John Heseltine Photographics

observations of the everyday and all that might be implied

Month: May, 2013

Florence: real or imaginary ? Firenze: reale o immaginario ?


Florence has had a new and coloured spotlight directed upon it. Dan Brown’s new Robert Langdon adventure through history, art and literature is boosting worldwide book sales but is also set to boost tourism in the Renaissance city. Readers seem to have an insatiable appetite to visit real places associated with fictional events and perhaps sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between the two. “Inferno” takes its cue from Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and gives it the same treatment of science, riddles, codes and symbols use in “The Da Vinci Code” all using the powerful backdrop of Florence to flavour the tale.

Dante himself was exiled from the city and threatened with execution at a time of fourteenth century political intrigue. He exacted literary revenge on his enemies by banishing them to an eternity of ghastly torture in rings of his apocalyptic Inferno. Here on earth and in the centre of the Piazza Signoria, real torture and execution took place with great frequency, particularly in the fifteenth century. Members of the Templar plot were executed here and many of the Pazzi conspirators were summarily hanged from the windows of the Palazzo Vecchio in 1478. In 1497 Savonarola and his followers carried out the famous Bonfire of the Vanities only to be hanged and burned on the same spot the following year. But perhaps these events were too long ago to impinge on the visitor’s imagination whereas fictional events seem more immediate.



Miracle at Hengistbury Head, September 1984



Lots of things in life are unexplainable and the camera is a unique tool with its forensic ability to record these mysteries while appearing to provide incontestable evidence of the world’s strangeness. It is certain that many of our familiar surroundings will be obliterated by time, but perhaps we imagine this will happen at some Doomsday moment in the far future. But this very spot no longer exists, well not physically anyway although the Kodachrome remains: it has been eroded by the waves and the wind just as certainly as the characters who were part of the miracle have disappeared from the stage. This area is thought to have been occupied since 10,000 BC, bison and mammoths might well have wandered here long before a port was established around 100 BC trading in Italian wine and regularly crossing the channel to Brittany. It has sometimes been referred to as the site of the earliest urban settlement in England and a wealth of artifacts that have been found around here testify to the protracted activity that Hengistbury Head has witnessed. But it is all slipping away and will eventually disappear, along with the footprints of the bison, the shards of amphorae, the tarmac of the car park; the place will cease to exist in its current form although perhaps its spirit will continue.