Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Osteria dei Cento Poveri, The 100 Poor, Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy
4 August, 2010

The Vespucci, a merchant family in Florence is known for it's charitable work for the poor. They founded a hospital on Borgo Ognissanti, near their palace residence. The hospital is still operating today. They also fed the poor.

We remember Vespucci because one of the celebrated sons was Amerigo, the navigator. In the decade of Columbus discovery of the New World, Amerigo retraced this historic voyage twice and realized that Columbus did not really discover the eastern part of India. Instead Vespucci came to the conclusion that there was a huge body of land mass between Europe and India. He wrote home to his boss, Lorenzo de Medici. From his detailed letters, Florentine cartographers printed a new map of the world that named this land mass America after Amerigo.

The Vespuccis continued their charitable contribution to their community (borgo) and today we find their kitchen that served the poor in the parish had been resurrected as a restaurant. The restaurant was named after that ancient ritual and ceremony called "Cento Poveri" The 100 Poor.

This Osteria dei Cento Poveri was first opened and inaugurated on December 5, 1992.

It's told that the "Venchetoni" monks chose the poor of the parish and literally fed 100 of them after delousing, fumigating, cleansing, bathing, and giving then fresh new clothes. For those over age 60 a black cap and a white scarf was issued.

The Archbishop and his retinue of monks led the procession to the church. The Ognissanti church altar would be illuminated by thousands of lighted candles. The guests were led to a huge handicrafted table with scroll and decorative woodwork by Gianbattista Paolesi. In there, the Cento Poveri invited guests were seated. They were served on precious silver trays and the food portions were very generous.

Every 5 o'clock pm on the last Sunday of the Carnival Season in Florence, a crowd of curious onlookers are seen gathered at the door of this church just to get a glimpse of the ceremony. Apart from the 'Vanchetoni" monks, reknown noblemen, aristocrats, professionals; some foreigners (at that time the so called foreigners were from Venice, Emiglia Romana, Bologna, Sicily, Naples, Sienna, Pisa, Genoa, Milan (small kingdoms and duchies) with their seasonal tickets in hand, were waiting for their turn to be invited.

A couple of evenings ago, I went to this Osteria on via Pallazzuto 23, Angolo Via Porcellana. It was crowded with customers. The fare was inexpensive, simple, and used only fresh ingredients. I saw a pizza as staggeringly big as a basin (palangana) or better still, the diameter of a Bila-o.

A medium size pizza near the Arno river costs 11 Euros. At the Cento Poveri, a much bigger version costs 5 to 7 Euros.

A meal for the poveri like me.