At Home in Florence

During our most recent visit to Florence, we stayed at the Hotel Morandi Alla Crocetta on via Laura. Once a 16th century convent, the hotel exudes a well-worn and comfortable elegance.

The reception area of the hotel.

Another view of the hotel's reception area. We saw nothing to suggest its previous life as a nunnery.

Our room had tall ceilings, a loft, and a wood armoire that I would have loved to bring home. We found a bowl of fresh fruit on the desk.

A photo taken from the loft. The room was spacious, but difficult to photograph because of its L-shaped layout.

We enjoyed breakfast in the hotel’s charming dining room that offered coffee, juice, croissants, yogurt, fruit, and a variety of cereals.

I felt so pampered by the staff, I confided to my husband that I would be content to start each day here for the rest of my life.

It's hard to resist temptation when you're in Italy.

Paolo—the spitting image of Disney’s Geppetto in Pinocchio—was a concierge extraordinaire. On several occasions, he suggested places for us to visit or dine. He gave us complimentary tickets to a performance by soprano, Jessica Pratt. One day, after I mentioned my interest in late 14th and early 15th century architecture, he walked with us to the street and pointed to structure. He explained the stucco that now covered the brick walls masked the building's original appearance. Paulo, although born in Germany, had lived in Florence for many years. Like other Florentines we met, his extensive knowledge of the city and its history revealed a deep pride in the place he called home.

The hotel is near Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, less than a ten minute walk from the city's cathedral. The center of the piazza contains a bronze statue of Ferdinando I de Medici (1549-1609) and two fountains. At the northeast end of the piazza stands the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata (Basilica of the Most Holy Annunciation). To the east is a building designed by my Early Renaissance hero, Filippo Brunelleschi.

Brunelleschi’s fingerprints are all over Florence, but this is the site of his first public commission, the Hospital of the Innocents (Spedale degli Innocenti), a home for abandoned and orphaned children.

Hospital of the Innocents portico.

In the early 15th century, repeated outbreaks of disease, war, and famine triggered a need for a safe place where abandoned children could be raised and educated. Brunelleschi received the commission in 1419, shortly before he started work on the dome that crowns the city’s cathedral—splendidly visible from via dei Servi, the street leading to the piazza.

Christopher with Brunelleschi's Dome in the background.

The Hospital of the Innocents' colonnade façade, of which the nine middle bays are original, is considered one of the great architectural designs of the Renaissance, with its symmetrical proportions and graceful lines. Andrea della Robbia’s ten glazed terracotta roundels with figures of swaddled babes on blue backgrounds adorn the spandrels. The window at the far end of the portico is where infants, small enough to fit through the grills, were once surrendered to the Hospital’s care.

During our visit, many of the Hospital's interior spaces were undergoing renovation, but we gained entry to its courtyards. It wasn’t difficult to imagine children in these airy spaces.

First courtyard.

Another photo of the first courtyard, the one designated for boys. Girls occupied another courtyard, but it was in the midst of refurbishment during our visit.

We were unable to see the Hospital’s archives or its gallery containing works by many artists, including Ghirlandaio, Piero di Cosimo, and Botticelli. Important historical treasures have been discovered in the Hospital's storerooms.

Andrea della Robbia's Annunciation above a door in the first courtyard.

Instead, we toured an exhibit that explained the fascinating history of this lay institution. When we entered the girl's courtyard, we heard laughter and children’s voices from open windows. Yes, the Hospital continues to provide services to the community's children and families.

We look forward to returning to the Museo deli Innocenti, now fully renovated, to learn more about the Hospital’s history and to see its art collection.

In the piazza. The Hospital of the Innocents, outside the photo, is to the left.

We're also eager to return to the Hotel Morandi Alla Crocetta. We hope our friend, Paolo, will be there to greet us.

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