The undisputed charm of the city of Florence comes from the fact that it has the highest concentration of works of art per square kilometers in any city and from the imperceptible hidden details, elements that can escape the eye at first glance, and even upon close inspection.
Often based on historical accounts, and sometimes on simple anecdotes, that have been passed down to us over many centuries, the secrets that hide in Florence make it a city even more special. Florence is a city where historiography and mystery are often intertwined, creating stories and tips that are to the interest of all.
In the previous article, we talked about the rituals and superstitions concerning the Fontana del Porcellino. Here, we continue to reveal the hidden, enigmatic, and unconventional side of the city through the first part of a series of short stories.
The legend of “Rifrullo del Diavolo”
Crossing Piazza Duomo you will suddenly find yourself in a vortex.
Behind this phenomenon lies an ancient legend, one which requires explanation! Near Via dello Studio you feel a breeze that, in the colder months, turns into intense wind. This wind that ruffles your hair is nothing more than the “Rifrullo of the Devil,” as it is referred to by all Florentines, a strange atmospheric phenomenon that hides behind a disquieting legend.
It is said that a long time ago, the Devil chased a priest through the streets of Florence, trying as hard as he could to steal his soul.
Once in front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the man told the Devil that he wanted to pray one last time before suffering eternal damnation.
The Devil agreed and leaned against the cathedral, waiting for the priest to come out. The priest took advantage of this moment of ingenuity to escape, using another of the doors of the Cathedral without the Devil noticing.
Meanwhile, Satan, bored from the long wait, began to snore, thereby creating a slight breeze. Once he discovered the deception, his breath of evil turned into a veritable whirlwind.
Since then, the Rifrullo of the Devil has never ceased blowing: the Devil’s breath still waits in vain for his chosen bait to come out of the church.
Bull’s head on the Dome
The unusual sculpture of a bull’s head is a decoration of Porta della Mandorla, a work by the Florentine sculptor Nanni di Banco and other artists. This door gives access to the summit of the dome.
This odd sculpture has two meanings. The first is that builders wanted to honor beasts of burden, which were used to finished the construction of the Dome.
The second is a funny legend. During the construction of the Cathedral, it is said that a carpenter had an affair with the wife of a local merchant. After having discovered the adultery, the merchant condemned the workers to end the relationship. The carpenter got his revenge by putting the bull’s head on the Dome so that the horns would point toward the cuckold’s workshop as a concrete witness of the betrayal.
The fall of the lantern from Brunelleschi’s Dome
In 1468, a sphere of gilded copper of Andrea del Verrocchio stood atop the cathedral’s dome. It is two meters and thirty centimeters in diameter and weighs almost two tons.
Unfortunately, it did not stay there long. It fell for the first time in 1492 and then again toward the beginning of the 17th century during a heavy storm. Lightning struck it, causing it to fall down the right side of the dome. After two years, the Grand Duke Ferdinando I finally decided to fix it and return it to its original place.
Even today, between Via del Proconsolo and the Duomo, you can see a circle on the marble pavement. That is the exact spot where the ball fell four centuries ago.
The self-portrait behind the Cellini Perseus
Perseus with the head of Medusa is a famous bronze sculpture by Benvenuto Cellini, located in the Loggia dei Lanzi of Piazza della Signoria.
The work represents Perseus upright on the body of Medusa, the terrible Gorgon just defeated by the Greek hero who proudly exhibits her decapitated head.
Its merger put a strain on the artist and his assistants: the furnace caused a fire on the roof, while Cellini, in the throes of a high fever caused by exhaling metals, miraculously brought the work to completion.
Behind the statue one can find an unexpected detail. On the back of Perseus’ head there is an impressive optical effect, namely, the representation of the face of a man. According to many, it is merely a self-portrait of Cellini, represented with an ironic grimace that hardly befits a monumental statue.
The history of Via dei Malcontenti
Via dei Malcontenti is the road that connects via delle Casine to Piazza Piave.
In the past, people who traveled along this street, located just behind Piazza Santa Croce, had more than valid reasons to be defined as “discontents.”
Not far away lies the Bargello, once the site of the Florentine prisons and today an historical museum of international renown.
In the past, those sentenced to death were led to the gallows, passing along today’s Via dei Malcontenti: this street was the last street on which the prisoners walked before being executed.
Here you will find the second part of the guide on Secrets and legends of Florence