A Squalid Square in Florence?

The city of Florence suffered two ‘sventramenti’ (disembowelments) in the last 150 years of its life.  The first was when Florence became temporary capital of Italy in 1865 prior to the capture of Rome in 1870. The mediaeval and renaissance centre of the city was considered too undignified for the temporary capital of a newly united kingdom and much of the mediaeval centre including the old market and ghetto areas were deemed unsanitary and demolished. (Those who thought it was a good idea to destroy a good third of the city’s ancient palaces and churches used the word risanamento – ‘restoration to a healthy condition’). In the place of a beautifully mediaeval medley of alleys (now only to be viewed as drawings in the ‘Firenze Com’era’ museum) rose a square which one superior person I’ve met stated must be avoided at all costs. It certainly should be if one considers town-planners as arch-enemies of civilized social living and in this respect I would condemn so many of those misdirected civic architects who have torn the heart out of too many British cities to glorify their social engineering aims. (Look no further than Birmingham or Nottingham).

At one end of this Piazza della Repubblica is a sort of pompous triumphal arch with the following self-important inscription on it:

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L’antico centro della città da secolare squallore a vita nuova restituito
(the ancient centre of the city restored to new life after centuries of  squalor

The second sventramento took place in the last year of the Second World war when the Germans in a mistaken attempt to save the Ponte Vecchio from being blown up (they’d blown up all the other bridges in the meanwhile to stop the allied advance) decided to destroy the adjoining mediaeval quarters both to the south and the north of the bridge to create a mountain of unpassable rubble. This was actually a lot worse than blowing up the bridge which was, anyway, too narrow to admit the larger military hardware. So, again, Florence lost another good fraction of its mediaeval heritage including some irreplaceable towers.

Anyway, the square the snooty person wished to avoid at all costs turned out to be, surprisingly, one of the highlights during our recent trip to Florence at Epiphany-time since several vintage cars were on show in its centre.

There was a classic Fiat Balilla, first produced in 1932 and incorporating luxury-car features at a more modest price. Giacosa, the designer of our own Fiat Cinquina, took part in the development of this classic car:

There was what I like to call Maigret’s car: the Citroen Traction Avant (front wheel drive) produced from 1934 to 1957 and one of the first cars to have a monocoque (i.e. combined body and chassis) construction.

There was a brilliant Ferrari sports dating from 1951.

This Cadillac surely was constructed before any oil crisis or ecological issues. A truly back-to-the-future car!

There were several other delectable cars including a Ghia-designed Fiat 600.

The presence of these magnificent and magnificently kept machines certainly did a lot to raise the appeal of Florence’s most unappealing square in our eyes! See how many others you can recognize. (No prizes offered).

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