When the Countess Matilde escaped from the Emperor, probably not wishing to receive a welcome similar to the one she had given him in Canossa a few years before, in 1077, she put herself under the protection of the Bishop of Fiesole, a Roman town above the Arno river located at a point where, after taking in the watershed of an exceptionally long tract of the Apennines, it comes out of the hills into a flood plain. On that same river a narrow bridge permitted the passage of people and carriages to and from Rome, over the old Cassia road, through a few houses and barracks to a small place called … Florence.
It is hard to believe that in just a couple of centuries Florence would become one of Europe’s capital towns!! As a matter of fact, before the last quarter of the twelfth century, when a new set of walls went up, and new bridges were added to the OLD one ( …. Pontevecchio….yes!!), Florence was still smaller than Siena and Pisa, and probably not much larger than several other towns in Tuscany, such as Arretium (now Arezzo) and Pistoia.
But less than two centuries later, between 1270-1300, while Dante and Giotto grew up, the population grew from 90,000 to a four- to sixfold increase, and a new set of walls was built to accommodate the potential further increases, coming close to being the largest ever built by any European city.
Florence was re-birthing: the “Rinascimento” was beginning. Yes, the word “Rinascimento” or “Renaissance” is exactly a 360 degree definition of what happened in Florence. In particular after the rulers of Siena (alas, my hometown) decided not to completely destroy Firenze, after the city lost - in the year 1260 - the Montaperti battle “ … that made red in colour the waters of the Arbia river with the blood of the Florentinian army…”, as Dante wrote. Florence in early 1400 was really experiencing a re-birth, supported by the wealth of the wool industry and of skillful banking, well manipulated by the Medici family, and in less than a century achieved supremacy over the north of Tuscany, the declinino southern Siena Republic destined to slowly be digested by the Medici’s power.
It is important to underline that Florence was not just a large industrial town, but it was also the rising centre of a commercial European network. The geographical location was crucial: Florence had, on the one hand, an abundance of rapidly flowing water for the cleaning of wool, and, on the other hand, easy access to the sea at the port of Pisa, a former independent state strongly subjected through bloody wars.
But let us leave busy Firenze as illustrated by my (possible) ancestor Domenico Lenzi in his 15th century Biadaioulo Chronicle, and turn with me to this busy third millennium Firenze. The EFNS Congress is hosted in the FORTEZZA DA BASSO, an imposing military structure that the Medici family had to build up in 1535 in very close proximity to downtown Firenze, in order to remind the restless people that no more Savonarolaswould be allowed to chase them from power, and that the successors of Lorenzo Il Magnifico were absolutely determined to continue ruling. Their strong grip is now quite useful for the EFNS tourist, as in just a few minutes of a comfortable walk you may reach the Duomo or the Palazzo della Signoria with the Uffizi Museum. But, if the EFNS Programme Committee - and myself in particular - are happy to invite you to join the 13th EFNS Congress, please remember that Florence as it was in 1400-1500, is also now in 2008 and will be next year, 2009, a BUSY, a very, very BUSY town. Many people (perhaps too many), from all over the world come to Florence to stroll in the same streets as Leonardo, Donatello, Cimabue, Giotto, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Frate Angelico, Filippino Lippi, and so many other great artists, poets, writers, Petrarca, Boccaccio, Machiavelli, did in their lifetime, so that their imprintings remain in the corners, in the walls, in the landscape, in the very perfumes in the air, alongside the motor cars, pizza shops, beggars and pickpockets. So, please, one evening of your scientific stay in Firenze, arrange for a very late dinner, ask for a Chianti Classico from a bottle with the black rooster label (and not from a pre-opened “fiasco”!) try a one inch thick “fiorentina” beefsteak, and then later, around midnight, indulge in a walk through the empty Lungarnos under the sweet September sky, enter Piazza della Signoria from the Uffizi, slowly walk over the Duomo and look at the Battistero’s Porta del Paradiso illuminated only by the moon and by the same stars that Galileo Galilei investigated with his telescope.
And, after the end of the EFNS Neurology Congress, even if you have not succeeded in visiting the Uffizi (because it has to be booked one year in advance!), do not leave Tuscany yet, but save a few extra days for a tour of central Tuscany. Begin with the “Chiantishire”, to the magnificent views offered by the hills around Castellina. Then a stroll under the towers of San Gimignano, and later towards Siena, with the sanctity of Duccio and Simone Martini “Maestas” and the people’s daily activities painted by the Lorenzettis, melting in the Piazza del Campo with the screams and the violence of the Palio. You may continue on toward Montalcino (with the fabulous Brunello), the hot springs around Mount Amiata, the gem-town of Pienza, and turning east towards Arezzo and Piero della Francesca paintings.
Later, head north towards Sansepolcro for more Piero’s, and towards the Guidi Castle in Poppi, and the sancity and peace of Vallombrosa. Then you may turn back to Florence, with your memory full of vineyards, cypress trees, country houses abundant of flowers, paintings with smiling Madonnas and singing Angels.
Welcome to Tuscany, welcome to Florence, welcome to the 13th Congress of the European Federation of Neurological Societies.
Prof. Gian Luigi Lenzi
Chairperson, Congress Programme Committee