on December 17, 2009
On this trip if there is an image of Tuscany in the summer that sticks in my mind – it has to be the swallows.They appear in the skies above Florence from about four o’clock onwards, twisting and turning in the air like little phantoms and emitting tight little shrieks. They wing their way from one little apricot building to another. I often wonder what happened to the swifts and swallows I remember as a child – well, they are here. They have emigrated to Tuscany and seem especially prevalent in the enchanting Boboli gardens.At one point during your stay in Florence you will feel the need to get away from the cultural overload and crowds. The thought of stretching out on the green lawns with a pachito and bottle of Chianti may be irresistible. The gardens are on the south bank of the Arno up in the hills overlooking the city. They are reached from the north bank by the famous Ponte Vecchio. I love the Ponte during the early morning or late at night when it is lit up with gas lamps but during a summer afternoon you can crowd surf from one end to another. The famous goldsmith shops along its length can barely be glimpsed through the throng.On the other side is Oltrano which spans the city centre along the southern bank of the Arno. It is slightly less touristy but those who do come arrive to see the Pitti Palace – the renaissance palace of the Medici whose gardens are the main attraction. The great brown bulk of the Palace has its own piazza. The Pitti were a rival mercantile power in Florence who were eventually toppled by the Medici. The palace is crammed with artworks by the Medici and you can enter the gardens from there but I went for the far western entrance on Via Romana.The gardens are not free and cost 7 Euros. Once through you can climb the gravel paths. The gardens are very green and dotted with pine trees. There are no natural springs in the gardens so the Arno has to be diverted to water them in a series of pumps and cisterns. They are also set on the summit of a hill which is a hard climb in the heat. White marble statues adorn the track harbouring little grottoes and bowers. At the top of the hill is a lawn area with a balustrade. The balustrade gives extensive views of Florence across the Arno where the dome of the Duomo can be seen in the distance.A zigzag gravel path leads down to the hill to the rear of the Pitti Palace. Here is a manmade amphitheatre with a lawn that stretches uphill dotted with statues and flowerbeds. Leading from here down to the river is the set of manmade grottoes. The most famous one is by Buonorotti with frescoes of Greek and Roman gods and covered in seashells.There was a statue and flowerbed dedicated to Catherine D’Medici near the grottoes. Catherine D’Medici was one of history’s monsters and despite what revisionist historians have said about her there is overwhelming proof that it was she who pushed for the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572 where thousands of Protestants were murdered. It’s hard to think of such dangerous politics while wandering these sunny elegant gardens. But they are just as much a part of it as the statues fountains, and flitting swallows.
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