To begin with, which Florence?
“Nessuno sa meglio di te, saggio Kublai, che non si deve mai confondere la città col discorso che la descrive. Eppure fra l’una e l’altra c’è un rapporto” *
To begin with, which Florence? The first thing to do in order to answer this question is to find a spot high enough from which to view the city, because, as everybody knows, things are often better understood from far away. The convent of San Francesco at Fiesole will suit perfectly. From up there we will see the following things: first, the dome of the Cathedral. And if this structure today immediately catches our attention, let’s then imagine the shock that would have hit a viewer at the time when the city was a smaller portion of the present one. We will then take notice of a large, shapeless, expanse of houses, and finally of the enchanting surrounding landscape, made up of rolling hills covered with cypresses and olive trees, which are in direct aesthetic relationship with the historic city.
From a high vantage point, Florence seems to be drowning in gelatinous concrete , which is a concise metaphor that could describe the origin of its troubles.
Although its decline began long ago and has several reasons, it worsened when, in 1865, Florence had the burdensome honor of becoming the provisional capital of the Kingdom of Italy; this required the demolition of the medieval walls to provide for the expansion of the city, which, in turn, led to the financial crash. Disfigurement of the city continued during Italy’s industrialization and after the ravages of the Second World War, and then reached its peak in the sixties.
So if Florence has, generally, a peripheral position in the world, it is in the absolute center, on the other hand, as one of the international capitals of tourism.
However, this deserved reputation risks to overshadow its real vocation, which is, in our opinion, that of serving as the ideal place for forming one’s identity. Florence is without the disadvantages of Rome, as it is not too big and chaotic, and of other cities, as it is not too small and not lacking in prestige .
Now, what do young people need? Essentially to explore, to go in search of stimuli in order to bloom.
Because of its glorious past, Florence, for a long time, accumulated an almost nauseating large amount of beauty, manifesting itself in different forms and in a such surprisingly small area. At the same time, the political and economic events, as well as the cultural heritage itself, caused steady cosmopolitanism: over the centuries, many important people from every walk of life have lived in Florence.
Therefore, Florence enables anyone with some amount of feeling to have a unique aesthetic experience filled with amazing stimuli that allow for personal development.
The beauty we enjoy through the senses and that delights the spirit, is not all that important.
After all, there are other charming places in which we can exercise our mind.
What matters the most is that we experience, most of all, the expression of humanism, which is the cultural revolution that laid the foundations for modern European and Western civilizations.
So, why Florence? Simply because, in Florence, we have the ability to approach and to absorb humanism’s principles, not so that we can become idle liberal arts connoisseurs, but so that we can become the exact opposite.
Because in a world of complex changes, the humanistic forma mentis is a powerful instrument, a compass that is as effective for the individual as it is for society.
Humanism, indeed, means that Man is free and rational, he is both a religious believer and a master of himself and of his destiny. Humanism attaches, in particular, a crucial role to culture and history in the formation of the individual and in the organization of society. Finally, it establishes a model of behavior based on the critical mind, which is a balance between reason and instinct, thought and action, and, last but not least, beauty.
A person or a society who possesses all of the above, and believes in it, has a strong identity, makes plans for the future, does not withdraw into oneself, and is fearlessly open to the world.
* I.Calvino, Le città invisibili, 1993, Milano, Mondadori, p.61