My job is a particular one; I don’t have much free time. And when I do, I often have to honour a myriad of commitments overlooked during my working hours. And yet, I said, in the little free time I do have, I like, if time permits, to climb up to Forte di Belvedere from Erta Canina. The Medici fortress not too far from the centre and just below the more famous Piazzale Michelangelo stood inaccessible for years and years before it was given back to Florence, a monument much loved by our locals.
A few decades ago, in the summer, a cinema was organized there beneath the stars. Playing truant, or “fare forca” as we say in Florence, up at the Forte was the done thing. I admit it, I was known to go up there too. In recent years, sadly, two young people lost their lives falling from the bastions. The fortress was closed at length, made safe and now it is used as the perfect location for temporary exhibitions. For years Florence has been itching to reassert its supremacy as a city of contemporary art in public spaces and we’ve hosted Zhang Huan, Penone, Gormley and Jan Fabre. It’s incredible how the various artworks, by such diverse artists, meld with the surroundings, creating a site-specific context that fits perfectly into the postcard panorama that can be enjoyed from on high at Forte Belvedere.
About Florence there is much, so much, to say, and we all know the city’s most famous monuments, from the Cathedral to Santa Croce, the Ponte Vecchio, Santa Maria Novella, piazza della Signoria with its Palazzo Vecchio.
The thousands of tourists who flock to Florence every day, day after day, sometimes risk seeing only a few parts – they risk seeing the city as a whole. Here today, gone tomorrow tourism is what they call it. And yet what I’d love to communicate is a knowledge of today’s Florence as a whole, contemporary Florence, the Florence of vibrant spaces, the Florence of locals who create a thousand committees and who never tire of taking part and being interested in ‘public matters’.
All it takes is to pause, to walk up the hill to Forte Belvedere and to gaze our gaze anew over the city. To head out into the hardworking peripheries, to go to the neighbourhood markets, to the factories where there’s work aplenty and to the artisan workshops in the Oltrarno, where time feels like it has stood still, or to the building sites of major public works at work even at night. Take a stroll in the Cascine, listen to the opera at the new opera house or to live concerts held by the city’s summer events calendar Estate Fiorentina, join the Fiorentina fans at the stadium, go for a bike ride, visit an elderly day centre, have fun at a nightclub in the centre. My words are an invitation to non-Florentines, but also to those who live here. The walk up Erta Canina might seem arduous and not very inviting, but once you reach the top the view will take your breath away. That’s Florence. Exploring the city can be tiring, beyond its classic beauty. But it’s worth it. Real-life Florence is much better than the version we study or which we seek distracted by a low-cost tour guide.