, and what it

chooses to forget.

The memoria are

important also to


“The contemporary


must look upon

these monuments

and remember

their history and

how proud they are

to be a part of it,”

said Lorenzo Falchi,

Mayor of Sesto

Fiorentino, a suburb

of Florence.

As history, the

sculpture can be

considered a kind

of narrative, both for the city’s

tides of visitors but also for its


“By understanding the meaning

of statuary, paintings, and

types of architecture, one understands

the city’s history and past,”

said Freya Middleton, an Australian-Italian

citizen and Florentine

tour guide. “Each (work

of art) is like a time machine to

understand a large part of society

at the time.”

One example is a sculpture

outside the Uffizi, “Hercules

and Cacus.” The work was commissioned

by the ruling Medici

family to emphasize the physical

strength and compassion of

Left: Hercules and Cacus outside the Uffizi

gallery in the Piazza Della Signoria.

their rule in harmony with their

spiritual strength, represented

by an imitation of Michelangelo’s

“David” also just outside the


Of course, today that message

is obscured, included in selfies as

just another example of Roman

and Greek mythology.

“Often, [the government]

uses symbols and themes from

the past to express a contemporary

message,” Middleton said.

Erasure and forgetting

What is not remembered or

memorialized can say much about

a city, as well. Contemporary

Italian political erasure would

include the removal of markers

of Fascism. The city has removed

traces of Fascist officials and of

its “martyrs.” Giovanni Berta was

once memorialized in Florence as

a martyr who died in 1921 at the

hands of Communists, including

having a sports stadium named

for him.

The stadium name has been

changed, his name was erased

from the streets. The only memorial

to Berta to remain is his family

name engraved on the sewer

grates along a city road.

A more local example of erasure

can be found in one of the

“Big Four” basilicas in Florence,

the Basilica of Santa Croce.

Florence’s catastrophic flood of

November 1966 swamped the

basilica, threatening some of the

world’s most precious artistic

treasures. Answering the call for

help, American ex-pats turned

up in number to rescue art, relics

and valuables, earning them the

nickname of “Mud Angels.”

Santa Croce once played up

this aspect of its recovery, of the

involvement of Catholic Americans

and Jews, who also rushed to

the Uffizi museum to help. These

volunteers even brought fresh

food and water to elderly Italians

trapped in their homes.

Since 2012, this history has

largely been removed from the

narrative told at the church

through its signage and displays.

As a state-run site, this choice is

an interesting one.

“Art is a dialogue of the human

experience which transcends

through time,” Florence architect

Mario Pittalis said. “When we are

without memories, we are blind,

deaf, and mute.”

Going public

Piazzas are a common location

for memorial, for obvious reasons.

They are public, open, social gathering

places – spaces in which to

see and be seen.

Florence is an exemplary city

to show that art in the public arena

is the result of a deliberated move

on behalf of the public bodies in

the city,” Middleton said.

For Pittalis, the city’s public

spaces “must tell the many stories

of different times, and you must

think of its history,” he said. “When

you are there you can understand

your favorite story, but the others

cannot be ignored.”

Falchi said he believes there is a

role to play by municipal government

in remembering and celebrating

history in part to learn from

the mistakes of the past.

28 Spaces of Florence


Greater Florence

may get first mosque

FLORENCE, Italy – After years of discussion and setbacks,

the project to build greater Florence’s first mosque and cultural

center is back on. This time it looks like it might just


The government of Sesto Fiorentino, a Florence suburb,

is accepting proposals for the construction of a mosque,

making the mosque proposal again a possibility, even a

probability, according to the project’s principal negotiators.

These negotiators include the mayor of Sesto Fiorentino,

Florence’s imam and the Catholic diocese of Florence.

Relatively few Muslims in this predominantly Catholic

country have access to mosques or prayer centers, sending

them to unofficial spaces and places, like basements and

garages, to pray. In metropolitan Florence alone, there are

approximately 36,000 Muslims, according to Izzeddin Elzir,

Florence’s imam and president of the Union of the Islamic

Community of Italy, while Italy is home to an estimated 1.7

million Muslims. But so far, Florence has had no mosque.

Hearing requests from the Islamic community, 38-yearold

Sesto mayor Lorenzo Falchi sent a proposal to Cardinal

Giuseppe Betori, Catholic archbishop of Florence, suggesting

that the archdiocese sell land to the Islamic community

so that a mosque could be built. The cardinal was receptive

and since then, Betori, Falchi and Elzir have been working

to make the mosque a reality.

Choosing a design

Municipality of Sesto Fiorentino joins

project to build mosque, allying with

Catholic diocese, Islamic community

and the University of Florence

Story By Haley Edmondson

As of December 2017, Falchi, Elzir, Betori and the University

of Florence, which owned the land now designated

for the mosque, came to an agreement, according to both

Falchi and Elzir. The diocese approved the sale of the land,

which is adjacent to another parcel of land the church is

purchasing from the university and opposite the Madonna

del Piano Church.

Elzir credited Betori for the “wisdom” of a proposal that

gave all parties something from which to benefit.

An international bidding process for designs for the

mosque has begun. The architect who is selected will present

to Sesto Fiorentino a proposed timeline and estimates

of the cost of building. Once all bids have been submitted, a

selection will be made by giving 50 percent of the final vote

to “a jury of the city and the different entities involved”

and 50 percent to Sesto’s residents, according to Falchi, as

translated by Lilia Lamas, a resident of Sesto. This combination

is meant to ensure that the residents are “invited to

vote and pretty much select the one that they would like,”

he said.

Izzeddin Elzir

Memorials are central to Sesto Fiorentino’s main piazza, Piazza Vittorio Veneto.

Lorenzo Falchi

The mosque will likely be developed by the Islamic community

for the Islamic community, and that it will be privately

funded, as well, Falchi said. The local government

“does not provide funding for the construction of mosques,”

he was careful to add.

Elzir said fundraising has begun and is well underway.

Although the mosque project could have been blocked

through zoning changes, Falchi worked to facilitate discussions

to bring the project to where it is now, according to

several accounts, including that of Elzir.

“Sesto as a city has a tradition of being progressive and

open to dialogue and liberty of faith in the community,”

Falchi said. “The

liberty of religion

is very important.

The city has very

strong convictions

for religion

or for the freedom

to practice whatever

religion you


Goals of the


For Elzir, the

mosque is intended

to serve all of Sesto

and Florence, not merely Muslims in the area. And it will

be much more than a place of worship, he said.

“We hope that it’s a place for studying, for interfaith

dialogue and cultural initiative,” he said from his offices

in Florence’s city center. “It will be a place open for all to


Elzir said the goal is to have the mosque built in the next

three years, or by 2022.

Elzir said for the Muslim community, this dialogue isn’t

about attempting to change anyone’s religion or beliefs, but

rather to learn and understand more about one another. If

understanding is achieved, it can lead to respect, he said.

“We [Elzir, Falchi and Betori] are working as citizens

while respecting each other as human beings, without distinction

of religion or nationalism or language,” Elzir said.

“We are citizens, so we must work together for the betterment

of our city.”

Message to the world

The remarkable cooperation among the Catholic church,

the city of Sesto, the Islamic community in the region, and

the University of Florence stands in sharp contrast to relations

in many other countries, including the United States.

In 2010, construction of a mosque and Islamic cultural

center was proposed near Ground Zero in New York City.

The controversy that followed doomed the project, even

though New York’s mayor was supportive of the initiative.

According to The Guardian newspaper in London, Sesto

“has become a model for how to treat migrants with dignity

while keeping local people onside.”

When needs of Islamic community members were not

being met, it was “a very natural process to create this dialogue

and to extend the facilitation for these communities

to find a space of worship,” said the mayor, who stands in

sharp contrast to the shift to the far right in recent national


If the Sesto mosque is realized, it will tell the world “that

we must have an open mind and we mustn’t fear difference,

in particular religious difference,” Elzir said. “We mustn’t

live in fear from the other.”

Elzir quoted a Palestinian poet, translating from Arabic

into Italian, then into English: “Fear does not stop death,

but fear does stop life.”

The project is being watched by people far beyond

either the Muslim community broadly understood or Sesto


“Society generally is becoming much more polarized —

people are breaking up more than coming together,” Father

William Lister, chaplain of St. Mark’s English Church in

Florence, said. “It’s more important than ever for churches

and other public institutions to try to draw people together.”

Not running from immigration

For Sesto, the mosque’s proposed construction is not an

isolated event. Immigrant integration programs have been

implemented in Sesto to facilitate discussion and provide

opportunities for members of what is a diverse community

to interact, according to Falchi.

“You must pursue what you think is correct in the view of

your community and who you represent, even if you make

mistakes,” said Falchi, a young, socialist mayor, explaining

why he was willing to risk so much political capital pursuing

the project. “Always follow through with whatever you

believe is right.”

Falchi said Sesto, which was annexed into Italy in 1860,

has been known as left-winged when it comes to politics for

a long time. The city’s Giuseppe Pescetti became only the

country’s second socialist member of Parliament in 1897,

and in 1899, Sesto became the first municipality in Tuscany

to have a socialist mayor.

Sesto is home to about 49,000 residents, approximately

10 percent of whom are foreign residents, according to Falchi,

who was elected less than two years ago. Many come

from north African countries, and they represent a variety

of religious viewpoints, Falchi said.



the current

mosque of

Florence, is

a place of

worship and

Islamic Center

located in a

former auto


30 Spaces of Florence



Berry College


32 Spaces of Florence

© 2019

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