Siena-Pisa-La Spezia-Chiavari-Genova-Imperia-Ventimiglia-Cannes Dt = 13525 Km
As we ride along in Italy, Tuscan hills dressed with vineyards and sprinkled with young forest give way to the Arvo Valley between Florence and Pisa. The coast to Genoa is extremely hilly - the Alps are starting to take hold. We go over a mountain pass to get to the sea. From Genoa to the French border the Alps are so close you can almost reach out and touch them, and every piece of even vaguely flat land along the coast is taken. But it is all beautiful. The only day in Italy which has not been a delight on the eyes was the day between Siena and Pisa - the valley looked very industrialised. The two cities we stop at are Siena and Genoa. Siena reminds Angel of Florence to the extent that he thought he may have actually been confused about the name of the city! I like knowing there is such similarity. The old buildings give me an idea of the urban landscape of 15th century Florence - my current fascination.
15th century Florence is synonymous with the Renaissance. But it is the Medici family rather than the painters which fascinates me. The famous bankers, politicians, patrons of the (religious) arts. These three aspects of the Medici are interconnected. Ursury (lending money at interest) was such a grave sin in medieval Christianity that if you wanted to be a banker, you had to make sure that you were relatively untouchable and were in a position to influence laws regarding money (politician),and also that your eternal soul would be saved by giving liberally to the Church and having paintings commisioned where your name saint is a star player (see Dante for what happens to bankers down in hell). The Catholic Church was not adverse to bankers; in fact, successive popes were the Medicis' biggest clients, but still one had to be careful.
The Renaissance, or rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman knowledge seemed to have a lot to do with working out how one could build up riches on earth and still make it into the kingdom of heaven. Christianity did not fulfil the needs of the people who wanted to have fun in this life, and they needed to construct their moral base in a different way...all the time remaining staunchly Christian!
There is a possible reason why a little room to manoeuvre opened up in the Catholic world (apart from the obviously covetous nature of the Vatican). Everybody was dying. People started dying in Europe in 1348 when the Genovese brought the Black Death to Sicily. Apparently, Genovese merchants had been in a town in the Crimea, and invading Mongols began throwing plague-ridden corpses over the city walls to infect the general populace.Genoa had a fruitful alliance with the Byzantines and, therefore, access to the East and the Crimea. (Genoa is also located on what used to be an extremely important trade route. Trade routes changed in the end, and the Genovese also lost territories such as Sardinia, which they had acquisitioned as a result of power generated by successful trade. Trade routes changed and they lost all their territories in the end, but it was good while it lasted, and Genoa remains an elegant city with lofty arcades, palaces and finely turned out old buildings...although some are badly in need of a clean...)
Back to the Genovese merchants fleeing the city in the Crimea. They tried to return home, but only made it as far as Sicily. All the sailors in the merchants' fleet died of the Plague, and people looting the ghost ships had no idea what was in store. Nor did Europe. It is estimated that Europe lost around a third of its population, and in many cities, this statistic was closer to a half. The priest and monks were among the first to go since it was their duty to care for the sick. So all of this was fertile ground for social upheaval. It is extremely difficult to imagine the horror and trauma and fear that the Black Death (considered now to be the Bubonic Plague) must have produced. It was not until the 1700s that outbreaks ceased altogether.
So the Medici were banking away in a very insecure world. Good directors of banks were hard to find and, once found, they may suddenly die. However, the Medici did manage to find a few directors who lived for long enough to prove lucrative. The bank had branches in Florence, Rome, Venice, Genoa and Ancona, not to mention their internationhal branches in cities such as London and Bruges. The Medici would be extremely proud of today's world.
All in all, we would have liked to learn more, to explore Florence and Venice in particular. But that will have to wait for another trip...