Discovering 2019 FAI Days

This week’s theme in Florence is discovery. The annual FAI Spring Days (Giornate FAI di Primavera) allows visitors to experience hidden landmarks in Italy like never before in a single weekend, March 23 – 24. Nearly all are private properties and offer entrance to the public only once a year.

FAI’s Spring Days (Giornate di Primavera) are blooming in time for the spring equinox on Saturday, March 23 and Sunday 24. For this edition, seven locations across Florence will welcome guests. They have been divided into three “itineraries,” referring not to a string of tours but actually venues found close together.

FAI is the equivalent of the Landmark Trust of England: the foundation maintains designated treasures, such as buildings and parks, to preserve them for future generations. During the weekend, volunteers will lead tours and be accepting donations, the minimum set at €3.

City Center

The itinerary “A Saint Called Florence and Florence Called Capital” references the city’s 17th century San Firenze landmark and the city as capital of Italy from 1865 to 1870.

During that time, government officials often stayed in the Parliament Hotel, now the Hotel Bernini Palace, a sumptuous 5-star hotel located centrally between Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi gallery, which were the seats of the House and Senate respectively. The hotel, founded sometime in the 1400s, was the only hotel with running water in the entire city during the 1700s, one of its claims to fame.

The Bernini’s original owners, the Pera family, have the unique distinction of being mentioned in Paradise in Dante’s Divine Comedy. There are several beautiful frescoes scattered throughout the hotel from the peak of its grandeur. The hotel will welcome the public on Saturday from 2 pm – 5 pm and Sunday 2 pm – 5 pm.

Just a few blocks away, the San Firenze complex will be accessible on Saturday from 10 am – 5 pm and Sunday 10 am – 5 pm. This building was the Ministry of Education in 1866 until it was converted into a courthouse, which it remained until 2012. The building itself is a grand example of Italian Baroque architecture.

Campo di Marte

The FAI has a special itinerary for their two locations across the railroad tracks in Campo di Marte called “The Palm and the Ball.”

The Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) on via Aurelio Nicolodi falls under the “palm” section; open solely to members and donors of FAI is the secret courtyard. This botanical paradise is filled with more than 350 species of tropical and semitropical plants, including palm trees. The agency can be visited Saturday 10 am to 5 pm and Sunday 10 am to 5 pm. The organization is an offshoot of the center in Rome which aims to help Italy’s allies with development both in Italy and in other countries.

The ball of the duo is Artemio Franchi Stadium, home of the local soccer team, ACF Fiorentina. The magnum opus of Fascist architect Pier Luigi Nervi built in 1931 will reveal the secrets of its construction, including its D-shaped and uniquely slanted roof. Fans can get a closer look at one of their favorite places on Sunday between 10 am and 7 pm.

San Salvi

There will be multiple openings at San Salvi, unveiling its various and unique purposes over the years. Most of the complex, save for what has been renovated for a new use, has been shut down and hidden from sight. There are three different locations on view: the museum with the Last Supper, the church, and the former insane asylum.

San Salvi once hosted a Vallombrosan abbey, so the church was built. The equivalent of a dining hall, the Last Supper is located in the refectory of the monastery, now a museum. The Last Supper (1527) of San Salvi is special also due to its artist: Andrea del Sarto. Called “the faultless painter” by fellow artist Giorgio Vasari, Del Sarto took 16 years to complete the masterpiece, marked by psychological drama and serene colors.

In 1891, in the area surrounding the church complex, the city of Florence commissioned the construction of a psychiatric hospital. Figures such as the misunderstood poet Dino Campana were admitted, and basically imprisoned in some cases, until its closure due to new legislation in 1978, in particular the Basaglia Law.

On Saturday 10 am – 5 pm and Sunday 10 am – 5 pm visits to the museum are available. The church itself will be open Saturday 10 am – 5 pm and Sunday noon – 5 pm; the ex-psychiatric hospital on Saturday 10 am – 5 pm and Sunday 10 am – 5 pm. (katy rose sparks)