Florence, Santa Croce Part II

In this second part of the Ghouls Guides feat Santa Croce the list of “M” sfigati, unfortunate M’s, continues with Eugenio Barsanti and Felice Matteucci, alias Barsanti e Matteucci.  

Felice Matteucci and Eugenio Barsanti were both from Lucca, but met in Florence where Father Eugenio, a Scolopian, split his time between sermons and teaching physics and Felice was a student. Barsanti had the idea that a constant flow of hot then cool gas could translate into movement, so he teamed up with Matteucci and they built a motore a scoppio, a combustion engine. The two patented their invention, which ran on hydrogen, in London in 1854 and published a treatise on “Obtaining Motive Power by the Explosion of Gasses.” Cassandra knows a couple of people who obtain motive power in the same way, but she thinks they run on methane.

The main advantage of the Barsanti-Matteucci engine was the use of the return force of the piston due to the cooling of the gas. Target use was in factories and aboard ships as it was too heavy to use in cars. The team had their first problems with patent infringement in 1860 and Matteucci suffered a terrible nervous breakdown shortly afterwards.

Barsanti died suddenly of typhoid fever in 1864 while in Belgium where he was looking for a factory to mass-produce a 4 hp motore a scoppio. The delicately-tempered Matteucci was left to his own devices.

In 1867 two Prussians, August Nicolaus Otto and Eugen Langen, won the Paris World Exhibition’s Grand Prize with an engine very similar to Barsanti and Matteucci’s. Matteucci unsuccessfully argued he and his partner were the inventors of the engine, but nobody could prove that Otto had seen their patent and the Italians had never managed to get their engine into production anyway. Barsanti was dead and Matteucci had another nervous breakdown. His name, Felice, means happy; ironically he died miserable, begging his household help to do him in. Otto and Langen made loads of money and lived happily ever after.


Only 150 years later have Barsanti and Matteucci gotten recognition in the form of footnotes in other inventor’s Wikipedia pages and this monument in Santa Croce. The city of Lucca named a road after them and set up a replica of their patent engine in a museum that no one ever goes to partly because it’s rarely open.

Some lovely stray Funerary motifs before we head out to get a breath of fresh air

Once you have visited all the indoor tombs, cenotaphs and monuments, head out to the church’s lovely cloisters where you’ll find a rather unusual sign that reads:DSCF2224

They don’t really mean that, they mean graves from the Romantic Era, as in 1810-1850 more or less. The graves, quiet a few of them on all sides and under the floor, are in a kind of tunnel-like crypt. And the light at the end of the tunnel is a vending machine!

There is a monument to Florence Nightingale, who was born in Florence, in the cloister. What, you don’t know who Florence Nightingale was? Good night nurse!

Girolamo Segato’s grave is under the portico on the piazza side and looks back towards the Pazzi family’s chapel. A word or two about the Pazzis:

The Pazzis were wealthy Florentine bankers, just like the de Medicis. They moved in the same social circles, shared the same ambitions and were in many ways similar. And even related: in fact, Guglielmo de’ Pazzi married Bianca de’ Medici, Lorenzo’s sister, in 1460.

Early in 1477 Francesco de’ Pazzi plotted with Girolamo Riario, pope Sixtus IV’s nephew, and with Francesco Salviati, whom Sixtus had made archbishop of Pisa, to assassinate Lorenzo de’ Medici and his brother Giuliano, oust them as rulers of Florence and take over their position. Sixtus, a man who could give even Renaissance popes a bad name (it’s said that of the many illegitimate children he had, one was by his sister) gave tacit support to the conspirators. The assassination attempt took place during mass in the Duomo of Florence. Giuliano was killed but Lorenzo was only wounded and escaped. Archbishop Salviati lead his troop of mercenaries in an attempt to take over Palazzo della Signoria but was caught and executed. One by one his co-conspirators fell. Five, including Francesco de’ Pazzi, were hanged from the windows of the Palazzo della Signoria. Jacopo de’ Pazzi, head of the family, escaped from Florence but was caught and brought back. He was tortured then hanged from the Palazzo della Signoria next to the decomposing corpse of Salviati. He was buried at Santa Croce, but his body was dug up, thrown into a ditch, dragged through the streets and propped up at the door of Palazzo Pazzi, where his rotting head was used as a door knocker. Later his body was thrown into the Arno but naughty children fished it out, hung it from a tree, flogged it, then threw it back into the river. This just in case you were wondering what it was like to live in Florence in the mid-1400s.

The Pazzi family was banished from Florence and their land and property was confiscated. Their name and coat of arms were suppressed and erased from public registers and all buildings and streets. Anyone named Pazzi had to take a new name; anyone married to a Pazzi was barred from public office. Guglielmo de’ Pazzi, married Lorenzo’s sister Bianca, got off easy and was only placed under house arrest. “Pazzi” has come to be synonymous with crazy, as in ma sei pazzo? are you crazy, or roba da pazzi, crazy stuff.

In contrast to all this blood and gore, the Pazzi Chapel is a lovely and serene place designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and decorated with Luca della Robbia terracottas. If you can forget what must have happened on this very spot you will feel a sense of peace and balance as soon as you enter.

There is a peaceful, quiet and little visited second cloister beyond the Pazzi chapel which offers an excellent space to relax as long as you don’t touch the roses.

If political intrigue is not your thing and you prefer natural disasters (it’s kind of like being a vegetarian, Cassandra thinks) the route out of Santa Croce takes you past some more lovely art and to a wonderful audio visual guide that tells the story of the devastating flood that hit Florence in 1966. The entire city was submerged in deep, dirty water; you can see the high water mark plaques well above head height on the facades of buildings all over town. Over 100 lives were lost and inestimable damage was done to across all sectors.

There is even some fun fashion to check out if you’re not too exhausted at this point to be frivolous:

Do you suppose he’s serious about that fishy bag?

Suggested listening: Ruggero Leoncavallo’s opera I Medici

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