No holiday in Florence is complete without a visit to The Straw Market.
Florence to Sydney. In front of The Sydney Hospital is an exact replica of the boar, the Porcellino, which gives its name to the Florence Straw Market or Mercato del Porcellino in Piazza del Mercato Nuovo which was what the market is really called. The Florentine one was sculpted in 1547 or 1612, depending on whom you believe, by Pietro Battista Tacca. The Sydney one which is an exact replica, was donated to the city of Sydney by the Marchesa Fiaschi Torrigiani of Florence in 1968 in memory of Thomas Fiaschi her father, and Piero her brother, who were both eminent doctors at the hospital.
Thomas Fiaschi was born in 1853 of Anglo-Italian parentage. He was a pioneer of Listerian antisepsis in Australian medicine and of the wine industry in Australia. He was a war-hero and a military surgeon and he owned vineyards near Windsor. Originally called Mudgee Vineyard, there were twenty vineyards all together in the estate which he called Tizzana Vineyards. One of the vineyards was called Clarissa after his daughter. He grew Shiraz, Petit Verdot, and award-winning Claret and Chardonnay and they used to be sold in what is now Australia Square. All Chardonnay today, grown from Mudgee cuttings comes from his vines. Thomas Fiaschi was President of the Australian Wine Producers from 1902-1927. In 1902 he was Hon. Surgeon to the Governor General and in 1909 became Chairman of The Sydney Hospital Board of Medical Studies. Banjo Patterson wrote about his exploits in the Boer War. He died of pneumonia in 1927 and is buried with a view of the Pacific Ocean in what must be one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, Waverly Cemetery in Sydney. Where the poet Henry Kendall of Bellbirds also lies.
The Torrigiano family is one of the important Florentine names and still represented in Florence by the Torrigiani Gardens, the Lungarno Torrigiani and more. The Fiaschi family is also old. Very old. The name goes back to Ferrara in the 1500s. Ludovico Fiaschi was ennobled in 1447 by Ercole I d’Este. I don’t know whether Thomas and Piero Fiaschi were direct descendants of that branch. That was the Ferrara of other times and other stories. Nothing cute and touristy. None of the leather bags and new tapestries of the Straw Market.
Today the Florentine Porcellino presides over a benign scene as tourists vie for scarves and handbags and tapestries. The Straw Market did once sell straw goods, catering for the huge demand in the Europe of the early nineteenth century for large straw hats, but most of those disappeared in the 1960s. The Loggia was built by Cosimo I around the time of the Fiaschi family’s rise in Ferrara, though the two are unconnected except in Australia. It was the market for silk and gold. In times of strife the city’s War Carriage, il carroccio, was positioned here as a symbolic rallying-point for the Florentine troops, summoned by the bell above. There is still a cartwheel symbol in the stone pavement, recalling this function. Or maybe not. There is also a story that this is the spot where bankrupts were disgraced, being placed on the circle with their trousers around their ankles and bounced up and down in front of all on a bit of rope. Take your pick of legends or maybe both! The only time you will be able to see the cartwheel plaque though, is on a Monday, the one day it isn’t clogged with market-vendors’ stalls obscuring the grace of the architecture. The bronze Porcellino was cast from a Greek marble which was, and I think still is, on display in the Uffizzi somewhere.