PEOPLE CULTURE DIVERSITY RELIGION HISTORY MEMORY NEIGHBORHOOD TOURISM
What the places and spaces in this
Italian city tell us about its residents
page 29 page 12
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 – 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
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
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
A weekend excursion to Rome provides the opportunity
for photos of the Vittorio Emmanuel II Monument,
called the wedding cake by locals.
to view the
4 Spaces of Florence
Left: Le Murate’s
that reflect the
history of the
space, such as this
prison door and
the window bars
Florence’s Le Murate:
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
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.
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,
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
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
or flood, occurred
when the water
from the Arno
River spilled out
of the river bed
and moved into the
streets of Florence.
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,
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
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
Due to overcrowding and poor conditions,
Le Murate ceased operations
as a prison and inmates were
moved to a new
said. Le Murate
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.
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
“These are enormous, old buildings,” Lister said. “They
have to be maintained.”
Continued on page 14.
12 Spaces of Florence
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.”
is a place for the
prayer, for the silence.
It’s not a museum, it’s a
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.
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.
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
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
“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
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,
“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.”
For example, the mayor has fostered events in
Sesto designed to encourage
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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,
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
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
“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
24 Spaces of Florence
Calcio Storico a
The story behind one
of the world’s most
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,
“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.
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
must look upon
their history and
how proud they are
to be a part of it,”
said Lorenzo Falchi,
Mayor of Sesto
Fiorentino, a suburb
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
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.”
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
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,”
Memorials are central to Sesto Fiorentino’s main piazza, Piazza Vittorio Veneto.
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
or for the freedom
to practice whatever
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.
a place of
located in a
30 Spaces of Florence
32 Spaces of Florence