What is the most pagan lifestyle

Antonín Polách

author historických románů

Category: Italian impressions

Sicily part II.

In Sicily you live on the streets. No wonder, the apartments of the Sicilians are rather small and not suitable for receptions for large crowds. The street is used for meetings and social life. It does it in two phases. During the day, pensioners are brought outside the doors of the houses. You sit here on chairs or armchairs all day and watch the world in silence. After sunset they are taken off the street. They disappear into the houses and the youth come out onto the streets. It's much louder, it's not unusual to see little children playing here after midnight

It was always like that in the south, by the way. Even the ancient Greeks lived on the streets, in public, only women stayed at home. At that time women were forbidden to live in public - in contrast to today. Nevertheless, Sicily already had an important position on the political map of the Mediterranean region in ancient times.

In ancient times, Sicily was an important traffic junction and a coveted rich country. Greek colonies in Syracuse, Segesta, Selinunte or Agrigento were already rich cities at that time. The Greeks, however, had to fight with the Carthaginians for control of the island. A preliminary decision in this fight brought the battle of Himera in 480 BC. Christ, whereby the Carthaginian general Hamilcar also lost his life. Carthage still did not rest, it took advantage of the fighting between the Greek cities and in the year 409 came revenge, the city of Himera was destroyed and never rebuilt.

We visited the ancient historical places - Segesta and Selinunt - in the south there is Agrigento and in the inland Enna - but I would rather not visit them in August, the summer heat is only bearable by the sea. We were already here at the beginning of July, but a heat wave has just rolled over the island to Central Europe, and after visiting a historical memorial, swimming was a must. Segesta of the tribe of the Elymians searched for decades a way to destroy the Greek hated competitor Selinunt. In order to be able to close the alliance with Athens, it began to build a gigantic temple of the goddess Athena in the monumental Doric style.

But when the Athenians in 413 BC Having lost their fight against Syracuse and their entire fleet destroyed, there was no longer any reason to finish the temple, so it has remained a kind of Potemkin village to this day. (Probably the oldest in the world - two thousand years before Potemkin.) Segesta allied with Carthage, and the Carthaginians razed Selinunte to the ground. But when the Romans invaded the island during the first Punic War, the citizens of Segesta remembered that, according to a legend, they were actually related to the Romans and switched sides. As a reward, when the island was really taken by the Romans, they did not have to pay any tax. Even then, opportunism paid off and if you can justify your behavior correctly ...

This relationship with the Romans arose when refugees from Troy docked in what is now Castellmare del Guolfo. The women of Troy had already had enough of the trip (they may have been seasick like my wife) and they decided that their husbands should put an end to more adventures. They set fire to the ships at anchor in the Gulf, only Aeneas and his family managed to escape on his ship, with which he then sailed into the mouth of the Tiber and then founded the city of Alba Longa. He became king there, and centuries later his descendants were Romulus and Remus, who founded Rome. The rest of the Trojans who lost their ships in this way then founded the city of Segesta. Whether this legend is true or was invented for practical reasons, we will not find out any more. As already said, the citizens of Segesta were very inventive when it came to their profit.

Today the unfinished temple and a breathtaking theater with a view of the landscape to the sea at Castellmare de Guolfo, where the Trojan ships once burned, are a reminder of the former existence of this city. From the temple to the Acropolis with the theater, it's half an hour's walk, if you get there when the sun is already beginning to burn, it pays to buy a ticket for the bus for 3 euros, which will then take you there.

By the way, not far from Segesta there is the town of Calatafimi. Actually nothing that you absolutely have to see, but this village is connected with the national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi. After landing in Sicily with his "Thousand Red Shirts", it was here that he met the army of the Sicilian kingdom, which was far superior in terms of numbers and armaments, and to everyone's astonishment, he survived and even won. The way to Palermo was free and thus also to the conquest of the Italian south - with which the Italian government still does not know what to do.

In Selinunte I was lucky that I got lost on the way there - the Sicilian street name is obviously only meant for locals and they know their way around anyway. Thanks to the error, I knew that you could drive from the temple precinct, where the tickets are sold, to the Acropolis.

Therefore we could with a clear conscience the offer to ourselves for 12 Euro !!! Bringing a minibus there, ignore. Should this deprivation of visitors be a remnant of the tradition of ancient Selinunte, I began to understand why the citizens of Segesta hated this city so and they even won my sympathies for it.

In summer in Sicily it pays to be at the sights early in the morning. The beaches are usually not far away, like this one in Selinunte.

The sights open their gates at nine o'clock and we were regularly among the first visitors. (But never the very first, everywhere we were overtaken by at least one car with a Czech license plate, the Czechs obviously suffer from insomnia far in the south.) Around noon, when the sun made the land hot, we could cool off in the sea. The most beautiful beach in Sicily is at Capo di Vito in the northwest of the island,

Compatible with a visit to the town of Erice on a conical mountain with a fortress on top and incredibly beautiful views.

The prices in Sicily were affordable (with the exception of Cefalú, Taormina or Erice - that is, in the famous tourist destinations that have already adapted to the purchasing power of the visitors - the Sicilians, as I mentioned, have more time than money So you can eat pretty cheap - of course, if you like aubergine, that's probably an inseparable part of every Sicilian meal.

Even nature lovers get their money's worth. Not only on Mount Etna, where you can go by car, only to be caught by mass tourism and brought to the hot lava. However, the picture of the flowing red lava on the slopes of the mountain at night when driving from Catania towards Messina is very impressive. Incidentally, the volcano has threatened the city of Catania several times in history, mostly in 1669. It is hard to believe that the "Castelo Ursino" was right on the sea at that time, the castle was surrounded by lava and is now far from the sea away. The city of Catania is not particularly beautiful and therefore not really worth visiting, so I would exclude it from my story about Sicily.

In the west of the island, near the town of Scopello (well, town, more like a larger village, but let's be honest, a village, i.e. a hole) there is the Zingaro Nature Park. One of the paths leads past the sea, is 7 kilometers long and along the way there are numerous museums on different topics and small beaches with crystal clear water and beautiful colored fish that swim between the legs of the visitors.

We managed to cover 5 kilometers, then noon came and with it temperatures around 40 degrees Celsius. We found a bigger beach there and decided to wait for it to cool down. The decision was clearly wrong. Because it didn't cool down. We waited and the temperatures rose. Three in the afternoon was hotter than two, four hotter than three. It became clear to us - if we wanted to reach our parking lot before the park closed its gates, we had to go. My wife had not exactly minor problems surviving the return march in the afternoon heat. Even the tactic “run fast so that the heat is behind us sooner” didn't help. Cold compresses and water could only postpone the tragic end, but not prevent it. Thank goodness there is a spring on the way where we could replenish our rapidly dwindling water supplies. A cold “Birra Moretti” beer in a bar right behind the exit from the national park saved us from certain death. So, if you want to visit the park, go there early in the morning, don't be seduced by the beautiful little beaches with the fish on the way like from an aquarium, but walk as fast as possible around the other end of the national park to achieve tolerable temperatures. You can immerse yourself in the water at any time on the way back - if you still have strength and inclination - you have to turn off the path to the beaches and descend to the sea. Which is actually not the worst, but then you have to go back up the road.

Believe it or not, we really met a Czech group who set out sometime before seven o'clock to go over the mountain peaks 915 meters high. (You start at sea level, so the height of the mountain is also the height difference) and walked back on the way by the sea. Amazingly, they looked like they could survive.

A year after our visit, there was a huge fire in Zingaro National Park so I don't know how much of its beauty is left.

So if my story should make someone want to visit Sicily, do not hesitate. As I said, it's still Europe, even the European Union, and the laws here are fundamentally identical to ours. Only there are, to quote John Travolta from the film "Pulp Fiction", "such small differences"

The story will continue in two weeks, by the way.

Sicily Part I

It is actually still Europe, even the European Union, and therefore basically the same laws apply here as we do. Only the interpretation is a little different. I understood that at the latest when two motorcycles suddenly overtook me while driving through Palermo, one on the left and the second on the right. From the markings on the ground, it could be assumed that the expressway had two lanes. But when Palermitans decide that it is not enough, they spontaneously form a third. I would strongly advise you not to spoil the game, you could get nervous or even grumpy. By the way, sometimes the center line really does exist, but then again it doesn't. It is a mystery to me how the almost hundred-year-old grandpa drove on, stubbornly sticking to the center line as the guide line and thus permanently forming the center lane. Otherwise, driving in Sicily is a relatively quiet affair. Nobody is in a hurry, the number of cars, especially in the western half of the island, is rather low and there are no tolls on the highways, so you drive for free. The only exception is the A 19 motorway between Catania and Palermo, where we paid 1.80 euros on the way to Cefalu. The Sicilians are as considerate as the Italians on the mainland, or rather cautious. Because they drive very “creatively” themselves, they expect the other participants to be just as “stupid” as they are in traffic, so be careful. If a car has a dent or a scratch - and this happens quite often - it is more likely to be parking damage. When I saw what was going on in the parking lot by the beach in Trapetto on the first day, I decided to go there on foot.It was clear to me that, as a Central European, I would never leave this parking lot without permanent damage to my car and my soul could. Sicilians can do that, but for the price of sheet metal damage to their own and many other cars. The police tried to bring order to the chaos and diligently distributed parking tickets, which the car owners demonstratively threw away before leaving.

When I returned my Fiat Bravo at the airport in Palermo two weeks later (in the opinion of our apartment rental company it was a ridiculously large car to drive in Sicily), the representative of the car rental agency almost crawled under the vehicle, only to see it with an incredulous face that there was no damage to the car. She obviously thought I was an alien at that moment.

Traveling in Sicily still has a certain magic. Finding the goal you want to achieve is not particularly easy, and a basic knowledge of the Italian language doesn't really help. We looked for our accommodation in Trapetto and of course we didn't find it. I called the housekeeper and this lady explained to me that our apartment was in the city center, near the old church. I didn't find it again and came to the port. There sat some sun-tanned Sicilians. I asked where I can find “Chieza vecchia”. They shook their heads, obviously they have never heard of this church. I tried to articulate “kieza vekchia” clearly and slowly. They shrugged their shoulders, but then someone beamed and said "á czeca vecza" and showed me the direction. I understood it wasn't going to be easy. And it really wasn't.

But we went to Palermo by bus. It paid off, I really couldn't imagine what to do with my car in the city center. Of course we had to wait almost forty minutes for the bus, but nobody was upset about such a delay, it is part of the islander's lifestyle. The Africans once commented on the American saying “time is money” with the words that the Americans may have money, they again, that is, the black Africans, have time for it. The Sicilians behave very similarly. They don't have the money (after returning from vacation I learned that the country was in bankruptcy and the then Prime Minister was expecting the governor to resign), but enough time for that. Even Prime Minister Monti had to wait for the governor to resign. A waiter in the bar in Trapetto, who had worked at the airport in Düsseldorf for 24 years only to return to Sicily two years ago because the hectic life in Germany was far too much stress for him, told us how difficult it was for him afterwards the return was getting used to the fact that you had to wait half an hour to an hour at each meeting and appointment. When he asked why it was not possible to meet at an agreed time, he received an answer: “You have to adapt”. So he adapted.

Sicilians have no problems. When they have problems, they don't know or don't want to know. This primarily concerns the disposal of waste. Every morning they drop sacks of rubbish from the balconies doing a splitting act and a three-wheeler that drives through the alleys collects them. I wasn't completely familiar with the waste separation system, so I asked our landlady. She thought for a moment and then she said "You do have a car."

I admitted it and she explained to us, "Then you could pack everything up and when you leave town you can throw it in a container that is on the side of the road." We figured that out pretty quickly. The containers are really there, but they have only an indicative or rather a symbolic value. All of them are hopelessly overcrowded and around them, hundreds of meters along the streets, are piled up with sacks of rubbish of all kinds - for weeks, possibly months, until an excavator comes along that is only able to clear it away.

Palermo is of course worth a visit, but I'll write about it another time. But Palermo is far from alone. Monreale is already standing on a mountain in the interior above the city. The church here was built by Wilhelm II, called "the good" for reasons unknown to me, a hundred years after his grandfather Roger II did it in Palermo. Wilhelm already had a role model that had to be surpassed. In addition, this king, known for his lavish lifestyle, wanted to bring the Archbishop of Palermo into white heat.So there was enough motivation for the work to succeed.

What is striking about Sicilian works from the time of the Norman kings is the fact that they are the product of an incredible social and religious tolerance. It is not for nothing that Sicilians are proud of this period of Norman rule and one stumbles upon the traces of this era at every step. Not only did Sicily really be an independent kingdom at that time, with the capital in Palermo, but thanks to the tolerant policies of its rulers, it became the richest country in the world at that time. To understand the recipe for this success, we need to delve a little deeper into the island's history.

Sicily was the granary of ancient Rome. Even then there was a flourishing agriculture and the slave market in Enna was one of the largest in the empire. (The slaves rioted several times and twice in the second century BC they succeeded in establishing an independent republic here, until it was crushed by the Roman legions). After the fall of the Roman Empire, the island was ruled by the Goths for a couple of decades and then the famous Byzantine military leader Belisarius conquered the island for his emperor Justinian. After that, Sicily was Greek and Emperor Constantine II even tried to move the capital of the Byzantine Empire from Constantinople to Syracuse. It had a certain logic because Sicily was right in the middle of the empire at the time, but as is the case with the logical things, the idea was not implemented. Sicily became the periphery of the empire and could not tolerate the invasion of the Arabs in the ninth century. The Arabs ruled the island, but let the native Greeks live on in peace. They relocated the capital from Syracuse to Palermo because the contact to the east was no longer as important to them as it was to their predecessors and built irrigation systems on the island. The Arabs came from Tunisia, where it rained very little and irrigation systems were essential for agriculture. Because there was a lot more rain in Sicily, they turned the island into a true paradise thanks to their irrigation technology. In such a way that local rulers began to quarrel among themselves. As the saying goes: "When the donkey gets too comfortable, it goes dancing on the ice". In 1061 the ruler of Messina summoned Norman knights under the leadership of two brothers, Roger and Robert Guiscard von Hauteville, to help against his opponent in Syracuse. These former Vikings conquered Messina in one stroke and began to take the island bit by bit. They received the blessing from the Pope himself for this godly undertaking and then, when the last Arab resistance in the southeast of the island surrendered, Roger became Count of Sicily. His grandson of the same name then achieved royal dignity. He took advantage of a schism in Rome, had himself crowned king by the antipope, with which he enraged the real pope. When the Pope declared war on him, he arrested the pontiff and, in return for his release, had the royal crown confirmed by him. What was fascinating about the Normans - although they were on the island on behalf of the Pope, with the task of Christianizing everything that was possible and of exterminating the rest - they left everything as it was. The Arabs were allowed to continue expanding their irrigation systems, the Greeks were able to decorate their churches with their mosaics again, no one was forced to do anything and everyone was satisfied with the situation. The churches of that time are the fruit of this policy of tolerance. In Palermo, Monreale or Cefalu, to name just the three most famous. The cloister in Monreale is 47 × 47 meters and each of the hundred columns is different, no two have the same capital.

By the way, King Wilhelm had no problem with commissioning an Arab architect with the construction of the monumental Catholic church and he again - although a Muslim - had no problem with building a Catholic church and not even with the capitals of the columns, which were forbidden in the Koran To decorate motifs. He did a good job for a good wage. We could still learn from it today.

After Normans came the Hohenstaufen, who also left everything as it was (Emperor Friedrich II only moved the restless Arabs to Lucera in Apulia), in 1266 - again on behalf of the Pope - came the French and the hundred-year-old work of tolerance was there. The French annoyed the Sicilians with their behavior to the point that they were all murdered at the Sicilian Vespers in 1282, but broken porcelain can no longer be glued together - the time of Sicilian prosperity was definitely over and should never return.

So much for introducing the visit to Sicily. We'll start next week.


Somehow it's always better to collect tolls than to work. The city of Brixen was ideal for such activities due to its location south of the Brenner Pass, which was the main crossing point from Germany to Italy during the Roman Empire. This ensured her prosperity (similar to Innsbruck to the north, which controlled the only bridge over the Inn river, or Verona to the south, where this Brenner road opened to Italy). You can tell at every step that the city of Brixen (Bressanone in Italian) was rich. One also notices that the bishop was an independent lord in his field and at the same time he also had the title of sovereign prince.

In a relatively small town with a little over twenty thousand inhabitants, a number of church towers soar into the sky that leave no doubt about the town's past. By the way, the city's coat of arms depicts the Lamb of God with a flag with a red cross - should anyone still have any doubts.

The city was officially founded in 901, whereupon the "Millennium Column" in a small square in front of the Bishop's Palace, which was erected in 1901 to celebrate the millennium of the city, commemorates.

In 990, Bishop Albuin (who was later canonized) transferred the bishop's seat from Säben Abbey (you can admire this monumental monastery in Klausen if you turn off the motorway towards Bozen in the direction of “Passo di Gardena”, i.e. the “Gardena Pass”) , to Brixen and this city remained the seat of the bishop until 1964, when it was moved to Bozen.

The bishops of Bressanone were mostly loyal to the imperial side in the battles between popes and emperors, and one of them was even rewarded with the dignity of the pope. Bishop Poppo became Pope - or rather an antipope under the name Damassus II against the scandal pope Benedict IX. elected. Benedict IX was expelled from Rome twice and returned twice. He even sold his office once, only to return after the death of his successor. Emperor Heinrich III. fed up with his villainy and in 1047 had Poppo, the bishop of Brixen, who was devoted to him, elected pope. He took over the papal office on July 17, 1048, but died after only 23 days, whether of malaria or the poison of the incorrigible Benedict IX is not clear.

Three plaques with coats of arms in the vestibule of the cathedral commemorate the popes with a relationship with Bressanone, next to Damassus II is Pius VI, who came to Bressanone in 1782 to avoid unsuccessful negotiations with Emperor Josef II in Vienna, where he wanted to dissuade the emperor from his reforms, to recover and ultimately Benedict XVI. Josef Ratzinger had a very close relationship with Brixen. In 1967 he took part in a seminary here as a lecturer and he liked the city so much that from 1968 to 1976 he regularly spent his summer vacation here in the “Stremitzer Grüner Baum” inn. (The hotel can be found on the other bank of the Eisack river - or Isareo in Italian, in the Stufes district, when you cross the bridge in the old town and then turn left. Brixen is located at the confluence of this river with the larger Rienza). Josef Ratzinger continued this practice as cardinal from 1978 to 2004 and he never forgot Brixen when he was elected Pope and visited the city several times during his pontificate. What Val d´Aosta was for Johann Paul II was for Benedict XVI. Brixen. He even visited the city after his abdication.

The Bressanone Cathedral is a monumental building in the purest Baroque style.

It is rare to see a building in such a uniform style, it was built in the years 1745-1754. It is a huge single-nave cathedral, which with its baroque features both inside and outside dazzles the visitor, including two high towers and blue side chapels that face the “Piazza del Duomo” square. In the cathedral, adorned with tons of altars, there are tombs of the bishops of Brixen including St. Albuins. The only thing that bothers a bit is the fact that the entrance and side chapels are blue and the facade of the church towers is yellow, the colors don't go very well together, but against the taste of the architects ...

You shouldn't be confused by the Italian name, German is spoken almost exclusively in Bressanone, Italian plays a subordinate role here and in the names of the streets and in other multilingual addresses German is almost always in the first place and Italian in the second , although Bressanone, like all of South Tyrol, has been part of Italy since 1918. In contrast to the predominantly Italian Meran and mixed Bolzano, Brixen kept its German character, although of course it also has an Italian name, already mentioned: Bressanone.

The cathedral is flanked by other church buildings, on the right there is the Romanesque cloister from the year 1200, which was adorned with beautiful frescoes in the Renaissance style in the years 1390-1510, on the left there is the parish church of the Archangel Michael in the Gothic style - including a Gothic cloister. The landmark of the city is the "White Tower", which belongs to the Church of the Archangel Michael.

It is the tallest building in the city, with its 71 meters height it towers over all the other numerous towers and it was the seat of the fire station. It was built around 1300, and in 1444, like almost the entire city, it was destroyed by fire. (The fire station probably fell asleep). It was rebuilt and was named "Black Tower". After receiving a new covering at the end of the sixteenth century, the name was changed. It was later given a copper roof, which, however, was dismantled during the First World War because the copper was needed to produce cannons. He stayed white and looks good on him.

The town hall and the “fountain of life”, a modern work by the South Tyrolean artist Martin Rainer, are located on the large square “Piazza del Duomo” and depict the development of human life in a spiral that emanates from the hand of God and back into it returns.

The bishops lived in the Hofburg Palace, which can be found on the edge of the old town, surrounded by a moat and several gardens. Bishop Bruno von Kirchberg had the original castle built in 1255/1256. It is worth mentioning that the fabulous town of Bruneck (Brunico) east of Brixen is named after this bishop, which this bishop founded in order to be able to collect the toll on the way from East Tyrol. So the money for the new palace was there. Incidentally, the Brunogasse (Via Bruno), which leads to the Hofburg, is also named after this gentleman. Hardly anything remained of Bishop Bruno's castle, actually only the wall in the cellar. In the years 1595 - 1610, the bishops Andreas of Austria (the son of Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol from the scandal marriage with Philippine Welser, born at the Czech Breznice Castle) and Christoph Andrä von Spaur had the Hofburg converted into a palace in the Renaissance style , which was enriched with statues of the Habsburg dynasty.

The palace was the seat of the prince-bishops until the secularization in 1803, then the maintenance of the building was far too expensive and the palace was only partially inhabited. That is why, after the bishop's seat was moved to Bozen, Bishop Josef Gargitter donated the building to the city as a diocesan museum, and this function continues to this day. In addition to the representative rooms of the former rich bishops, the usual church treasures and works of church art, there is also a beautiful nativity scene exhibition.

Another museum - Museum der Pharmazie “can be found at the other end of the old town in front of the bridge over the Eisack on the way to the Stufens district, there, right behind the bridge, you are greeted by beautiful houses with frescoes on the walls and narrow streets.

The seminary is located on the edge of the old town and it is a large building on the banks of the Eisack, and rightly boasts the name “Seminario Maggiore”. Here the future Pope Benedict XVI learned. Know and love Brixen.

The "seminar of the English virgins" is much less conspicuous. It is a small church in the style of classicism, in 2011 it was taken over by the "Autonomous Province of South Tyrol". Protestants of the Augsburg Confession read their masses in the little church “Heiliger Eberhard - if you park in the central parking lot near the city center, the way into the city leads directly past this church. In contrast to many Italian cities, parking in Bressanone near the old town is absolutely unproblematic and well marked.

The Gothic building of the “Hospital of the Holy Spirit” from the end of the fourteenth century near one of the city gates (several have been preserved) on the “Großer Graben” street has also been beautifully reconstructed. And finally, the city cemetery on Romstrasse is also worth a visit. Burials have been here since the end of the eighteenth century, from the entrance gate you can see a neo-Gothic chapel, arcades on both sides with high mountains in the background, even a cemetery can look romantic under these circumstances.

The most famous South Tyrolean from the time after the Second World War - Reinhold Messner was born in Brixen. The first person who climbed all twelve eight-thousanders without artificial oxygen (and, as an Austrian satirist wrote, even got through the entire Vienna underground line 6 and survived - also without oxygen). We didn't find his museum in Bressanone, but there is a mountain museum with his name in five different places in South Tyrol, one of them for example in the castle in Bruneck or on the Kronplatz.

However, the name Brixen must be associated with the name Karel Havlicek Borovsky for every Czech who was just a little careful at school. His work “Tiroler Elegien” was a must-read and we learned how this national hero suffered here in distant Bressanone.

Perhaps his soul actually suffered because he had retired from political life and the signature required from him that he would stay away from political life after returning to the Czech Republic really broke him. On the other hand, for the writer suffering from tuberculosis, it was a healing stay.

Karel Havlicek was accommodated in the Hotel Elefant after his arrival in Bressanone and later when he rented a house with a garden hall so that his wife and daughter could also come (Karel Havlicek's whole family suffered from tuberculosis and his wife died before that he was allowed to return home), he obtained the food from this hotel. The expenses for the trip to Brixen in the amount of 150 guilders were paid by the police directorate and Karel Havlicek received 500 guilders a year in regular monthly installments throughout his stay in the healthy mountain air in Brixen. That was at the time when a higher civil servant earned an annual salary of 500-700 guilders, a teacher 130 guilders and a worker around 100 guilders a year. So much for the imperial terror.

Havlicek stayed in this involuntary asylum, which was good for his lungs but not for his soul, for four years. The Hotel Elefant is still one of the best addresses in Bressanone today.

It's on the northeast corner of the city - right across from the police station (a bit of tradition has to stay). It is a four-star luxury hotel with its own large private garden, where weddings and events can take place in camera. Inside, this is a luxury with a touch of historical patina, the rooms are decorated with wood carvings and there are frescoes depicting the historical elephant that gave the hotel its name. This elephant named Soliman was a gift from the Portuguese King John III. to Archduke Maximilian, later Emperor Maximilian II.The Archduke returned from his long stay in Spain in 1551, where he was also married to the Spanish Infanta Maria - the cousin of the Portuguese king. The elephant suffered on the long journey on the ship to Genoa and then across the Alps and in Brixen was almost dying. A fourteen-day stay in the inn of the host Andrä Posch got him back on his feet and so he was finally able to reach a destination in Vienna. However, he soon died there as a result of incorrect feeding.

In other words, I couldn't understand why Karel Havlicek didn't like his whereabouts in Brixen. In honor of the most famous Czech troublemaker, we drank a small beer on the hotel terrace for an outrageous price of 5 euros - but with the wine that my friend Vladimir ordered, it was even worse at 7 euros for an eighth. So the prices were really elephant height. But what wouldn't you do for a national hero, right? On the contrary to Havlicek, we liked Bressanone, you certainly will too. Brixen is not really Italy, it is still more like Austria with a touch of Italy, but that is precisely what gives it an interesting flair.

Florence III

When we left the city of Florence in 1469, it already looked very similar to today's cityscape. But the bottom line was still missing. Not just the large government complex around the “Palazzo Pitti” with “Giardino Boboli” on the left bank of the Arno. The Medici were in the process of exercising their power and enjoying it, but had no need to demonstrate it. So far Lorenzo was the real grandson of the great Cosimo. The “Fortezza Bassa” near the main train station wasn't there either, the Medici had no need to fear and protect themselves from the hate of the crowd. But the most important thing that the city still lacked were its cultural treasures, pictures and statues of the greatest masters who were to make Florence into Florence. No David in front of the “Palazzo Vecchio”, no “Pieta” in the Duomo, no equestrian statue of Cosimo I and no Fountain of Neptune in the “Piazza della Signoria”, or statues in the “Logia dei Lanzi” (which, by the way, still do not have this name wore). Santa Maria Novella was waiting for her frescoes and Santa Croce for tombs in her interior.

(It was supposed to wait another 400 years for its current facade) And there was also no - almost symbolically - the “Palazzo Uffizi”, where most of the greatest treasures are exhibited today.

The fact that Florence has become the cultural capital of Italy is thanks to a man, namely Lorenzo, who was nicknamed "The Magnificent". That it was possible, however, only happened through luck and possibly through God's providence.

In 1478 the Pope lost his patience with the up-and-coming city and decided to commit a crime that would forever cast a shadow on the chair of Peter. Sixtus IV was to begin the series of criminals on the papal throne, followed by Innocent VIII, Alexander VI. Borgia and Julius II. Della Rovere, who with their behavior inspired the efforts of the Reformation and put necessary arguments in the hands of men like Martin Luther, who was one of them.

The Pope sent murderers to Florence to kill Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano. They have already received absolution from the Pope no matter how they would carry out their crimes. In the city they were in contact with the Pazzi family, who were hoping for a popular uprising after the death of the "dictators" and who wanted to take control of the city. The murder was planned during a tour of the Medici art centers. Giuliano, who was recovering from an annoying injury, did not come. So the murderers decided on “Plan B”. The Medici brothers were supposed to be murdered in church during communion, when they kneel and were thus defenseless. But that was too much even for the professional murderer Giovanni Battista Montececcovi sent by the Pope. He refused to kill in church. Two priests were quickly hired to replace him, and they agreed to carry out the murder. However, their inexperience in handling daggers was to take revenge on the conspirators. Giuliano was murdered with nineteen stab wounds, but Lorenzo was only injured in the neck. He was able to defend himself and flee through the sacristy. Guiliano's murderers pursued him, but Lorenzo's friend Francesco Neri stood in their way. He lost his life, but gave Lorenzo enough time to escape.

Nevertheless, the conspirators ran straight to the town hall to report on the deaths of both Medici and to request the gonfaloniere, i.e. the mayor, to hand over power to them. The mayor was logically a supporter of the Medici party. Under a pretext, he kept the conspirators in a room and sent messengers to the church to get an idea of ​​the situation. When he found out that Lorenzo was alive, he had his guests pegged on six windows of the palace. This was followed by a hunt for the assassins, only thanks to Lorenzo's personal intervention only eighty people were killed.

The Pope continued his hate campaign, he confiscated the entire property of the Medici in Rome, but none of this could stop the rise of Lorenzo and his art school, which he financed. This school produced artists that Lorenzo then exported all over Italy and they did the best publicity for Florence. The best pictures from this period are now in the Uffizi gallery. It's amazing to compare the works of the greatest masters of the High Renaissance. From one point you can see the "Annunciation of Mary" by Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci and enjoy the view.

One of these pictures shining in gold and appealing to the visitor, the other silvery and cold, only facing the author himself. But of course there are not only these two artists here. You can admire paintings by Rafael, Perugino or Titian and many other famous artists. There was even a painter, a woman - absolutely unusual for this time, who achieved fame in the visual arts - Artemisia Gentileschi's picture "Judith and Holofernes" is on display in the "Uffizi" - and it is a brutal affair - after all brutally raped this artist at a young age and this fact haunted her and her art all her life

Michelangelo Buonarotti's Madonna heralded a new artistic trend, mannerism. The “Palazzo Uffizi”, the official palace, has the highest density of High Renaissance images in the world. But “Primavera” or “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli were very lucky that they were not destroyed, actually we are lucky who can admire them.

They were also lucky in 1993 when the Italian Mafia blew up a truck loaded with explosives in the courtyard of the “Uffizi”. In addition to five deaths, this explosion caused irreparable damage to the works of art. A number of works were destroyed or damaged, and many could no longer be reconstructed.

A greater danger for "Primavera" or "Venus" lurked immediately after Lorenzo's death. Towards the end of Lorenzo's life, a penitential preacher named Girolamo Savonarola began to work in the city. He was actually invited by Lorenzo and Savonarola was his confessor. Lorenzo was plagued more and more by remorse and feared death. He wasn't sure he was fair in all of the death sentences he had pronounced. His conscience was also burdened by his numerous lovers, whom this not exactly beautiful but charming man had because his wife from the Orsini family was very reluctant to participate in the revealing life in Florence. So Lorenzo gave Savonarola a free hand. Even so, he did not receive absolution at the moment of his death. Savonarola demanded from him that he should renounce any power in the city for himself and his descendants and on this demand Lorenzo only turned silently to the wall and died.

Lorenzo died in 1492, two years later a riot broke out in the city and his son Pietro was driven out of the city with the whole family. The city was ruled by Savonarola, who introduced a regime there that resembled the "Islamic State". Among other things, this also meant the destruction of cultural works of art. Every picture that showed only a bit of bare skin, as well as indecent books like “Dekameron” by Boccacio, should be burned. A ten-meter-high pile of pictures and books was piled up on the “Piazza della Signoria”, for which a Venetian businessman offered 22,000 ducats. It didn't help. The works of art were burned, it was only thanks to the bravery of some people that Sandro Botticelli's pictures escaped destruction.

Four years later, the citizens of Florence were fed up with Savonarola's terror regime. He was hanged and his body was cremated in public; a stone slab on the floor near the Neptune fountain commemorates the place of execution. After all, Savonarola, as a forerunner of the Reformation, earned a statue on the Luther monument in Worms. After his death, culture was allowed to return to the city. It was precisely at this time that Michelangelo's "David" was created in 1504, the city's landmark today. Without him we cannot imagine Florence at all. Even without Savonarola, the city continued to offer bitter resistance to the return of the Medici. But in the meantime they gained great political influence. A sign of reconciliation between Lorenzo and Pope Sixtus was the appointment of Lorenzo's son Giovanni as cardinal (he was then just 13 years old). In 1513 Giovanni became Pope Leo X. He was succeeded on the papal throne by his cousin, the son of the murdered Giuliano Giulio as Pope Clement VII. Medici conquered Urbino, where they became dukes, and Catherine Medici, daughter of the Duke of Urbino, Lorenzo , became the future French queen through marriage to the French heir to the throne Heinrich in 1533. Forty years later she would go down in history as the instigator of St. Bartholomew's Night in Paris in 1572. Medici entered the society of the sovereigns, between kings and princes, they were no longer a banking family and were not prepared to tolerate the continued existence of the Florentine republic in the way it functioned under the rule of Cosimo and Lorenzo.

The Medici came back to the city in 1530 with the help of the army of Emperor Charles V. Pope Clement VII proudly confessed to his own son Alessandro (until then the popes passed their sons off for nephews - this is where the word nepotism comes from - Nepos means nephew in Latin) and enforced him as the first Tuscan duke. The libertine was not happy about his luck for long; he was murdered as early as 1537. He made room for his relative from the Medici branch, Cosimo I, who was to become the first Grand Duke of Tuscany. His bronze equestrian statue of Giambologna adorns the “Piazza della Signoria”.

His granddaughter Maria was supposed to once again become queen of France through her marriage to Henry IV, and after Henry's murder she then ruled for a long time in the name of her incompetent son Louis XIII. In “San Lorenzo” the new dukes had a new princely chapel built, close by but separate from their ancestors, who were “only” common citizens. Because the administration of the new state needed many civil servants, Cosimo had a new palace built for them - the project was realized by famous architects Vasari and Buontalenti. This is how the “Uffizi” palace came into being, known to every visitor to Florence because it was converted into a gallery in the eighteenth century.

The Neptune Fountain on the “Piazza della Signoria”, a work by Bartolomeo Ammanatis, dates back to the time when Cosimo I came to power - with it, Tuscany looked a little (but really only a little) Baroque. The Florentines call this fountain "Il Biancone" or "the great white one".

After the experiences they had with their people, the Medici no longer relied on his love, but built a fortress where they could withdraw in the event of unrest and uprisings. The fortress is called "Fortezza da Basso" and is located near the main train station. If you want to see it, you shouldn't be carried away by the logical compulsion to walk straight into the center, because the fortress is on the other side.

The Medici have not resided in the modest Medici-Riccardi Palace for a long time, they moved to the "Palazzo Pitti" on the left bank of the Arno in order to be far enough away from the city mob. Behind the palace there is a beautiful garden “Giardino di Boboli” with a small fortress “Forte die Belvedere”. You never know…

Nowadays there is one of the greatest art galleries in Italy in the “Palazzo Pitti”, especially the works of Raffaelo Santi (1483 - 1520). Actually in every hall there is at least one picture of this child of God, who was able to create tons of pictures in the course of his relatively short life.

Rafael painted lightly and his art was in great demand, to the envy of his competitor Michelangelo, who, driven by his genius, started many more works than completed them. The original of his David is in the "Museo Academico", where you can see many of his unfinished statues in different stages of processing. Usually the "Museo Academico" is overcrowded with tourists and at "David" there is the same crowd as in the Louvre at "Mona Lisa". But once, many years ago, I was very lucky when a company had the "Museo Academico" reserved for the congress participants outside of opening hours as part of an ultrasound congress that I was attending in Florence. To my amazement, only a handful of doctors took advantage of this offer. And so I was allowed to stand in front of the David, first with a group of colleagues from Japan and then all alone - a moment that you never forget.

The Medici died out in 1737 with Grand Duke Giovanni Gastone. We owe the fact that we are allowed to admire their cultural collections to his sister Anna Maria Ludovica, who bequeathed the entire family collection that she had inherited from her brother to the city of Florence and thus established the city's fame as a cultural center. Tourists from all over the world come here en masse precisely because of the cultural treasures that were not allowed to leave the city as a result of their will.

Power in Tuscany went to the Habsburgs, more precisely to Franz Stephan of Lorraine, who was forced to renounce his Duchy of Lorraine so that the French would accept his wife Maria Theresa's claims to the Habsburg hereditary lands. (Which they didn't do anyway). But it is necessary to say that Tuscany benefited from his rule. He initiated positive reforms, which his son, who later became Emperor Leopold II, continued.

The Habsburgs had to leave Tuscany after the lost battle of Solferino in 1859, for a short time Florence even became the capital of Italy between 1865 and 1871, until it had to surrender this dignity to Rome.

But Florence has remained the cultural capital of Italy to this day.

Florence II

In the last article we left Florence at the end of the fourteenth century when it was trying to recover from severe blows such as the plague, bankruptcy of the largest banks and the Ciompi uprising.

If we had looked at the city back then, we would have seen an impressive agglomeration with an eight-kilometer-long fortification wall. The monastery of San Miniato loomed on the hill above the city, in the city center Giotto's "Campanilla" rivaled the turn of the "Palazzo vecchio" for the honor of the tallest building in the city. We would have found the “Palazzo vecchio” in today's appearance, of course without David in front of him, opposite the “Loggia dei Lanzi”, which served the gatherings of the decimated population of the city. Here, too, we would have looked in vain for the dams that adorn it today: “Perseus with the head of Medusa” by Benvenuto Cellini and “The Robbery of the Sabinerines” by Giambologna. At that time the loggia didn't even have its current name, it got it after the German mercenaries of Duke Cosimo I of the Medici family, about which we will talk today. The "Il Bargelo" and the cathedral already existed, but without the current dome. The financial distress of the last decades forced the construction to be interrupted. Instead, many towers towered over the palaces of the city, which announced from a distance that a family was staying in the house and was allowed to adorn themselves with a title of nobility.The river Arno was bridged by a single bridge, which we know as “Ponte vecchio”, but instead of gold jewelry, food and fish were sold in the shops, the smell from the stalls was not exactly inviting for crossing the river, and whoever did it tried, then best with a cloth in front of your nose. Of course we would not have found the “Palazzo Uffizi” or the “Palazzo Pitti”, the Dominican churches “Santa Maria Novella”, “San Lorenzo” or “Santa Croce” looked very different and much more modest. All of these churches have been waiting for their interior decoration. Of course, all of today's palaces of the rich Florentine family were missing, and they had to wait for the Renaissance to be built.

In the background of the political life of the city, the founder of the fame of the family, which would go down in Florentine, but also in world history, worked tirelessly. Giovanni Medici, known as “Bicci”, was not only a banker, but also a politician. The Medici banking house was relatively young and not particularly large, but it avoided the disaster of the older banking houses. Giovanni also acted as an attorney, earning a position that would be akin to being a minister of justice. He implemented a tax reform that benefited poor sections of the population and thus gained great popularity among the lower and middle classes of Florentine society. In addition, he inspired the production of fabrics from wool and employed more and more people who became dependent on him. Florentines took advantage of the fact that the Ottoman Empire was in an ongoing dispute with Genoa and Venice and established very good relations with the “Great Porte”. Trade with the Orient flourished and after the fall of Constantinople the Florentines gained an important buyer of their goods in the Turks - as long as they could get them through the Venetian blockade, of course.

Giovanni entered the world politics stage in 1409 when he decided to fund the election campaign of a certain pirate named Baldassare Cossa, who wanted to become Pope to the amazement of all. Nobody would bet a cent on him, but Giovanni recognized the potential of this man and supported him. When his candidate really for Pope under the name of Johann XXIII. it gave the House of Medici access to the Roman financial market.

There are five spheres in the Medicis coat of arms, which evoked a wide variety of interpretations. In connection with the name Medici, there were suspicions that they were pills, since the "Medici" were doctors or pharmacists. The simple truth is that the Medici have only dealt with finances since the beginning of your family and the six balls are six coins, called “besants”, which announced that there was an exchange office in the house on which this mark was affixed found.

In 1414 Emperor Sigismund convened a council in Constance on Lake Constance, which was supposed to end the division of the church with three popes. Giovanni did not hesitate and sent his eldest son Cosimo to Constance. At the place where the Medici exchange office stood on the square near the cathedral of Constance and where Cosimo worked, there is the “Bar Medici” today.

Johann XXIII. lost his battle against the emperor, but the Medici won. And that although they had to buy their candidate out of imperial captivity for 40,000 ducats. Thanks to the contacts that Cosimo made in Constance, the Medici Bank seized all over Europe. Cosimo returned from Constance as a valued gentleman and in 1429 he took over the business from his father.

His father gave him the following advice: “Never have an opinion that is contrary to the will of the people, even if the people do stupid things. Avoid lecturing, rather speak gently, understandably, benevolently. Do not make the government palace the place of your business, but wait until you are called. Remember to keep peace for the people and prosperity for trade. Make sure that no fingers are pointed at you. "

Today we would call him a populist, perhaps even the father of populism, had it not been for a certain Gaius Julius Caesar.

Cosimo took his father's advice to heart. Since the time of the emperor Augustus there has not been a politician in the world who proceeded so skilfully in the seizure of power as Cosimo, namely unnoticed. He never allowed himself to be elected to public office, but made sure that his relatives or debtors were elected. He was so skillful that the fact that he usurped control of the city was noticed only by the rich and influential, not the broad masses. In addition, Cosimo expanded its fabric production to include the silk business and this risky move also worked. He became the largest employer in town.

His political opponents could not find any means against the skillful man. Therefore they had him arrested and imprisoned on September 7, 1433 in the “Palazzo vecchio”. Knowing that they could not afford a public trial against Cosimo without the risk of a popular uprising, they decided to poison him in prison. His jailer could count who he could get more profit from and warned him of the poison attack. So Cosimo went on a hunger strike for 4 days. That was how much time he needed to collect a thousand ducats to bribe the "Gonfaloniere" and he enabled him to escape to Padua. It took Cosimo another year until he was able to set up an army through intrigue, bribery and money transfers, which then easily overpowered the opposition and Cosimo was allowed to move into the city triumphantly. Machiavelli will once write: "Seldom has a man returned to his homeland after a great victory and been received by such a crowd and with such heartfelt demonstrations or devotion as Cosimo on his return from exile."

Cosimo measured his revenge very carefully. He only banished the main competitors of the Strozzi and Albizzi families from the city, no palaces or towers were torn down, as was the custom in the past, only eighty people were sent into exile and after a while they were even allowed to return and between Albizzi and Medizi should even marital connections arise in the future. Cosimo ruled the city and became “Pater patriae”. The city under his rule grew richer, and Cosimo invested 600,000 ducats in art. The most important act was the hiring of the brilliant architect Brunelleschi to complete the cathedral. The new revolutionary solution of the dome, which was built without supporting scaffolding, was so unusual for the construction workers that they were afraid to work there and Brunelleschi had to personally climb up and lay the bricks there to free them from their fear.

The statues from the cathedral, including the “Pieta” by Michelangelo, can be seen in the “Museo dell'Opera del Duomo” museum. Cosimo had the church "San Lorenzo" rebuilt. One year before his death, the famous Medici Chapel, which was to serve as the family burial place, was completed here. He only had a rather “modest” palace built for himself, today's Medici-Riccardi Palace, because it was later sold to the Riccardi family when the Medici no longer needed it.

Cosimo learned from his father that it is necessary to get involved in world politics. He used the struggle between Pope Eugene IV and the council movement that a council called to Basel. Eugene moved the council to Ferrara and the Byzantine emperor John also came here to negotiate the unification of the western and eastern churches. Cosimo took his chance. He bribed the pope and the emperor to move from Ferrara to Florence on the pretext of an impending plague epidemic. His experiences from Konstanz now turned out to be good. In Florence, on July 6th, 1439, in the recently completed cathedral, the treaty on the union between west and east, the so-called “Laenentur coeli”, was signed. Although this contract did not fulfill its promises, as it was rejected by the majority of the Byzantine clergy, the council did bring princes and church leaders to Florence and they all spent money, especially the Byzantine emperor. And they reported home news of a wonderful rich city on the Arno River and of the unimagined trading opportunities with this metropolis and with its ruler Cosimo, who produced incredibly beautiful fabrics from wool and silk. So Cosimo knew a lot about PR.

In 1453 he entertained Emperor Friedrich III in his “modest” house. on his journey to the imperial coronation in Rome. The person of the emperor was by far not as important to Cosimo as his secretary Aeneas Silvius Picolomini, who would later become Pope Pius II. Cosimo invited the best painters of his time to the city and he generously supported their work, which would later lead to the greatest fame of Florence and the Medici family during the reign of his grandson Lorenzo. Now it was Fra Angelico, Donatello, Giovanni Ruccelai, Lorenzo Ghiberti and others who were supposed to prepare the ground for the greats of the High Renaissance such as Sandro Botticelli, Filippo Lippi Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo Buonarotti.

Cosimo died in 1464 broken by the death of his son Giovanni a year earlier. His second-born son Pietro was very ill and it was obvious that he did not have long to live. This was confirmed, but he lived long enough that his son Lorenzo, later called "the Magnificent", although he was not a handsome man himself and in 1469 just twenty years old, was already in a position to take power over the city take over and turn it into the most powerful center of Italy at the time. The most famous epoch for Florence was about to break in, but about it the next time.

Florence I

Florence is a place of pilgrimage that is visited almost as often as Rome. Florence is the city of culture and interesting is the fact that while in Rome whole generations and generations of countless artists sponsored by Popes had to work on the beauty of the city, in Florence the whole cultural wonder in a relatively short time as merit a single family emerged.

Florence is a city that I happened to have visited the most of all Italian cities, but the city is still not "choppy". That's what my wife calls it and in practice it means that I still haven't visited what I want to visit, so another visit to this city is essential. A one day visit just doesn't pay off. You have a look at the cathedral, you may walk on the campanilla, you visit the "Ufizzien" because you have reserved a ticket on the Internet (don't even try any other way), you take a photo with a copy of the David's on the “Piazza dela Signoria”, admires the goldsmiths on the “Ponte vecchio” and maybe you can still walk through the “Palazzo Pitti” with the “Giardino di Boboli” garden. But what about “San Lorenzo” with graves of the Medici family, what about “Santa Croce” with tombstones of famous Florentines, what about Santa Maria Novella with frescoes by Boccacio and Filippino Lippi, what about “Palazzo vecchio, Bargello, Museo Academico, San Miniato, Fortezza da Basso and with all the wonderful palaces? And so on, etc ... To drink a coffee in one of the numerous bars on “Piazza della Republica”, you can forget that in the stress. It simply does not work! You have to stay a few days in Florence, which means that you have a budget. Florence is beautiful in its interiors and they cannot be admired for free.

It is just as hopeless to try and write an article of four to five pages about Florence (let alone three, which is supposedly the longest recommended text on the Internet). It's just an impossible mission, even though the history of Florence is actually much shorter than the history of the majority of Italian cities. At the time when the majority of them were already standing and living, there was only one impermeable swamp in the region of the Arno River, where this proud city stands today, where Hannibal's last elephant drowned. There was a town in this region, but it was on a hill and was called Fiesole. It is still in the same square today and is a suburb of what is now Florence. Once it was the other way around.

Fiesole needed a port on the Arno River and so Fiorentina was created on the river bank, often flooded (by the way, the last great flood visited Florence in 1966). Then the Romans built the street "Via Cassia" here and spanned the river with a bridge that needed protection and so Gaius Julius Caesar settled his veterans here and the foundation stone of a future famous city was laid.

Florence had to wait a while for her fame. Until the High Middle Ages it remained in the shadow of mighty Pisa, fortified Lucca at the important crossroads of Roman roads and even Arezzo. In order to overtake all of these neighbors, a lot of detailed work had to be done. None of the Tuscan cities was so consistent in winning the hinterland, in road and infrastructure development and in the relocation of the nobles to the city, where they built high towers on their palaces and created a new nobility of the city with rich merchants. In the eleventh century the city gave the first sign of the coming prosperity - it was the church "San Miniato al Monte", for which Bishop Hildebrand laid the foundation stone around the year 1090, who maintained good relations with the emperor and the popes.