Hidden treasures

The legend of La Berta in Florence

Unknown places & works
Berta

The legend of La Berta in Florence

Florence, the 'Cradle of the Renaissance', a true treasure trove of art and culture. But beyond so much beauty, the Tuscan capital hides many odd and quirky facts. What we want to tell you about today is related to La Berta. Does that ring a bell? Well, we are guessing it doesn’t... no suspence, we at toscanainside.com are here to swiftly shed some light on this!

In the historic center of Florence, not far from the Cathedral, is the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, a very popular place that conceals a secret: in the upper part of the bell tower, between the bricks, lies La Berta, a woman’s stone head. Due to its location and the color very similar to the background, it hardly gets noticed by tourists and passers-by.

But who is 'La Berta' and why has she ended up in there? On 16th September, 1327, the astrologer Cecco d'Ascoli, after being sentenced to death for uttering words that were not exactly kind to the future queen 'Giovanna la Pazza', was about to be burnt at the stake among the people who had flocked in to the streets or were standing on the balconies not wanting to miss the event.
Once in front of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, the condemned asked for some water but Berta, looking out from the tower where she was, warned the guards not to grant his request and called him an 'alchemist'. According to an ancient tradition, alchemists had the power to communicate with the devil using water. Fearing that D'Ascoli could, this way, save his life, the guards decided to follow the advice of the woman.

Enraged and feeling he was receiving further injustice, the prisoner cast a curse on her and shouted, 'You will never lift your head from there!' And so it was. Even today, the petrified head of Berta protrudes from a small slit of the bell tower of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, waiting to be released from the curse.

It is hard to notice it, but those who have heard about this legend cannot help but stand still a few seconds looking up to try and spot it!

Do you want to discover other odd stories and popular traditions of the Tuscan capital? Then book our 'Private Guided Tour amongst the Secrets of Florence': our expert guides will accompany you around the city and reveal to you secrets, legends and mysteries you have never heard of!

By Insidecom Editorial Staff

Latest posts

Tuscany: 'Buco pillonzi', all of Tuscany’s irreverence in a witty expression

Buho_Pillonzi
Figures of speech

People who speak Tuscan dialect are known for aspirating their c’s. But this isn’t the only peculiarity and, as a matter of fact, w...

View

Pistoia: Where does the name of the Ospedale del Ceppo in the city of Pistoia come from?

Ospedale_ceppo
Mysteries & Legends

Ospedale del Ceppo undoubtedly counts among the many masterpieces that the delightful city of Pistoia has to offer. What fascinates tou...

View

Florence: The 'Rificolona': a funny name tracing back to the mischievous spirit of Florence’s people!

Rificolona
Local Traditions

Lanterns are now very fashionable and are used at parties and weddings. Florence, however, has always been ahead of time, so much so th...

View

Florence: In Florence people are known to be a 'short arm'!

Braccio Fiorentino_2
Historical Curiosities

How many times have you heard the expression 'avere il braccino corto' (lit. to be a short arm)? Many I guess. You will also then know ...

View

Top posts

Arezzo: Guido d'Arezzo and the invention of the music

Guido-d-Arezzo
Big Names

In Talla and surroundings people have no doubt: the inventor of the musical stave, the inventor of the music notes and also of the mode...

View

Pistoia: The Kiss of the Christs in Gavinana

Il-bacio-dei-cristi
Local Traditions

It is a very ancient but still popular rite. Two large processions that meet up with a Christ on the cross in front of each one: the he...

View

Siena: Piero Carbonetti and his tin drum

Piero-Carbonetti
Local Traditions

Subversive, persecuted, anarchist, homeless, dreamer: it is really difficult to define Piero Carbonetti, Tuscan bred and born and Garib...

View

Pisa: Kinzika, the young woman who saved Pisa from the Saracens

Kinzika
Local Traditions

It was really her, a young woman with an Arabian name, Kinzica, of the noble Sismondi family, to save Pisa from being sacked by Saracen...

View