Sunday, February 19, 2012

Certosa del Galluzzo

La Certosa del Galluzzo is a large monastery located just outside of Florence, on a hillside overlooking the small town of Galluzzo.  It was built in 1341 by Niccolo Acciaioli, a Florentine nobleman, who had the idea of making it a religious center, as well as a place of education for youth.  For centuries, the monastery was run by Carthusian monks, but in 1957, a small group of Cistercian friars took over the complex.  These friars remain there today and support themselves by manufacturing herbal liquors, elixirs, perfumes and small handcrafted items that are available for purchase in their small shop. 

The monastery's shop, where you can purchase religious items as well as their tasty elixirs.

You can get to the monastery by car or bus (the number 37 from Santa Maria Novella Station will get you there).  It will take you about 15 minutes to get there by car (longer by bus) from Florence.  Once you get there, you will walk up the hill and a set of stairs to a small courtyard, which is where you will wait for your tour to start.  Tours last an hour and are given 5 times a day in the winter months (9am, 10am, 11am, 3pm & 4pm) and 6 times a day in the summer months  (9am, 10am, 11am, 3pm, 4pm & 5pm).  They do not have morning tours on Sundays or on religious holidays.  They don't take reservations either, so just show up before the tour is set to start.  The only place that you can freely roam is the entry courtyard.  The rest of the grounds are by guided tour only.  Be sure to bring a few euros to hand to the friar after the tour.  It's a free-will donation, but don't be a jerk and not pay.  It'd suggest at least 5 euro per person.

As you wait in the courtyard for the friar to arrive (they are very prompt), take a look around.  The architecture is beautiful and the landscape is breath-taking.  Snap some pictures.  Visit their gift shop.  Enjoy the tranquility of the space.

On the left is the gift shop.  On the right, a small chapel that was originally used for women (who were not permitted inside the monastery).

Once your tour guide arrives, he will lead you up the steps to the Palazzo Acciaioli.  Also known as Palazzo degli Studi (palace of studies), it was originally intended to be a retreat home for Niccolo Acciaioli, however, he died before the palace was completed.  You will walk into the pinacoteca, "picture gallery" of the palace, which is on the top floor of the building.  It's a large, open space which houses many paintings and frescoes, along with some sculpture.  The lower, older level of the palace is used as a workshop where they restore ancient books.

Steps leading to Palazzo Acciaioli
After taking in the artwork in the palazzo, you will exit into the large piazzale in front of the church.  From there, you will enter the church, dedicated to San Lorenzo.  The church is magnificent.  Rather plain on the outside, but on the inside it is filled with gorgeous artwork and marble.  The intricately carved wooden choir along the walls (constructed between 1570 and 1591) are absolutely beautiful and the exquisite marble altar (1773) is a work of art.

Upon exiting the church, you will find yourself in the colloquio.  The Carthusian monks were only permitted 1 hour of conversation each week, and the colloquio was where this interaction with each other would take place.

Beautiful stained glass windows in the colloquio
Next, you will step out into the Chiostrino del Colloquio.  This small cloister was refurbished in the mid 1500's.  

The Capitolo, "Chapter House", is your next stop on the tour.  This is where the monks would gather daily to hear a chapter of the monastic rule read.  A magnificent painting, La Crocefissione ("The Crucifixtion") by Mariotto Albertinelli hangs above the altar.  In the floor of the capitolo is the tomb of Leonardo Buonafe, a Carthusian bishop, who died in 1545.

The tomb of Leonardo Buonafe

Exiting the capitolo, you will arrive in the Chiostro dei Monaci, the "monastic cloister".  Surrounding this large, open space are 18 cells, mini apartments where the monks resided (and to this day, still reside).  

There are two rectangular areas that are fenced off within the open courtyard.  These are used as cemeteries - one on the left for the lay brothers, one on the right for the monks. There are no names on the graves, by the way.  From what the friar told us on our tour, that is in accordance with the Carthusian tradition.

Monastic graves

Your next stop will be to enter into one of the monastic cells.  The  Carthusian monks would live a life that was mostly hermit-like.  They remained in their cells to work, pray, eat, and sleep - only leaving to participate in liturgical ceremonies and community activities, such as communal meals and chapter readings.  

The cells are small and sparsely furnished.  There is a fireplace for heat, a desk for writing and eating, and a bedroom with a bed, chest of drawers and a small bedside table.  

A monk's bedroom.  The little peep-window was used to check in on the monk if he missed a liturgical celebration or other community event.

After visiting the cell, you will be led back across the cloister to the Reffetorio ("refectory").  This is where the monks would come together for communal meals during religious feast days.  The only things that are not original in this room today are the long tables.  Unfortunately, Napoleon Bonaparte decided that he wanted he took them.  Jerk.  But I digress.  Everything else in the room is original, including the pulpit (1495) in the far corner where a monk would read from the Bible during the mealtime.

One of the last stops on your tour will be the Chiostrino dei Fratelli Conversi - the Cloister of the Lay Brothers.  This is a small cloister that is surrounded by rooms where the lay brothers would live.

As you exit the cloistered part of the monastery, you will once again cross the piazzale in front of the church.  Take the opportunity to get another picture or two of the exterior of the church.  If you happen to be there in the late afternoon, the way the sun hits the building is just lovely.

The late afternoon sun kisses the church

I hope that you will consider visiting this wonderful monastery when you are in the Florence area.  The friar who was our tour guide was extremely kind and knowledgeable.  If you do visit, keep in mind that the friars do not speak English, so you might want to have someone there to translate for you.  If you don't have anyone who can do so for you, go anyway.  It's worth seeing, even if you don't understand a word he speaks.

Our monastic tour guide at the end of the tour

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