Oddly enough demonic deeds and death bring a place to life. We're all gore-mongers at heart. I told my kids this story as we fought our way through throngs of bewildered sweaty tourists in Florence. They gobbled it up with gusto and frankly it saved the day. Well, that and the terrific pizza we had afterwards on the Piazza di Santo Spirito.
Medici and Florence go hand-in-hand. Particularly everyone's favourite Renaissance Prince, good old Lorenzo ('The Magnificent' no less). But Pazzi? Who the hell were that lot?
On Sunday April 26th 1478 Lorenzo de’ Medici (Il Magnifico) and his sickly younger brother Giuliano attended High Mass at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore or as it's more commonly known the Duomo. Guiliano was ill (again) and arrived late having been coerced to attend by a couple of particularly fair-weather pals (as we'll soon discover). When the priest raised the ceremonial host all hell broke lose. A more fiendish signal could not have been imagined. The brothers were attacked by Francesco de’ Pazzi, Bernardo Bandini Baroncelli and two armed priests. Giuliano died almost instantly from multiple stab wounds. Lorenzo was injured but managed to escape his attackers and lock himself in the north sacristy.
The alarm was raised and soldiers loyal to the Medici descended upon the Cathedral. Lorenzo fought his way out and over the coming days what can only be described as a bloodbath ensued. Francesco de’Pazzi initially made good his escape and galloped through Florence calling for his fellow citizens to rise up against the Medici. Sadly for him his plea fell on somewhat unsympathetic ears.
This was no ordinary inter-family medieval feud. Involved in the plot were the King of Naples, His Holiness Pope Sixtus IV and the Archbishop of Pisa Francesco Salviati amongst others. Over the days that followed numerous bodies, including those of Francesco de’ Pazzi, Bernardo di Bandino (see side image - Da Vinci - 1479), and the Archbishop of Pisa would be strung from the top windows of the Palazzo Vecchio. It was rumoured that the Archbishop, while dangling alongside him, sank his teeth into Francesco de'Pazzi's festering flesh before gasping his last. Sporadically corpses would be cut loose and allowed to drop to the crowd below. They were then dragged through the streets, or thrown into the river Arno only to be recovered downstream and brought back to the Palazzo for further mistreatment. Francesco's Uncle Jacopo, the family patriarch and commonly seen as mastermind of this most sordid of episodes, met a particularly gruesome fate. His rotting skull was placed by the door of the cathedral where it was used for many years as a makeshift door-knocker (the kids loved that one).
Here endeth the lesson - don't mess with the Medici.
When you've had enough of death and dismemberment Florentine style try this place: Osteria Santo Spirito - www.osteriasantospirito.it - on the piazza of the same name. Good value & service - wide choice of dishes. Pizza highly recommended. If possible visit Florence early or late in the year. Best explored in the mornings too - then you can relax over a leisurely lunch and rest those weary feet. Skip the queues - pre-book the must-see Uffizi Gallery & others online: www.florence-museum.com
I was born under a Wandering Star was my favourite song when I was three. Nothing's changed.