AMONG THE TREES AND POETS AT CANTO DEGLI ARANCI

The Florentines were astonished when, more or less half-way through the 1400s, they saw orange trees spring up right in the center of the city. It was the idea of the Jacopi de’ Veneri family, also called Jacopi di Santa Croce, who had bought a palace on Via del Fosso (which was the name at the time of the last piece of Via Verdi), on the corner of Via Ghibellina. The place was known as the Canto dei Leoni, since it was the custom to give names to the intersections, called canti. In this case, the name came from an old legend of a Florentine saved by lions, or perhaps from the family called Lioni, who had owned the palace bought by the Jacopi family. Popular imagination quickly changed the name when the new owners created a garden inside and decided to do something very unusual: plant fruit trees.

Under the Orange Trees, and Answering in Kind

Thus the Canto degli Aranci became a spellbinding place both for those who passed by and saw the oranges growing a few steps away from Santa Croce, as well as for the artists who evidently found inspiration there. Poets, above all, gathered here during warm summer evenings, and faced off in poetry competitions that were improvised on various subjects. Each poet had to start off where his adversary had left off, taking up the same rhyme scheme. This is where the expression ‘answering in kind’ (in Italian: ‘answering by the same rhyme’) came into use.

The tradition of improvisers was lost over subsequent centuries, but poetry was in Canto degli Aranci’s destiny: in the first half of the 1800s, it became well-known as Fanny Targioni Tozzetti’s literary salon. This aristocratic woman collected autographs of famous people and often opened her home to artists and writers. She welcomed one of the most famous Italian poets, Giacomo Leopardi, who had come back to Florence in 1830, and who was introduced by a mutual friend. He started to frequent Fanny’s salon. Leopardi was enchanted by the noblewoman who was cultured, beautiful and nonchalant, and he tried to win her affections by giving her famous writers’ signed works. Fanny, however, did not reciprocate this interest, and instead preferred his friend Antonio Ranieri. Leopardi expressed his secret passion that was unrequited in the poem Aspasia (the pseudonym that he used for Fanny), where he describes love as man’s greatest illusion.

The Missing Garden

The palace with the orange garden survived for just a little more than a century and in 1835 the owners, the Della Ripa family, had it restored and enlarged by the architect Niccolò Matas. A few years later the same architect created the façade for the basilica of Santa Croce. But in 1960, it all disappeared to make way for a modern building, the same one that still today has a plaque in marble on the corner, “Canto degli Aranci.”

The garden no longer exists, but Canto degli Aranci still tells the story of an imaginative place, the backdrop to poetry inspired by secret love.

The place: Canto degli Aranci, Via Verdi corner of Via Ghibellina

Our Canto degli Aranci is exactly there, across from the old garden. And our rooms and suites also tell the stories of the places of Santa Croce: Battipalla, Borgo Allegri, Canto alla Briga, Casa Del Diluvio, Via delle Pinzochere, Torcicoda. Read the stories and if you like, look at the rooms and reserve!

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