The Italian language lessons normally take place in the morning or in the early afternoon for those who choose to attend a Combined or Intensive Course, however the day of an ABC school student is not yet finished.
In fact, in the afternoon we organise a series of cultural and/or recreational activities which give students a way to get to know Florence and its monuments from many different cultural aspects.
Students can participate in any activity that they would like to, or they are free to explore the city by themselves, following their own personal interests.
Every two weeks we organise a new activity program which includes visits to the most famous museums, or those which are smaller but equally as beautiful, themed walks in the historic centre or in the hills, seminars on history, history of art, literature, language, traditions, music, theatre, linguistic insights and curiosity, Italian films with Italian subtitles on a big screen just like at the cinema, yoga practice in Italian, dinners together in pizzerias, aperitivos and much more.
On Saturday there are walking torus, visitis in Museums or excursions to other Tuscan cities (Siena, Pisa, Lucca, Arezzo etc), or the seaside in summer.
All of the activities are organised and are with our teachers: all of them, according to their preference or experience, prepare seminars in the afternoon or other activities which enrich the curriculum towards an even wider knowledge of Italian.
The teachers who accompany students to visit the world-famous museums and monuments in Florence are also licensed tour guides and have a great knowledge of history of art.
Seminars, films and walks are included in the cost of the course. Students have to pay for entrance tickets for museums, transport for excursions or for dinners/lunches outside of the school.
Therefore it is not only the language that you learn: your study-holiday in Florence will become a full experience including the city, history, traditions, evenings together at a bar or in a pizzeria, walks and much more to be able to get to know Florence with Florentine people.
Here is an example of an activity program
Monday: Film in Italian with Italian subtitles
Tuesday: Panoramic walk in the Piazzale Michelangelo and a visit of the San Miniato al Monte church
Wednesday evening: Cooking lesson – we cook and have dinner together!
Thursday: Visit to the Uffizi Gallery - a walk through Italian painters from Giotto to Caravaggio.
Friday: yoga lesson
Saturday: excursion to Siena, returning to Florence in the afternoon.
Monday:Film in Italian with Italian subtitles
Tuesday: In a wine shop - guided wine and traditional Tuscan product tasting
Wednesday: Seminar – Italian gestures
Thursday: Walk in the historic centre to discover the secrets and legends of the city.
Thursday evening: Dinner together in a pizzeria.
Friday: Literature seminar - Dante and the Divine Comedy
Saturday: Excursion to Pisa, returning to Florence in the afternoon.
Monday: Film in Italian with Italian subtitles.
Tuesday: Grammar support: Passato prossimo and imperfetto
Wednesday: Visit to the Santa Croce basilica.
Wednesday evening: Cooking lesson – we cook and have dinner together!
Thursday: visit to the Accademia Gallery.
Friday: Yoga lesson.
Saturday: Excursion to Greve in Chianti and to the Montefioralle castle, returning to Florence in the afternoon.
Monday: Italian film with Italian subtitles
Tuesday:Visiting the parks: the Bardini gardens and the Boboli gardens.
Wednesday evening: Night at the museum– a visit to the Palazzo Vecchio with the monumental quarter and a scenic walk.
Thursday: Seminar – Italian with songs
Friday: Visit to the Opera del duomo museum (museum of the works of the cathedral)
Saturday: Excursion to Lucca, returning to Florence in the afternoon.
Florence, a quick history
With the latin name “Florentia”, the city was founded as a Roman colony in 59 BC on the ruins of an ancient Etruscan settlement. The Cardo Maximus was located in the present via del Corso, via degli Speziali, via Strozzi, the Decumanus was located in via Roma and via Por Santa Maria, whilst the forum was in today’s piazza della Repubblica.
Thanks to the strategic position along the Arno river and via Cassia, it became an important commercial and artisan centre in the imperial period.
After the Roman Empire fell, it was was invaded by the Ostrogoths, Byzantines and the Goths and was conquered by the Lombards and the Franks.
Around 1000 AD Florence began a slow but steady recovery which led it to achieve maximum economic, social, political, cultural, urban and artistic splendor between the 13th and 16th century, despite numerous wars and internal struggles.
In 1183 Florence became a free municipality and from the beginning of the 13th century, the most important families at the time came into conflict for supremacy in political power by forming two groups, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines who fought each other both inside and outside the walls.
In the 14th century some of the most famous buildings and churches were built within the new, wider walls of Florence whilst the Florentine merchants became more and more powerful, predicting the international role that the city would soon take on: the Palazzo Vecchio, the Santa Croce basilica, the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Santa Maria Novella. These were the years of Dante and Giotto, who through their arts, literature and painting marked the birth and the affirmation of the Florentine language in Italy.
In the 15th century the supremacy of the Medici family, who ruled until the first half of the 18th century by characterising the political, economic and artistic Florence, began.
The Renaissance was the golden age, experiencing the growth of Brunelleschi, Donatello and Masaccio, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo (to name only the most famous) as well as their works, the beauty and the prestige of the city.
Under the Medici rule, attention was focused on culture and art in a real political program, especially with Cosimo the Elder and Lorenzo the Magnificent. During the 15th century, the churches of San Lorenzo, Santo Spirito, Santa Croce were built as well as important private buildings such as the Palazzo Strozzi, Palazzo Medici, Palazzo Pitti. Piazza Santissima Annunziata was redesigned with the birth of the Spedale degli Innocenti, the first specialised orphanage in Europe.
At the end of the century, the Medici were driven out of the city which was proclaimed as a Republic, albeit it only for a few years (1494-1512). This was the period in which Michelangelo carved the david, which immediately became a symbol of Florentine liberty and was placed in front of the door of the Palazzo Vecchio. Thanks to the alliance with the Papal army (Leo X and Clement VII were Medici), the family was able to regain power and with Cosimo I, Florence became the capital of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Many artists worked at his court such as Giorgio Vasari, Agnolo Bronzino, Benvenuto Cellini and Bartolomeo Ammannati. He also provided a strong push in science: he founded the botanical gardens of Florence and Pisa and commissioned the Dominican monk Egnazio Danti to draw maps of the lands which were discovered at this time.
The name Galileo Galilei is linked to Ferdinando II. The Grand Duke was a disciple and protector of Galileo and although he could not reject the decisions made by the ecclesiastical court which excommunicated him and forced him to recant his theories, he always held Galileo in high esteem and these decisions never interrupted his personal relationship with him. When he died in 1642, Galileo was buried in an adjoining room to the Chapel of the Medici in the basilica of Santa Croce before being able to have a tomb in the left aisle of the church, almost a century later.
When Gian Gastone, the last male heir of the Medici family in Florence, died in 1737 the Lorraine came and ruled the city and the region with an enlightened liberalism. Pietro Leopoldo was the father of some important reforms, including that of the penal code which led to the abolition of the death penalty on 30 November 1786.
After a short period of Napoleonic occupation, Florence and Tuscany were annexed to the kingdom of Italy in 1860.
Between 1865 and 1871 Florence was the Italian capital and during this period it underwent considerable changes, in particular urbanism. The walls were torn down to make way for more modern boulevards and the old centre of the piazza della Repubblica was completely destroyed in the name of the creation of a new upscale neighborhood where the first chantant coffee appeared based on the model from European capitals.
During the second world war a lot of Florence, including parts of the historical centre, were destroyed. All of the bridges were blown up except for the ponte Vecchio which was saved, at the cost of via Por Santa Maria and via Guicciardini.
In 1966 a terrible flood from the river Arno devastated the city, causing irreparable loss of some works of art and many ancient manuscripts preserved at the national central library. However it was also an opportunity to appreciate the tremendous solidarity shown towards the Florentine people and their shared love of Florence representing how important the city was to the world. At this time many students from all over the world helped the citizens of Florence clean the water and mud from the streets, houses, churches and museums so that the city could slowly return to normal.
6 January: La cavalcata dei Magi
The Epiphany is one of the main Christian religious holidays. We remember the moment when the three wise men met Baby Jesus and recognised him as King.
Since the 15th century Florence has organised three parades starting from different areas of the city to gather in front of the baptistery and honor Jesus. This dates back to 1417 which is when the earliest document found which showed the activity of the Compagnia della Stella which organised the Epiphany was written.
Today the parade starts at Palazzo Pitti in the early afternoon with 500 participants taking part in the historic Florentine march (there are also some historical groups from other Italian cities). After crossing the Ponte Vecchio they head to the piazza della Signoria where they join the procession of the Florentine Republic. They then go on to via Calzaiuoli and the piazza Duomo where there is a live Nativity scene.
18 February: the anniversary of Anna Maria Luisa Medici, Electress Palatine’s death
Anna Maria Luisa (11 July 1667 - 18 February 1743) was the last of the Grand Duchal branch of the Medici family. Johann Wilhelm’s wife (Jan Wellem) II of Wittesbach-Neuburg Palatinate had the great merit of protecting the immense riches of the Medici collections so that we could all enjoy them.
Fearing that they would be inherited by her husband’s relatives in Germany, or to the Lorraine, the new Grand Dukes of Tuscany, she wrote the “family pact” which meant that no properties in Florence could be sold and were a heritage to the city. It is thanks to her that we can admire Florence’s arts and treasures in museums which are no comparison to the rest of the world.
Each year we commemorate the anniversary of her death with free entry to communal museums. The historical procession of the Florentine Republic of the Palagio of Guelph parades through the streets of downtown Florence and places yellow flowers (the preferred colour of Electress Palatine) on her tomb in the Medici Chapel.
25 March: Florentine new year
The official calendar that we use all over the Western world entered into force in 1582, following the reform of pope Gregory XIII. Egnazio Danti, a mathematician, astronomer and Dominican monk was member of the committee for the reform of the calendar. He lived at the Santa Maria Novella convent in Florence and was the author of the scientific instruments that we can admire on the façade of the church.
Curiously the Grand Duchy of Tuscany remained tied to the Florentine calendar which starts on the 25th of March, Annunciation Day, not the 1st of January.
Even today, during Florence’s historic procession of the Florentine Republic, salutes the year on the 25th of March along the streets of downtown Florence, from the Palace of the Guelph until Santissima Annunziata and brings white lilies as a tribute to the Chapel of Annunziata.
Other events are organised in the city.
The Gregorian calendar was adopted in Florence in 1750 with a decree of Francis Stephen of Lorraine, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany after the end of the Medici dynasty.
Easter Sunday: Explosion of the cart
This is one of the oldest traditions in the city which dates back to the time of the crusades. The Florentine captain, Pazzino Pazzi, was the first to climb the walls of Jerusalem with his bare hands, paving the way for its conquest. He was rewarded for his braver with three stone flakes of the Holy Sepulchre which led to Florence, and which were used to light the fire of the Easter candle. Symbolically, after the blessing, the fire was distributed to families to rekindle the floor of the fireplace as a sign of the ressurection of Christ and it was the Pazzi family who built the fiery chariot which lay the foundations of the modern ceremony.
Every year on Easter morning the cart moves from the Piazzale del Prato, drawn by two pairs of white cows and accompanied by a historical parade and flag bearers, to reach the piazza Duomo where it is located between the cathederal and the baptistery.
At 11 it lights the fuse which ignited the colombina fireworks arranged on the wagon, distributing the blessed fire to the entire city in a symbolic way.
1st of May: the Maggiolata – Trofeo Marzocco
The arrival of full-on spring was a moment of great celebration in Florence, the flower city. Singing, dancing, games and floral decorations. The festivities continued for almost the entire month of May. At the centre of the festival was the piazza della Signoria, but the whole city was involved.
Even today Florence has one of the most fascinating games in a tournament which takes place on the first day of the month and is a competition between the Florentine flag wavers and those from other Italian cities. It is a colourful and fascinating competition in the setting of piazza della Signoria.
The trophy is named after Marzocco, the lion symbol of power of the Florentine population.
June: Florentine historic football
The origins of this date back to the founding of Florence. It appears to be that the Romans had invented a game with a ball, named Arpastum, which kept soldiers both physically fit and also entertained the population. For centuries this tradition has been maintained, even though the game has undergone some transformations and changes, and is still one of the most famous traditions of Florence.
One particularly important match was played in the piazza Santa Croce on 17 February 1530 when Florence wanted to demonstrate with contempt and the provocation of enemies, that life continued within the walls without problems and great fun even though the troops of emperor Charles V had had Florence under seige for months.
There are 4 teams which play today in the piazza Santa Croce: i Verdi di San Giovanni, i Rossi di Santa Maria Novella, gli Azzurri di Santa Croce and i Bianchi di Santo Spirito. Florence is divided into four quarters and each of these has a colour which is represented by the teams.
The teams are composed of 27 players (footballers) that often clash together violently in order to bring the ball over the opponent’s field line to mark the “hunt”. Half hunting is assigned to the opposing team in case of inaccurate shooting over the net.
The matches are in June and on the 24th, the day of the San Giovanni Battista, the patron of Florence, which is the final one.
In the last few years it has become normal to play a friendly match on the 17th of February.
The teams are accompanied on the field by the historical procession of the Florentine Republic.
26 July: Sant’Anna
The Sant’Anna celebration in Florence stems from a political episode.
In 1343, due to not repaying loans made by Edward III of England, the Florentine bankers (and thus also the city) were hit by a deep economic crisis. The governors then decided to call on a foreign mayor who had no friends in Florence and was therefore a stranger to the bloody struggles between the Guelphs and Ghibellines. This was in order to ensure as much impartiality as possible, without preferential treatment to one family or the other.
Gualtieri VI of Brienne, Duke of Athens, was chosen by the city of Florence, however in a few months he had established a despotic and tyrannical government. It did not take long for the Florentines to order a conspiracy and threaten him with death. The Duke of Athens fled from Florence 26th July 1343, the day of Sant’Anna (Saint Anne).
In honor of the saint, a holy tabernacle was dedicated to her in the Orsanmichele church and people offered her candles and money by her painting.
The painting, however, was destroyed by fire and replaced by the Madonna delle Grazie by Bernardo Daddi which is still admired within the marble structure which houses it.
Even today, the historical procession of the Florentine Republic of the Palgio of Guelph heads to the piazza della Signoria, piazza Duomo, and then finally to the Orsanmichele church on via Calzaiuoli where you can still say your blessings and light a candle.
10 August: San Lorenzo
San Lorenzo was the first Florentine church, blessed 10 August 393 AD by sant’Ambrogio. The celebration involves everyone and it is an important opportunity thanks to the tradition of the distribution of free food. In the Middle Ages they were roasting beef which was then cut into pieces and given to the population. Some believe that this where the traditional Florentine steak was born. Over the centuries there have been some changes and today’s celebration includes lasagna and watermelon in the piazza.
At mass at 11 o’clock, there is a historical procession of the Florentine Republic.
7 September: the Rificolona
In the Santissima Annunziata church in Florence a miraculous painting is preserved which drew and continues to draw many people to the church. On the 8th of September, during the celebration of the Nativity of Mary, a market was set up which had been prepared the previous evening where the farmers came to town to sell their products. To illuminate the path, they used lanterns of various shapes, made of paper or of cloth.
Today it is mainly children who parade through the streets of the city with colourful lanterns called Rificolone who walk in a procession which starts from piazza Santa Croce and finishes in Santissima Annunziata.
Fourth Saturday of September: il Carro Matto
This celebration is linked to one of the most famous Tuscan products in the world: Chianti wine.
Since the Middle Ages, the bottle in which wine was put to be brought to the table was a wicker one with a large belly covered with straw and a long, narrow neck.
In the Chianti area it is the wine from Rufina, famous for its ruby red colour and its lively and robust flavour. From here, since the 16th century, horses and carriages arrived in the city carrying around 2,000 bottles of red wine each, arranged in a pyramid with great skill.
The carts run through the streets of the city to then meet in the piazza Duomo with a procession of the Florentine Republic, following with the blessing of the wine and offering it to religious authorities. The procession then moves to the piazza della Signoria and stops at the San Carlo church in via Calzaiuoli to then stop in the piazza della Signoria showing the flag wavers and toasting with the civil authorities of the city.
30 November: Abolition of the death penalty
It was the 30th of November 1786 when Pietro Leopoldo Lorraine, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, affirmed the penal reform which, amongst other things, abolished the death penalty.
In memory of this important act which made Tuscany the first state in the world to have abolished capital punishment, numerous initiatives are held across the region every year.