Ospedale di Santa Maria Nuova

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Hospital façade as it was, Fabio Borbottoni

Ospedale di Santa Maria Nuova is the oldest Florentine hospital still in existence. It was founded in 1288 by Folco Portinari, four years after he donated a large part of his banking fortune to create a female hospital wing. Family matriarch Monna Tessa convinced him to build the hospital.

My character Caterina works in the hospital during the first few months after her graduation from med school in 1943, before her deportation in November. Though there was a numerus clausus (anti-Semitic education quota) in Italy, her professors, like many other Italians, looked the other way. Her employers likewise ignored the law.

This hospital is very special to her because it was founded by the father of Dante’s belovèd Beatrice. Caterina feels a very special relationship to Dante because she was born on the 600th anniversary of his death.

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Cloister of Bones, Copyright Sailko

Over the centuries, the hospital grew very large and powerful, thanks to all the contributions from wealthy Florentines. Many talented Florentine artists also contributed their artwork, though not all of these paintings and sculptures have been able to remain in the hospital. Some of them have been transferred to nearby museums so they can be better-preserved.

The 15th century was a particularly booming time for the hospital, with a lot of expansions, renovations, donations, a visit from Pope Martin V in 1419, and the addition of a cloister.

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Monna Tessa’s tombstone in the Cloister of Bones, Copyright Sailko

Bernardo Buontalenti designed a large veranda meant to serve as the hospital entrance, but sadly didn’t live long enough to see it constructed. He passed away in 1608, and Giulio Parigi began constructing the veranda in 1611. Only in 1960 was the veranda finally completed.

In 1660, the lanes in the women’s ward were replaced by Giovanni Battista Pieratti, and made bigger and more spacious.

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View of hospital from above, Copyright Sailko

In 1863, the Cloister of Bones was added. The bones of Monna Tessa, the inspiration for the hospital, were moved here and placed under a tombstone. Many other people are interred here, though there aren’t any contemporary burials.

Probably the hospital’s most famous intern was Leonardo da Vinci, who was there from about 1507–08.

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Main hospital entrance, Copyright Sailko

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Copyright Sailko

When she returns to Florence in November 1945, Caterina plans to go to the hospital for a copy of her medical license, a recommendation letter, and papers proving she worked there. She also plans to go to the university for copies of her transcript and diploma.

As it turns out, she doesn’t need any copies of those documents, since they were never lost. Her friends Velia and Salvatore Morandi, who live on the first floor of her old building, went into her apartment after she was taken away, and packed up as much as they could for safekeeping. They even rescued some smaller furniture, her radio, and her victrola.

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Copyright Sailko

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Copyright Mongolo1984

The hospital is right in the heart of Florence, in the centre of the historic Old Town, in Piazza Santa Maria Nuova. In years past, it contained a botanical garden to grow herbs for an apothecary’s shop, and an insane asylum. Like all hospitals, it’s come a long way from the era when most people went to hospitals to die, not to get better.

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Copyright Sailko

Basilica di Santa Croce

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Copyright Sailko

La Basilica di Santa Croce (The Basilica of the Holy Cross) is one of the landmarks of Florence (Firenze), and the world’s largest Franciscan church. It contains 16 chapels (many resplendent with frescoes by the famous Giotto and his pupils), and many tombs and cenotaphs of famous Florentines, such as Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, Enrico Fermi, Guglielmo Marconi, and my love Dante.

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Copyright Bkwillwm

Construction began 12 May 1294, to replace an older church, and was financed by some of the wealthiest Florentine families. Arnolfo di Cambio may have been the starting architect. Construction was completed in 1385. Pope Eugene IV consecrated it in 1442. Prior to the completion and consecration, this piece of land was a marsh outside the city walls.

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Copyright RicciSpeziari~commonswiki

Over the years, the basilica was modified many times. The bell tower was rebuilt in 1842 after a lightning strike; the interior was rebuilt in 1560 upon the removal of the choir screen; a neo-Gothic façade was built from 1857–63; and several decades of repairs followed the disastrous 1966 Arno River flood. There’s a Magen David on the façade because architect Niccolò Matas was Jewish. Unfortunately, due to religious prejudices of the time, Matas was buried under the porch and not with his peers inside.

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Copyright Radomil

Museo dell’Opera di Santa Croce is mostly located in the refectory. In the cloister is a statue of Florence Nightingale, who was born in and named after Florence. The Franciscan friars’ former dorm today houses the Scuola del Cuoio (Leather School), and visitors get to watch while artisans make all sorts of leather goods. These goods are sold in an adjacent shop.

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Michelangelo’s tomb, Copyright Wknight94

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Detail of Michelangelo’s tomb, Copyright Giovanni Dall’Orto

The back of the basilica houses old orchards and gardens. Its trees include Himalayan and Atlas cedars, and hackberry trees. It’s a giant super-complex, with many smaller structures within, not just an ordinary church.

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Medici Chapel, Copyright gaspa, Source Flickr

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Sacristy of Rinuccini Chapel, Copyright Sailko

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Sacristy wall, Copyright Sailko

On the left side of the basilica piazza is a statue of my love Dante, erected in 1865 to mark the 600th anniversary of his birth. King Vittorio Emanuele II was there when it was inaugurated. Originally, it was in the centre of the piazza, but it was moved in 1968 to allow for the city’s historic costumed soccer games. The statue also contains the Florentine coat of arms and Marzocco lions, which symbolise the people’s power.

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Copyright Giulio1996Cordignano

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Copyright Lorenzo Testa

My character Caterina attempts to hide behind Dante’s empty tomb in November 1943. Since the Italians refused to hand over their Jewish community or discriminate against them, the Germans stepped in and did it for them after Italy joined the Allies in September 1943. Caterina had several offers of help, but she wanted to hide where she always felt safe and peaceful.

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Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

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Pulpit, Copyright Geobia

Caterina was caught, and tried climbing further up the tomb, her arms locked around Dante’s neck in a death grip. A priest came to see what all the commotion was and begged the Nazis to respect the rule of sanctuary, but it wasn’t to be. Caterina had to be pried off of the tomb by three Nazis.

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Copyright Sailko

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Dante’s empty tomb, Copyright Sailko

The day Caterina and her friends leave Florence for Paris in December 1945, they visit the Basilica, with Dante’s empty tomb their final stop. The figure on the left represents Italy, and the figure on the right represents Poetry. The inscriptions on the sides were added in 1965, on the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth.

Caterina feels a special relationship to Dante because she was born on his 600th death anniversary (called a nachala instead of a Jahrzeit in the Sephardic world), the very end of 13 September 1921.

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Back view, Copyright Sailko

Dante’s tomb was built in 1829, though Ravenna has consistently refused to give back his bones over all these centuries. The inscription, Onorate l’altissimo poeta (Honor the most exalted poet), is hauntingly missing the next line, L’ombra sua torna, ch’era dipartite (His spirit, which had left us, returns). I believe Dante’s spirit rests with this tomb, even though his bones are in Ravenna.

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Dante watching over the basilica, Copyright Bruno Barral

WeWriWa—An Italian Chanukah feast

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a number of chapters after last week’s, during Chapter 51, “Chanukah Italian-Style.”

My characters were smuggled out of Soviet-occupied Hungary in November 1945, and have made their way to Florence, adult character Caterina’s hometown. They initially were put up in a relief shelter run by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, but after meeting back up with siblings Imre and Júlia Goldmark, they moved into a very nice vacation apartment.

The other day, Caterina and three of the girls went shopping by the famous Sant’Ambrogio Market, only 100 meters from their apartment. They loaded their baskets with plenty of food for an Italian Chanukah feast.

Delicious chocolate-covered sufganyiot (jelly doughnuts), Copyright Noam Furer

Thursday, 29 November, the apartment flooded with the sumptuous scents of sufganiyot; chicken fried in olive oil, lemon, and nutmeg; brisket; mashed potato pancakes; eggplant fried in olive oil and garlic; deep-fried dough fritters packed with currants; vegetables fried in olive oil; pasta latkes; potato dumplings with sheep cheese; noodle kugel; green beans; stuffed mushrooms; and deep-fried artichokes.  Caterina also tossed giant bowls of Greek salad and eggplant salad.  Tonight they’d eat a meat meal, and tomorrow they’d have dairy.

“I never want this beautiful horn of plenty to end,” Eszter declared as she salted the slices of the last eggplant. “I hope our refrigerator and pantry are stuffed for the next eight days.”

“They sure will be.” Caterina covered the bowl of Greek salad and slid it into the refrigerator. “We’ll have at least as much food as we did when we escaped.”

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Copyright MathKnight Flag-of-Israel(boxed).png

As fiercely proud as I am of being over half German and a quarter Slovak, I tend towards following the Italian–Sephardic customs. My one-eighth portion of Italian blood was strong enough to give me a Southern Italian body type (barring my tiny little shoulders!), which I truly believe saved my life when I was run over by a car in 2003. Italian and Sephardic Judaism also have much more interesting food, and their customs aren’t as restrictive and superstitious as the Ashkenazic ones!