A visit to Florence would not be complete without experiencing the Ponte Vecchio. We strolled a little further west to the Ponte Santa Trinita for a mid-river view of Ponte alla Carraia. Originally built from wood in 1218, the bridge was the second in Florence and was then called Ponte Nuovo, being renamed when it was widened to allow carts to pass. Succumbing to numerous floods over the centuries, the rebuilding has resulted in a few different versions, the current structure was completed in 1948 after the retreating German Army destroyed it in 1944.
Cafes and designer shops occupy the beautiful buildings along Lungarno Corsini on the north bank of the river.
To the east, the magnificent Ponte Vecchio spans the Arno at its narrowest point
and stunning apartments defy gravity at the water’s edge of the south bank.
The Ponte Vecchio dates back to 994AD but became another victim of floodwaters. The present bridge has endured since 1345 and was the only bridge spared bombing during the German retreat.
The Ponte Santa Trinita is best viewed from the Ponte Vecchio.
Similarly assailed by floods, the original wooden structure if 1252 was replaced seven years later with stone. This, too, was lost in 1333, rebuilt with five arches, destroyed by floods in 1557 and reconstructed with the three arches seen today. In 1608, statues of the four seasons were added to greet pedestrians at each end of the bridge. Another casualty of the retreating Germans, the bridge was rebuilt and opened in 1958 with original material salvaged from the river.
East of the Ponte Vecchio is Ponte alle Grazie, originally constructed in 1227 it suffered the same wartime fate in 1944. After the war, a competition was held to create a new design and the modern, reinforced concrete structure was completed in 1953.
In 1565, Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici commissioned a secret passageway to connect his residence, the Palazzo Pitti on the south side of the river, with the seat of government, the Palazzo Vecchio on the north side. Designed by Giorgio Vasari, the one kilometre long Vasari Corridor (the square windows above the arches) follows the river to the Uffizi Gallery.
The Vasari Corridor crosses the river above the shops on the Ponte Vecchio.
Initially, butchers, fishmongers and tanners plied their wares along the bridge but the stench was so bad in the Corridor, in 1593 the Medici heir, Ferdinando I, decreed that only goldsmiths and jewellers be allowed to own these shops.
A bronze bust of 16th century goldsmith, sculptor and author, Benvenuto Cellini, has pride of place in the centre of the bridge. His most famous work, Perseus with the Head of Medusa, stands in the Loggia dei Lanzi in the Piazza della Signoria.
From the bridge, we noticed an enticing spot to partake of a riverside beverage.
On further investigation, we found ourselves with Prosecco in hand at Osteria del Ponte Vecchio from where we enjoyed a different perspective of the bridge.
As soon as we arrived in Seggiano, we knew Antico Borgo was the place to partake of lunch. The blissful setting in Piazza Umberto guaranteed a relaxing repast.
Within the renovated building, dating back to 1878, there are three apartments offering bed and breakfast accommodation. The Taverna is on the ground floor and the interior is astounding. Carved entirely out of stone on which the town rests, there are several rooms, all softly lit to evoke an intimate atmosphere.
A stairway leads down, presumably to a storage area and there is another room dedicated to the tasting of Seggianese olive oil.
We dined alfresco under the curious gaze of a handsome observer from a first floor balcony.
The menu enticed us with typical Tuscan dishes, spoilt for choice we selected Pici con Ragu and Bistecca Maiale.
I think our onlooker would have liked to share the succulent pork steak.
Our drive to Seggiano took a little longer than anticipated with our satnav, Holly, determined to take us through back lanes before doing circuits of the same mountain village a few times. The scenery was spectacular but we did wonder if we would ever find our way out.
Finally ignoring her, we chose to follow the reliable road signs and soon had the medieval village in our sights.
We parked the car at the edge of town and lingered a while, absorbing the breathtaking vista across rolling Tuscan countryside.
Wandering up Viale Santa Caterina, we arrived at Piazza Umberto and spotted the perfect place for lunch.
Despite our convoluted journey, we were too early for meal service so we set off to explore the village.
Seggiano is renowned for its extra-virgin olive oil, produced with the native olive cultivar grown in the region, Olivastra Seggianese. It would have been fascinating to visit the olive oil museum but it was closed. Instead, we followed Via Indipendenza,
passing Chiesa di San Bartolomeo. Built in 1216, the church has been remodelled several times and little of the original remains.
At the end of the road, we retraced our steps
and returned to Piazza Umberto.
The 18th century Chiesa di San Bernardino da Siena is also known as the Church of the Company of Corpus Domini, dedicated to the Body of Christ. The interior is rather unassuming as far as Italian churches go but there are some beautiful paintings, a 14th century Madonna and Child and a reliquary that belonged to St Bernardino himself.
Still too early for lunch, we ordered coffee and a biscuit at Antico Borgo to await the magic hour of mezzogiorno e mezzo (that’s 12.30pm).
The restaurant was amazing, entirely carved out of stone and the meals were delicious but I will tell you about that another time. We returned to the car and one last look at the magnificent panorama
before continuing our adventure at Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri. From there, we could appreciate the magnitude of the town and realised we had covered a very small section.
Remembering our first visit to Cortona and the strenuous postprandial walk to the top of the town, we opted to drive this time to explore the magnificent Basilica di Santa Margherita.
A church was built on the site by the Camaldolese monks in the 11th century, dedicated to St. Basil, but was damaged during the sack of Cortona in 1258. Efforts led by Margherita di Cortona resulted in the church and adjacent convent being rebuilt in 1288. The interior is spectacular.
There have been many alterations over the centuries, the large rose window of the façade is one of the few remaining original features.
A marble depiction of Saint Margaret and a chapel commemorating the Cortonese war dead are to the side of the main aisle.
The most impressive display is above, with vibrant ceiling frescoes and stained glass windows presenting impossible angles.
Margaret lived the last years of her life in a small room at the back of the church until her death in 1297. She was buried in a wall of the chapel of St. Basil and her remains were transferred when a larger church was constructed in 1330. Her body is now displayed in a silver casket at the main altar.
Canonized in 1728, Saint Margaret didn’t have an enviable portfolio, being the patron saint of the falsely accused, homeless, insane, orphaned, mentally ill, midwives, penitents, single mothers, reformed prostitutes, stepchildren and tramps.
Beyond the rooftop of the neighbouring convent,
the vista across Lake Trasimeno and the Val di Chiana once again took our breath away.
There are fifty four artists represented at Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri,a sculpture wonderland set in the Tuscan countryside. I thought we had done a credible job of covering the ground but, on reflection, we only discovered half of them. It doesn’t matter, what we did see was astounding. Eva Aeppli was born in 1925 in Switzerland and, after her studies, moved to Paris. Around 1967, she started concentrating on textile life-size figures, creating sewn heads that refer to the planets. If you look closely, the stitch lines can be seen on the bronze casts of the Astrological Signs group.
The gold faces of The Planets represent the positive aspects of the Moon (in silver), Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto, Neptune and Uranus
while the negative aspects, responsible for the sinful facets of human beings, are expressed in A Few Human Weaknesses. From left to right, these are Sloth (Moon), Envy (Mercury), Lust (Venus), Pride (Sun), Wrath (Mars), Gluttony (Jupiter), I seem to have missed Avarice (Saturn). Again, the heads were originally sewn and the texture of the silk fabric can be seen on close inspection.
An attempt to glue the figures rather than sew them wasn’t very successful. Two of the failed pieces were used as scarecrows in Eva’s vegetable garden while others were used for airgun target practice. One of the heads, collapsed and shrivelled, has been cast in bronze and embedded between two branches of an olive tree. Although it seems to be watching the passersby, the empty eye sockets see a world on The Other Side.
The three Greek goddesses of vengeance and retribution, known as the Erinyes or Furies, represent the negative aspects of the so-called invisible planets Neptune, Pluto and Uranus.
Ars Moriendi (Latin for ‘The Art of Dying’) by Italian artist, Giampaolo di Cocco, comprises three sculptures that represent life-size elephant bodies in various stages of decomposition.
Katharina Duwen’s Refuse from the Bronze Age relates to the subject matters that interest her most: traces of the past and relics of civilisation. Various items lie together as if on an illegal dump site, made of bronze they contradict the notion of putrefaction and decay. In the future, this evidence may provide useful information to archaeologists about the everyday lives of a past culture.
Not only is Angelo Maineri a maestro of sculpture, he has been responsible for the care and maintenance of the Giardino since 2016. He has melded bodies of steel and cement, seemingly weightless yet grounded, with the twisting branches of a tree for Chlorophilia – Rooted Life. He describes the work as, “humans, destroying nature, are yet dependent upon it and cannot escape it.”
When Daniel Spoerri was invited to propose a sculpture for the slopes of Vesuvius, he immediately thought of a drawing by his friend, illustrator and satirist, Roland Topor who died in 1997. The crouching woman intently watched a handful of small balls rolling from her lap (I’m not absolutely convinced of this anatomical description). The Vesuvius project was abandoned and Mamma muntagna, the Neapolitans name for their volcano, was sculpted in stone for the garden by Simone d’Angiolo.
A tower of old harrows and ploughs, wedged in amongst each other and screwed together, is titled Monument to Settledness. The artist, Arman, was well known in the sixties for his accumulations of several objects of the same kind such as milk cans, hairslides and bottle caps. These agricultural machines are the insignia of soil management and are stuck, immovable and useless, while the sound of modern agricultural machines can be heard in the surrounding hills.
Amongst the olive trees, sixty geese run in the direction of Seggiano, pursued by three extremely threatening, oversized and masked figures with drums. French artist, Oliver Estoppey has included a boy standing off to the side holding a goose under his arm, perhaps protecting the bird from the Day of Wrath.
An interesting figure that appears like a piece of wood is, in fact, bronze and is carefully attached to the wall of the villa. The Pisser served as an artist shower during a sculptors’ symposium in Freiburg in 1977 and Daniel Spoerri retrieved it from storage for the Giardino with artist Alfonso Hüppi’s consent. The refreshing stream of water usually emitted from the woman was absent on this day.
A connecting link between the distant past and modernity is seen in Two Steel Lenses, One Leaning Tower and Five Geode. The installation, by Jürgen Knubben, consists of two lens-shaped steel constructions lying next to slate stones of similar shape and size, known as geodes, that are around 180 million years old. The leaning tower resembles the obelisks used in Egypt around 2000 BC as cultic stones to honour the sun god.
Daniel Spoerri wanted an iron sculpture by his Swiss friend, Bernhard Luginbühl for the Giardino. Peasant Monument comprises ploughs and parts of agricultural machines, symbols of power, and the exaggerated verticality is a symbol of fertility.
Over the course of a year, Josef Pleier visited the Giardino several times to make measurements and calculations regarding different positions of the sun. The holes in his basalt column, Sunstone, direct the gaze to certain points on the horizon where the rising or setting sun can be seen on the day of the winter solstice (21st December), the equinox (23rd September and 21st March) and the summer solstice (21st June). The opening at the top is the point of true midday when the sun is at its zenith in the sky (and it’s not 12 noon).
Pavel Schmidt has an interest in the phenomenon of kitsch, in particular replicas of popular sculptures. Do Not Open Before the Train Has Halted (Venus and David Between the Buffers) features kitsch figures of Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Venus that he blew up and then glued the fragments together. They have been placed on railway buffers arranged in the form of a cross, gazing in opposite directions.
Austrian artist Erwin Wurm became famous for a series of One Minute Sculptures where he poses people in unexpected relationships with everyday objects. Sewn together at the waistband, the pant legs of Doppelhose seem to be fidgeting in the air.
The Gordian Knot is a legend associated with Alexander the Great, the untying of an impossibly tangled knot often used as a metaphor to describe an intractable problem. German artist Till Augustin created a series of sculptures with this title, two of which are presented atop pillars each side of the path. The cables were pressed together under huge pressure and then cut so that the inside of the twisted rope is visible, giving the impression the knot could spring apart at any moment.
In a hollow in the Giardino, elaborate iron constructions topped with reddish-brown, bell-shaped heads reach 4-6 metres into the sky. Luigi Mainolfi’s mushrooms symbolise The Fertile Earth in these towering species.
The bronze figure of Banzai! Banzai! Banzai! was inspired by a small sculpture standing on Ay-O’s desk when Daniel Spoerri visited him in New York. A few grains of rice placed in the boy’s mouth would traverse the short digestive tract and exit from the rear. This impressed and amused Spoerri and he asked Ay-O to produce a life-size version for the Giardino where Banzai! wishes happiness, success and good health. I didn’t realise at the time but for those wishing to see the little fella “in action”, little bags of rice are available at the reception desk.
Roberto Barni’s figures in Continuo are positioned mid-stride on a seesaw in permanent equilibrium. The title is a contrast to the musical term, Continuo, meaning a constant accompaniment provided by the bass instruments. The men are blindfolded, a typical element of Barni’s works, perhaps in order not to disappoint their illusion of progress.
Italian Luciano Ghersi describes himself as a ‘hyper-textile hand-weaver’. The chairs of The Fakirs’ Meeting are woven with barbed wire, a comment that they would be a good seat for the government which, in Italy and elsewhere, should not be able to sit back in comfort.
The Cake Dream, created by Rosa Roedelius using aluminium and clay, is accompanied by a few lines:
What remains is the cake dream
What was or will be, trivial
Floating above the water
Living things grow from it
Standing on a viewing tower taking in the ambience of the landscape, The Visitor by Esther Seidel looks out over the labyrinthine wallpath. But is he really observing it or only seeing images inside his head?
Flying Buttress is one of the many installations by Mauro Staccioli found in public spaces all over the world. Viewed as a fragment of an archway, the large steel construction establishes a link to the motto of the Giardino, Hic Terminus Haeret and to Terminus, the Roman god of boundaries and transition.
Famous ballet dancer, Daniel Nijinski was legendary for his high leaps from a standing position. A photographer captured the moment when, at an advanced age, he leapt unexpectedly for one final time into the air. Artist Non Vital based his sculpture, Daniel Nijinski Superstar, on that photograph and he is appropriately suspended high above the ground.
Yoko Ono is famous for many reasons, one of them being her contribution to art. The first iteration of Play It By Trust was exhibited in 1966 and since then has been represented in various sizes and materials. The all white interactive chessboard functions as a metaphor for the futility of war, eliminating the colour-based opposition of one side versus another. Beyond a series of initial moves, the game is doomed to failure.