Monday, October 22, 2012

FLORENCE: FLORISHING WITH PHANTOMS

Rome is not alone in its infestation of ghosts and goblins. My own Florence (yes, I call it my own, though I have never been—but the origin of my family name lies there as does the setting of The King’s Agent as well as the trilogy that is my current work in progress—I have taken ownership of this place in the depths of my heart). In this, the third in my series of haunted Italian tales, it is to Firenze we go.

Countless sources claim the Pensione (hotel) Burchianti as the most haunted location in the city of flowers, some have gone so far as to call it the Castle of Spirits. Built during the Renaissance by the Salimbeni family, reports of the ghost of a child skipping through the halls in the dead of the night are as frequent as those that claim a ghostly maid cleans rooms and an elderly woman rocks an empty chair.

But perhaps the strongest sensations of unearthly presences are in the Fresco room (pictured). Here, it is said, the unwitting wanderer is overcome by the feeling of being watched. Here one feels icy cold breath upon their face. Here an indentation suddenly appears on the bed, as if someone has just sat. And here, employees as well as guests have reported seeing a pinkish, translucent male pacing about impatiently, as if he has longs to vacate the walls which have held him for hundreds of years.

The Forte di Belvedere, known more simply as the Belvedere, was built by the Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici in the late 16th century, a testament to and a bastion of protection for the city control by the powerful family. In the Oltrarno district—across the Arno River from the majority of the city—the fortress served as a garrison for over a hundred years.

But it was not until the industrial revolution that such atrocities occurred at the sight as to send the ground into the darkness of the unhallowed. Here witches met their fiery fate, children were murdered, and suspected traitors were tortured. Such disquiet spirits have left their indelible imprint on the area: twisting through the labyrinth streets in the darkest hours of the night footsteps echo on empty cobble stones, voices bounce off the stone walls of empty alleyways, and children invisible to the eye sing and laugh, mirth to drive one to madness. Moving shadows, wraith-like apparitions wander along the length of the long walls of the fortress, only to skitter away with the break of day.

The work of Dante Alighieri plays a critical role in The King’s Agent. Studying the work of this creative genius, the depth of his creative soul is laid bare, a restless soul said to still be haunting the Abbey of Florence. Built very early in the fourteenth century, the Abbey is decorated by the art of none other than Giotto, also a major player in The King’s Agent. The writer’s lingering spirit is said to be forever searching for his Beatrice, the unrequited love of his life. Perhaps it is the lot of the true romantic to search for love through all of eternity.

There is a handful of things I truly long for in this life; to go to Florence—ghosts and all—is one of the most profound.

1 comment:

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