Oakville Images
Allan Davidson Letter, May 6, 1918
Davidson, Allan H, Correspondent
Mother (Name unknown)
, Recipient
Media Type
Item Type
A typed letter from Allan Davidson to his mother. Sent from Florence, Italy.
Date of Publication
6 May 1918
Personal Name(s)
Davidson, Allan H ; Marriage, Gerald C.
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Tuscany, Italy
    Latitude: 43.76667 Longitude: 11.25
  • Campania, Italy
    Latitude: 40.83333 Longitude: 14.25
  • Latium, Italy
    Latitude: 41.9 Longitude: 12.48333
  • Campania, Italy
    Latitude: 40.82293 Longitude: 14.42874
Copyright Statement
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Full Text

Hotel Albion

Firenze Maggio 6/18

Dear Mother

Well I have gotten to Florence by now and am going to have a week here and then I will be going back to work.

I wrote dad a long letter from Naples and I hope it reaches you safely. It is a shame when huge letters like that get lost. Now I must write you this missive concerning my adventures between Naples and Florence.

This is Monday and we left Naples Thursday morning bright and early just a little too early in fact. The train left at six o’clock which fact necessitated us getting up before five something of which I am not extremely fond as perhaps you know. However the ride out from Naples past Vesuvius in that early morning was certainly something never to be forgotten. The mountain was working well and it sent up huge clouds of smoke tinged with brown and behind it all the sun was rising and throwing more and more light on the scene.

Vesuvius is wonderful and impressive no matter from what direction you view it whether you look down from above on the first breathing crater or see it in the distance with it’s overflowing pall of smoke. (I’m going to write all this to Aunt Nettie sometime and tell her that we could see the mountain). Some people wonder why the Italians continue to live so near the great monster that is always a menace to them and continue to reclaim the great slopes as they become fertile again after and eruption but when one has seen the place the bay of Naples round in the shape of a gigantic crater itself, the intense blue and the huge mountain standing guard over it I think one understands that the danger is slight compared to the wonderful beauty in which they live.

Well as I was saying we left Naples at six o’clock and after a five and one half hour run reached Rome. It is a beautiful country between Naples and Rome, many olives and a number of flat stretches of plain with grass and other crops. Every once in so often we would whizz by a hill with a walled in town perched on top or perhaps a convent or old medieval castle in the same position.

Living is frightfully expensive in Rome mostly on account of so many refugees going there after the retreat. I pay thirteen lire here in Florence per day and had to spend twice that in Rome. Therefore I only stayed a day and a half there but nevertheless I saw a great deal.

The afternoon we got there we walked around and as it was extremely hot we sampled some ices. They were cool but that is about all one could say of them. Our icecreams are heavenly compared with them.

We went and saw St. Peters again and again for sanitary reasons failed to kiss his toes. The bronze statue whose toe is worn through kissing used centuries and centuries ago to be a statue of Jupiter, but when the Christian religion got the upper hand the people merely changed the Deity and called it Jew Peter. This is only a Pun in English but nevertheless it is a fact.

That night Holmes who was with me went back so since then I have been alone. I don’t know but that I consider it better. It is rather fun sometimes to poke around for a while alone. The next morning I spent in the Colosseum and was actually strong minded enough to resist the kindly offer of guides, official and otherwise who were so anxious to show me where the wild beasts were kept and sell me old coins which had been found in the ruins (?).

I think Italy must be noted for it’s guides and post card sellers. I had hardly got out of the colosseum and escaped the guide when half a dozen small boys turned cartwheels for my benefit and coolly asked for Soldi then I was attacked by a man with a wonderful folder of views of Rome, thirty views at 20 centesimi a view, six lire altogether and terribly cheap at that. I informed him I didn’t want the views but he would show them to me and then expected me to buy them. He came from six to four lire and then I got angry and told him off. The Italians who speak a smattering of English are certainly a bore.

I went also to another church that is supposed to be very fine. St. Moria Maggiore and it certainly was very beautiful. Fine marble pillars stuccoed roof and mosaics and pictures. They don’t build churches these day of such expensive materials.

In the afternoon I went to the Vatican ad having bargained with a guide for four lire let him show me the sights in the museum. The finest sculpture I saw was the original of the famous disk thrower. Then there were the Raphael rooms of marvelous tapestries on religious subjects. They are very large very old and also very ugly but withal very famous.

Maggio 7.

Next were some modern paintings of a school of painters after the style of Raphael, very finely coloured and new looking and over whose description the old guide waxed more than eloquent. Then I saw some of Raphael’s famous old paintings, all of them chuck full of figures and representing an amount of work that I hate to think of. No one in this day of hustle would do such work.

The finest part I saw was the “Sistine Chapel” which is the chapel of the popes, where they are elected and hold mass etc etc. The majority of the paintings were done by Michelangelo and are very fine indeed.

That night I went to the Grand Opera in the famous Costanzi opera house. It was a biblical work representing Moses and the children of Israel in the wilderness and it finally ended up with the crossing of the red sea. The singing was wonderful. Moses himself had a very powerful voice and he made good use of it. Then the others including the whole of the children of Israel were all fine and although of course I couldn’t understand any of the words I enjoyed the music immensely.

Oh’. I forgot to tell you I had been at the Borghese Gardens formerly a villa and grounds of the King Umberto I but now it is the peoples pleasure park. It is a very fine spot with trees, fountains and ponds all over it. It was so nice to go and rest there after tearing around in the heat of the sun seeing sights.

I walked back along the Tiber muddy as ever and wondered as I did so which of the many bridges it was that Horatius held so long ago. How many things have happened since then in the history of Rome.

Well the next morning I got the train for Florence, left Rome at 8.45 and Italian trains this far back of the line are absolutely punctual. I got on the train and who should I see but our Garage officer Mr Marriage returning for Capri. We had a very pleasant run up except for the fact that we didn’t get here till early four o’clock and nowadays there is very small chance of getting eatables at the stations on the way and of course there are no dining cars. It was very pretty scenery, more olives and hills and then as we got near Florence castles perched on little hills and towns even having incline railways to reach them.

I am perfectly delighted with Florence although a great many of the interesting places are closed. The Hotel Albion is situated on the Arno on the right hand side between the Ponte Vechio and the Ponte di Trinta. Right across from it is what some call the most artistic bit in Florence, a row of old poor looking dirty tenement building rising right up out of the river.

They are very tall and very narrow and no two of them have their tiny tile roofs the same height. They are most of them a creamy sort of colour but one person living in perhaps three rooms has painted the outside a bright blue. Most of them have green shutters and little patches of green plants on balconies over the river. I suppose in any other place but Florence they would be ugly and out of place but here one wonders what the place would look like without them.

And then there is the Ponte Vecchio that I can see now as I am writing. What would Florence be without Ponti Vecchio. As it’s name implies it is old and wide and solidly built and it has a double row of tiny jewelers shops all the way across it. One can buy on it anything from watches and diamond rings to the tiniest paltry trinkets. Over the top of one row of shops leads a covered passageway from the Galleria Uffizi the finest museum in Florence (which by the way is closed) to the Pitti palace across the river. This was very handy in the times of the Medici when it was expedient for them to cross as quickly as possible to the side of the river removed from the populace.

Then the other bridge that I see on my right is the finest and most perfect in Italy. It was built in the 16th century and it’s three arches are absolutely perfect both from a stand point of artistic beauty and elegance and of strength. It is adorned by four statues representing the four seasons.

A little to the south-east of the city and on a hill overlooking is has been lately erected a piazza to Michelangelo. In the center is a fine copy of his famous statue of David the original of which is in the Uffizi gallery surrounded by four other statues of his representing Day, Night, Twilight and Dawn. From this place a wonderful view of the city is obtained.

I never saw a city itself look so beautiful and harmonize so well together. There were only two things that looked out of place and they were a water tower and smokestack in the near foreground. However it is easy to forget these modern touches and think back to ancient times again.

Of course everyone has heard of the famous Duomo and exquisite tower of Giotto. The foundations were laid in 1296 and the fascicle was only completed as late as 1887. Time seems to be very small consideration to these people especially in regard to their churches. The exterior is all done in green white and red blocks of marble. The most famous part however is the Cupola designed and built by Brunelleschi three meters higher and three more around than St. Peters in Rome. I was up to the top of it yesterday morning and a fine view of the city can be obtained from it.

The Catholic church is very cunning. They know that they will not have to pay taxes so long as their church is not finished so just below the Cupola around the octagonal base they have purposely left off the marble façade. The interior of the church is rather disappointing very plain and bare and huge. Something like a large storehouse. I think I have told you before that my favorite church in Italy is the Venetian San Marco even if I have only seen it sandbagged and boarded up.

Right in front of the cathedral is the Baptistery. It is very old having been built in the 7th century. It was used as the cathedral before the present one was built. By far the most famous part of it are the bronze doors. The pair facing the Duomo are the most famous and were declared by Michelangelo to be fit for the gates of Paradise. They are the work of Ghiberti who finished them and the opposite ones after twenty years work. At present they are sandbagged like most of the other good things so I can only judge by pictures

You have read Romola, well I read it before I came down here and now I’m reading it again while I am staying amongst the places where those events took place so long ago. This hotel is only a stone’s throw from the old Vis de Bardi where Romola and her father lived among his treasured antiquities. All I have to do to reach the spot is to cross the Ponte Vecchio.

Then there is the Piazza del Duomo where Nello had his barber shop and shaved the celebrities of the time.

Then most important of all is the Piazza della Signorina in front of the plazzo Vecchio where Savonarola and his two Dominican brothers were publicly hanged and burnt. There is a bronze slab with and effigy of Savonarola marking the exact spot of his martyrdom.

On Sunday I walked out to the Bobali gardens behind the Royal Palace they were very fine and had lovely paths fountains and groups of statuary.

There is a Grotto near that contains two of Michelangelo’s works. It strikes me that there was a great deal of Michelangelo’s work unfinished at least five or six statues here in Florence are in that state.

Today although it rained I walked to the Cascine the promenade park for the Florentines. It is quite large full of huge old trees and hedges and is stretched along the right bank of the Arno.

The Sunday afternoon that I went to the Boboli gardens, When I came out I was accosted by a most charming old English lady and went for a walk with her down to the centre of the city. She certainly knew everything worth knowing about Florence and she imparted some of it to me.

We passed the old woolworks guild with it’s stone sign carved in the wall. It was one of the most famous of the old Guilds and lately began to crumble, so they repaired it exactly the same as it was.

Right next it is the church of Or Sau Michele the oldest looking church I think in Florence. There are niches around it for statues and in one of them stands the Florentine’s favourite St. George. It is the interior is a most beautifully carved and embellished shrine.

In the Piazzia della Signoria many of the statues are sandbagged so they are evidently expecting airraids. I hope they won’t come for it is a pity to destroy all the old monuments and churches of such a famous city.

I wish you were here to enjoy these historical and interesting places for I am getting tired of them and I think I am becoming a little homesick. I think it’s the spring in the air. We are just about a month ahead of you. Peonies and Syringas are out now to say nothing of Roses.

You will be busy now I know. You have no idea how much I wish I were there. When you get this you will be thinking of fruit and it will soon be a year since I left.

Well I think I will close this. My love to Dad and Con and Pearl and the Dr. Remember me to anybody and inform them I want some letters.

With much love.


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Allan Davidson Letter, May 6, 1918

A typed letter from Allan Davidson to his mother. Sent from Florence, Italy.