The Bells of Florence

Extract from 'In Search of Annalena: a Life of Tragedy and Triumph in Renaissance Florence'.
'Annalena, like all Florentines of her day, would have grown up in a city where time was regulated by the sound of church bells. Bells both sacred and secular marked the rhythms of urban daily life. They called citizens to prayer, marked the beginning and end of the working day, summoned men to war and called the members of the city’s council to their meetings. Everyone at the time would have understood this ‘language of bells’ and it is worth reflecting on such for a moment'.

View of Florence

Extract from 'In Search of Annalena: a Life of Tragedy and Triumph in Renaissance Florence'.

'In ancient times the Via Romana was the old pilgrim road leading to Rome and throngs of pilgrims would once have trodden along its path. In those days the route was lined with several hostels which served to cater for those pilgrims who would have exited the city from the Porta Romana (so called because of its position at the beginning of the route from Florence to Rome). Indeed, the Via Romana, from the piazza San Felice to the piazza della Calza, was known as the ‘Strada degli Ospedali’ or ‘street of hospitals’ and it is still possible today to see the remains of some of these old hospitals and hostels that were once a feature of this part of the city'.

Via Romana, Florence

For most people a hotel is somewhere to rest one’s head for the night, but for me the Hotel Annalena was much more than that. This historic Neo-classical building which is located along the Via Romana and opposite one of the entrances to the famous Boboli gardens was the inspiration for my book In Search of Annalena: A Life of Tragedy and Triumph in Renaissance Florence. The Hotel Annalena has witnessed many fascinating episodes in history and none more so than its associations with Annalena Malatesta (hence the name of the hotel) who founded one of the most beautiful and important convents in Renaissance Florence. The convent which she founded was located on the site of the present day Hotel Annalena and also included other buildings and land in the area. The hotel’s fascinating history associated with Annalena and the creation and development of her convent is explored at length within my book.

Hotel Annalena, Florence

This plaque is next to the entrance door of the Palazzo building whose address is 34 Via Romana, Florence

Sign outside the Hotel Annalena 

What’s in a name? This is how it all started; firstly as mentioned above there is  the Hotel Annalena and opposite we have one of the entrances to the Boboli Gardens which is the Annalena Entrance. Clearly Annalena made an impact on Florence and her name remains indelibly linked to this beautiful city even today.  It was exactly this that sparked my initial interest but little did I know that I would discover such a fascinating story. Step back in time and relive her story which is so important in the history of Florence and one which was just waiting to be told.

Annalena entrance to Boboli Gardens

Anyone who has ever visited Florence will recognise the massive fortress-like building known as the Palazzo Vecchio which is situated in the heart of the city.  It was originally designed by Arnolfo di Cambio  between 1299 and 1314  to accommodate the seat of the Priors. The building originally was known as the Palazzo dei Priori but it underwent  a number of transformations over the centuries. The palace still serves as the seat of Florentine government today.  The Palazzo Vecchio stands in the beautiful square known as the Piazza della Signoria which is like an outdoor gallery since it is lined with statues including the copy of Michelangelo’s famous statue of David. The Palazzo Vecchio itself  is steeped in history and if walls could speak it would have many tales to tell. Perhaps one of the most gruesome of its secrets is that connected with the murder of Baldaccio d’Anghiari a famous condottiere and the husband of Annalena Malatesta the subject of my book. Intrigue, conspiracy and murder perhaps even involving  Cosimo de’ Medici as well as the Pope. All is revealed within the pages of my book; who needs to watch movies, it was all happening in Renaissance Italy!

Palazzo Vecchio

Behind the scenes! The small theatre known as the Teatro Goldoni located along the narrow street called the Via Santa Maria in Florence, is located on the site once occupied by the former Annalena convent. It was designed by Giuseppe Del Rosso and inaugurated in 1817.

Goldoni Theatre

All images copyright Dawn Cumming, Tuscany At Home