The symbol of Florence

If you are lucky enough to visit Florence in May, you must visit the Iris Garden, just to the east of Piazzale Michelangelo. Did you know that the iris is tied up with the symbol of Florence?

The following is taken from Freya Middleton, of Freya’s Florence Tours. She posted this on her Facebook page and it is so good, I just decided to let it speak for itself. I’m interspersing some of my photos of the flower taken this spring in the Rose Garden.

“The Red Lily is the symbol that represents Florence and it’s inspired by the white iris which is very common around the city.

“The best way to see the beautiful Florentine iris is to visit the Iris garden, off Piazzale Michelangelo this month. But if you are lucky enough to walk through the countryside of Florence and Chianti in springtime you’ll see the purple iris everywhere, in the middle of the fields, around the olive trees, in home gardens, in the woods.

“For Florentine people, the Lily, also called giaggiolo, is a special flower, with a special meaning. It’s been their symbol for over 1,000 years. It represents the city, but for decades it has as well been the symbol of cultural and sport associations.

“Giaggiolo is the name of Iris in the province of Florence and beyond, but talking with a real Florentine you will always hear the word “Giglio” (Lily): the Lily in the Florentine historical banner, the purple Lily symbol of Fiorentina football club, and Florence is called “la città gigliata” (the Lily town) in Italy.

“The iris became the symbol of the city in the second half of the twelfth century; it was natural that the emblem to represent Florence should be a flower. Even during the First Crusade, the Florentines carried into battle their Giglio.

“There are several hypotheses to explain the origins of this symbol. One connects it to the celebration of the goddess Flora, in early spring, when the Romans founded the city; another is tied to the main meaning of the lily: purity.

The lily of Florence (the white version with hints of blue veins) was chosen during the Middle Ages as symbol of purity, the perfect flower for the Virgin Mary. Thus the lily is a symbol for Marian devotion (remember the name of Florence’s Cathedral is Santa Maria dei Fiori).

“But the colours of the symbol of Florence at the beginning were just the opposite: white on a red background. It seems that the red lily on white background dates back to 1266, at the time of the war between the Guelphs and Ghibellines. In Florence the Guelph party won and the latter were sent away from the city: the symbol of Florence was modified by the Guelphs, as a sign of their victory over the Ghibellines.

“The lily symbol was sometimes represented on a shield held by a lion, the famous Lion of Florence called “Marzocco” (you can see it in Piazza Signoria in front of Palazzo Vecchio).Florence imposed this symbol also on the territories under its control and you can still see the “red lily” today on many flags of the province’s municipalities, for example Castelfiorentino and Scarperia, but with an important difference: the lily had to be without of the stamens, the reproduction organs. Only Florence possessed them!

“The “fiorino” was coined in 1252 in Florence; it was 3.54 grams of gold 24 carat. The name comes from the flower “lily” represented on the front of the coin, while in the reverse showed the town’s patron: St. John Baptist. The gold “fiorino” was one of the first gold coins minted in Italy after the Roman Empire fell.

“They also introduced two subdivisions: the Silver Fiorino, initially about 1/20 of the gold fiorino) and the Copper Fiorino, also called “black fiorino” for the colour it took over time, the value of which was about 1/12 of the silver one.In the thirteenth century, and until the Renaissance, thanks to the growing power of Florence bank, the Fiorino became the preferred currency of exchange in Europe (as today US dollar and Euro).”

Bees: a public service message

I love reading the posters that are found around Florence. They are both art and public service messages. Although my photo isn’t the best, I hope you can see that this poster celebrates the bee!

The text tells us (roughly translated by me) that “thanks to the untiring activity of the bees, life goes forward: they travel about 150,000 kilometers to produce a kilogram of honey. They gather nectar from a combined surface equal to 4000 times the surface of the Florence cathedral dome.”

That’s a very big dome!

The detested, necessary evil, part of living in Italy

Once a year, expats like me must go to the police station, or the Questura, in order to maintain the privilege of living in Italy. One is required to visit the police station to submit passport pictures, sign a form, and have your index finger prints checked against the full set of your fingerprints that were taken the first time you applied for a Permesso. I love Italy. I hate the Questura and Italian paperwork.

All of this is to get a renewed “Permesso di Soggiorno,” which is my permit to reside in Italy. It is good for one year and must be renewed annually. If you fail to renew and you get into any kind of trouble in Italy (car accident, etc.) things could get serious. You will probably have to leave the country, post haste, and, unthinkably, they could revoke your privilege of ever returning to Italy even as a tourist. Horrors!

Things get very Italian even once you have a renewed Permesso. For example, my “current” Permesso, which I picked up in person at the Florence Questura last summer, after standing in line on a July morning and afternoon for 6 hours straight in the summer sun (and I am not exaggerating), expired in October. You got that right. I picked it up in July and it expired in October. The same year.

So, before the end of October of 2020, I had to start the process over again.

This is a 3 part process and can take almost a year to fulfill.

  1. You start with paperwork that you can only get from one or two particular post offices in Florence. Sometimes they don’t have the paperwork available. Honestly. It has happened to me. You wait and keep trying.

When you finally score the correct forms, you fill them out in black ink only, go to a tobacco store (seriously) to buy a special stamp, then go back to the particular post office and submit the form, along with some fees. They give you a receipt and you must carry that around with you, along with your expired Permesso, in case you get into any trouble.

2. The receipt you are given at the post office, which was in October in my case, gives you a date on which you must show up at the Questura to present these 2 passport photographs of yourself, supply your new signature, and have your fingerprints tested. Why you couldn’t just submit the extra photographs when you submit the form at the post office, I will never understand. The fingerprints, I get it, but really, couldn’t they be tested at visit 3?

In my case, I told you I submitted my newest application for my renewed Permesso in October of 2020. Can you guess when my next appointment, Step 2, was for? May 3, 2021 at 11:38 a.m. That’s deeply ironic as well. I arrived at the Questura on May 3 at 10:30 a.m. because this ain’t my first rodeo. The 11:38 time reservation is just a vague suggestion. I got my number for entering the actual building of the Questura at 12:30 and I was seen at the window for my actual appointment at 1:45 p.m.

But, that’s right, it took 7 months from step 1 to get to step 2, for a Permesso that is only good for 12 months to begin with!

3. Then, sometime later you will receive a text or an email telling you the date on which you must return to the Questura to pick up your new Permesso. For me, it will probably be sometime this summer and the new one will probably expire again in October of this year, and then I get to go through the whole rigamarole again.

We all hate it. The Questura is chaos. Confusion reigns. No-one seems to be in charge, although the police that stand outside the doorway are technically in charge. They seem to hate their job. They are gruff and short-tempered, but they control the numbers that you will eventually get, and they allow you into the building on their own schedule.

Here is the questura once you get inside. You watch the red lighted board for your number. They are on A070 as you can see.

Here’s my ticket. A092. It will be a while before I get to the window, to be mistreated by an irate clerk.

The French tradition of giving muguet des bois for May Day

Did you know that in France there is a long tradition of giving lily-of-the valley on the first of May, as a way of wishing good luck?

And did you further know that the tradition was begun in the Renaissance?

In 1560, King Charles IX was traveling with his mother, Catherine de’Medici, and they stopped in the town of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, where they were given lily-of-the-valley on their arrival on May 1. The King was so taken with the gift that the following year he gave the same floral gift to all of the ladies of the court, and he let it be known that he wanted this custom followed every year from than on.

And so it was until at least the late 19th-century. Interestingly enough, the customer was revived by couturiers in Paris in the early 20th century, who began giving lily-of-the-valley to their best customers.

The French clothing and perfume designer, Christian Dior, loved the small flower as his favorite “fortune” flower. He chose the flower as his personal symbol and designed a perfume using it as a strong note in his “Diorissimo,” launched in 1956.

“The nose behind the “Diorissimo” fragrance is Edmond Roudnitska. Top notes are Green Leaves and Bergamot; middle notes are Lily-of-the-Valley, Lilac, Jasmine, Lily, Ylang-Ylang, Amaryllis, Rosemary and Boronia; base notes are Civet and Sandalwood.

“Diorissimo is a romantic fragrance of the 50’s. At its heart, a gentle lily of the valley, blooms as Dior’s favorite “fortune” flower. Diorissimo is fresh and clear, just like a dewy, spring morning in the woods. Top notes include lily-of-the- valley and ylang-ylang, the heart is composed of amaryllis and boronia, leaving a jasmine trail.

“Christian Dior believed that lily-of-the valley is the symbol of hope, happiness and joy. French consider lily of the valley as the legendary flower. According to the legend a brave and fearless fighter, called Saint Leonard wanted, to spend his days among the flowers and trees and live a life dedicated to God. He asked permission to go live in the woods. A dragon called Temptetaion lived in those woods. They fought and blood was spilled. Leonard bravely fought the dragon until it was defeated. Poisonous weeds began to grow where the dragon spilled his blood, but beds of lilies of the valley started to grom wherever the ground was moistened with Saint Leonard’s.

“The French believe that lily-of-the valley is a holy flower and so did Christian Dior which inspired the creation of this wonderful fragrance. The creator from Grasse, France, Edmond Roudnitska, wanted to create a perfume that would be revolutionary and break the trend of sweet perfumes that were dominating the market. The goal was to simplify perfume’s formula and create a perfume that’s simple and luminous. He dreamed of perfume similar to that of muguet that enveloped his senses when he was resting in his garden.

“Dior and Roudnitska met in 1955 and made their dream come true in 1956- Diorissimo was created! The perfume was represented by an illustration by René Gruau. According to Christian Dior, Diorissimo is the perfume of his spirit, or, ‘the scented expression of his soul.’ “


The importance of the flowers, lily-of-the-valley, goes back much further of course. For Catholics, it symbolizes the Virgin Mary, for her tears were said to have transformed into these flowers at the foot of the cross.

The ancient Greeks believed the flower was created by Apollo specifically to carpet Mt. Parnassus, so that the tender feet of the nine Muses would not be hurt.

What a lot of history and significance for this lovely little flower, a harbinger of spring.

Yellow Zone, oh happy day!

As of yesterday, we are back in the yellow zone in Florence, joining the rest of Tuscany at last! Yippee! Now we who are lucky enough to call Firenze home, are able to travel anywhere within the city without carrying a document declaring who we are, where we live, and why we are away from our home should the authorities choose to question us. Freedom! At last!

I celebrated the day by going to my favorite locale, Piazzale Michelangelo, and then walking down through the city, starting at the Rose Garden. Here were the sights along the beautiful, gorgeous, beloved way!