Unusual and secret Florence: the curiosities to see in Florence
Are you looking for curiosities to see in Florence and are you organizing an alternative itinerary outside the tourist circuits? You are in the right place! In this article you will find some ideas for a “different” visit to the city. We will see some curiosities about Florence, small and big secrets, curious and particular things to see scattered around the city. Each of these curious things hides an interesting story that is linked to a historical event or some interesting character. We will see together an unusual and secret Florence, full of mysteries, traditions and anecdotes. In every place of the city there are some secrets to discover that can help us to learn more about the history of the city and its culture.
10 curiosities about Florence
Let’s start immediately with the unusual things to see in Florence, a series of curiosities for a perfect tour to do even with children: 10 curiosities to see, 10 stories to know for an alternative visit to Florence.
- Buchetta shop
- The always open window
- The Nuisance by Michelangelo
- The bull’s head of the Duomo
- The Berta
- The door of the Brindellone
- The clock that goes backwards
- Dante’s stone
- The wrong stone of Palazzo Pitti
- The inverted balcony
Walking through the streets of Florence, you may happen to see small openings, similar to miniature doors, which open in different buildings in the historic center. These are the “buchette del vino” (wine holes) which, as the name implies, were used for the sale of wine. This sale took place directly on the street, from the producer to the consumer, thus skipping the intermediation of the innkeepers. Their birth and diffusion dates back to the seventeenth century, a period in which aristocratic families invested their wealth in agricultural activities and in particular in wine production.
The functioning of the little holes is somewhat reminiscent of some fast food with take-away: we would show up at the little hole, knock and someone poured the wine. The little holes were not only used for sale, they were sometimes also used for charity and donating meals to the poorest. After a period of oblivion, the tradition of wine holes has been rediscovered and some of these have been recovered. If you see one of these doors, try knocking because you might get a good glass of wine!
The always open window
Palazzo Budini Gattai, in Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, was the scene of a tragic and romantic story at the same time. First of all it is necessary to identify the building which is the one with the red brick facade that is on the right if you look towards the Duomo. Looking at it you will notice that the last window to the right of the top floor has at least one shutter ajar. You can try to come back at any time but you will never find that window completely closed.
Why? The legend tells us of a love that ended in tragedy. A young loving couple lived in the palace but one day the man was called to fight a war. The woman sat waiting for him at the window until the end of her days, but unfortunately the man never returned. After the woman’s death, her relatives tried to close that window but strange and inexplicable phenomena began to occur with sinister sounds, books flying and lights going out. Afraid of what was happening, the relatives reopened the window and the uproar ceased immediately. Since that time the window has never been closed completely, giving way to the legend of the always open window.
The Nuisance by Michelangelo
A curious portrait links Palazzo Vecchio to Michelangelo Buonarroti. Observing the facade of the building very carefully, you can see, at the bottom right of the entrance door, a small profile carved on one of the stones. This hidden portrait is known as “The Nuisance by Michelangelo“. According to legend, Michelangelo was often annoyed by a person who always told him the same stories. One fine day, tired of being bothered in this way, Michelangelo decided to take revenge by making this caricature to ridicule that boring man.
The bull’s head of the Duomo
The Duomo of Florence is full of statues and architectural elements of undoubted beauty. Among these there is one that almost always goes unnoticed but which is the protagonist of a spicy legend: the bull’s head. The bull’s head of the Florence Cathedral is located at the top on the left side, near the Porta della Mandorla (looking at the door, top left). It is not uncommon to find this type of sculpture in monuments. Often they were made to show gratitude towards those animals, who with their efforts had contributed to the construction by transporting the materials to the construction site.
In this case, however, there is an alternative explanation for the presence of the bull’s head. Popular tradition associates sculpture with the story of a betrayal involving a tailor, his wife and a stonemason. The facts would have taken place around 1400, during the construction of the Cathedral. A master builder of the Opera del Duomo would have had a clandestine relationship with the wife of a tailor who lived in Via Ricasoli. Discovering the adultery, the tailor denounced the two lovers to the Ecclesiastical Court. So it was that for revenge, the stonemason decided to make the bull’s head facing the tailor’s house …an artistic way to call him a cuckold!
After the bull’s head of the Duomo, we are also talking about the woman’s head of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. We are on the corner between Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore and Via dei Cerretani, halfway between the Duomo and the station. Looking at its bell tower, you can see a marble head above (near the windows) facing the street.
According to the legend, “La Berta“, as the Florentines call it, is there due to a curse. Let’s go back to the year 1327 when Cecco d’Ascoli, scientist and humanist, was condemned to the stake by the inquisition. On the way to reach Piazza Santa Croce, where the execution was to take place, the condemned man was forced to parade through the city streets, also passing in front of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. It is said that the prisoner would have begged for water but a person (a woman or perhaps a priest), looking out of the church window, would have harangued the crowd with the cry of “If he drinks he does not burn!”. In fact, according to a popular belief, those convicted of witchcraft were able to survive the flames if hydrated. To these words Cecco d’Ascoli replied: “And you will never get out of there”. And so the Berta was petrified due to the curse thrown at her.
Another version of the legend tells that her marble face portrays a greengrocer who allegedly gave the church a bell, bought thanks to her savings. To thank her, her fellow citizens would have immortalized her face on the bell tower. In reality, even this story, although less imaginative, is very unlikely because it is difficult for a greengrocer to have enough money to buy a bell.
Leaving aside the legends, the marble head probably dates back to the late Roman period. It is not uncommon to find finds from ancient times reused as decorative elements in medieval buildings. We don’t know where that statue came from, but it’s probably just a decoration.
The door of the Brindellone
The Scoppio del Carro is one of the traditions most loved by Florentines and also by visitors. Every year on the morning of Easter day a large fireworks display, which the Florentines call “Brindellone“, gives life to a fireworks show and above all to the flight of the dove that determines the good or bad luck of the year to come.
The Brindellone has impressive dimensions: it is 11 meters high and 60, long 3 meters and 40, and weighs 40 quintals. Where can a colossus tale be “parked” during the year? Certainly in a place suitable for giants! And in fact the deposit of the brindellone has a huge wooden door that certainly does not go unnoticed. If you want to see it, you have to go to Via il Prato 48.
The clock that goes backwards
Everyone knows how a clock works and everyone knows that the hands move clockwise… or maybe not? Try asking Paolo Uccello, one of the great masters of the Renaissance, who around 1440 made a clock that goes backwards for the Florence Cathedral. The large clock of Santa Maria del Fiore is located in the counter-façade so if you want to admire it you have to enter the Cathedral. Its dial is divided into 24 and not 12 as we are used to with our watches. The hands run counterclockwise and the twenty-fourth hour is not midnight but sunset, according to the custom of the so-called Hora Italica. Since the time when the sun sets varies with the passing of the seasons, Paolo Uccello’s clock must be adjusted several times during the year, to ensure that the last hour always coincides with sunset.
Why is there a large stone resting on the ground in Piazza delle Pallottole? What questions, it is Dante’s stone! This stone is the protagonist of a typical Florentine story that sees the Supreme Poet involved in a nice exchange of words. The story tells that Dante used to sit on a stone to rest and observe the construction of the Cathedral. One day an acquaintance of his passed by and asked the poet: “Oh Dante, why do you like to eat more?” to which Dante replied: “The egg”. Much later, perhaps a year later, the same person passed by and finding Dante still sitting on his stone, asked him: “with what?” – “with the salt!” was the poet’s prompt reply.
The wrong stone of Palazzo Pitti
Looking closely at the façade of Palazzo Pitti, you will notice an oversized stone that ruins the harmony of the ashlar. The stone in question measures almost 10 meters while the stones around it are definitely much smaller. The stone in question is located on the left of the door, between the second and third window from the center. It looks just like a wrong stone, couldn’t they split it into smaller stones?
The answer is no, that stone is like this for a very specific reason. This is not a coincidence and it is not so for structural reasons. The reason is quite different: Palazzo Pitti was built by the wealthy merchant Luca Pitti who wanted to demonstrate the superiority of his family over all the other families in Florence. The long stone symbolizes this greatness while the smaller stones represent the rivals that compared to the Picts were small and insignificant.
History teaches us, however, that Luca Pitti got too much debt to build the palace and in 1549 the palace was bought by his main rivals: the Medici …what a mockery!
The inverted balcony
In Borgo Ognissanti 12 there is a house that has something strange about it. In particular, the balcony has something wrong with it. If you take a good look at it you will realize that it has been mounted upside down. But how did this architectural oddity arise?
The story dates back to the sixteenth century when a certain Cristofano Baldovinetti was the owner of the building. Baldovinetti wanted to build a large balcony but found himself clashing with bureaucracy (we’re still in Italy, aren’t we?). In fact, there was a regulation that prohibited the construction of balconies aiming to make the city more harmonious. So the construction request was rejected over and over again until the Grand Duke, exhausted by Baldovinetti’s insistence, granted him a yes as long as the balcony was built upside down.
This response should have discouraged the stubborn owner of the building but it did not. In fact, the architect in charge of the work placed all the elements of the balcony upside down, from the supporting corbels to the balustrade columns. Thus Baldovinetti succeeded in giving life to a structure that still makes people talk about him today.