Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #188: A Special Place

Children without families are the most vulnerable people in the world.

Brooke Randolph

We are delighted that Karina of Murtagh’s Meadow has invited us to share photos of places that inspire and delight us. My special place might surprise you. True, it’s located in Florence, a city I love. But it’s not a famous art museum like the Accademia or an architectural wonder like the world-renowned Duomo.

In fact, it’s an orphanage, the Ospedale degli Innocenti, which has been turned into a museum. It’s one of my surprise discoveries in Florence that is definitely off-the-beaten tourist track. It is truly unforgettable. (Just click on the image to enlarge it.)

My first discovery was that the orphanage is a magnificent building designed by Filippo Brunelleschi–the same architect who designed the world-renowned Duomo during the Renaissance. On the left you can see the inner courtyard with its famous loggia.

The Ospedale was funded by wealthy silk merchants in the 15th Century who were inspired by humanitarian ideals. According to the orphanage’s records, Agata Smeralda was the first child admitted to the Ospedale on February 5th, 1445. This charitable institution continued to care for abandoned children for hundreds of years.

Local women were hired to nurse the infants. As the children grew, the boys were taught reading and writing and were trained in skilled trades. The girls learned to weave, sew, and do housework, with the aim of being hired by wealthy Florentine families. Their earnings were saved for their dowries or they could become nuns.

One corner of the the museum housed a huge wooden filing cabinet with a series of small drawers with labels identifying an orphan by name. I pulled the drawers open, revealing a child’s religious medal, a bit of cloth from a dress or ribbon, a small piece of jewelry, or another memento.

These items were tokens of love, tucked into the child’s clothing or pinned to their blankets by mothers who gave their children up for adoption for economic reasons. These items served another purpose.

If you look closely at the medal on the left, you can see that one part is missing. The larger section was left with the child and the fragment was kept by the mother. One day, the adult child could try to find the woman with the missing section of the medal.

Today, the museum houses a small art gallery, with works by della Robbia, Botticelli, and Ghirlandaio, among others. It’s also home to the UNESCO Innocenti Research Center.

On the roof of the museum, I discovered another surprise–a cafe with fantastic views of the Florentine skyline. You know me well enough by now to realize that my favorite places are often connected to food…

…and to amazing photo opportunities…like this view of the Duomo silhouetted against changeable skies.

I hope you enjoyed this visit to one of my special places. As you might imagine, over the past two years I’ve dreamed of sitting in the orphanage’s rooftop cafe, sipping a drink and admiring the view.

A special thanks to Karina of Murtagh’s Meadow for hosting this week’s challenge and for giving us the opportunity to share our special places close to home or far away.

Last week, we all enjoyed Anne Sandler’s challenge, which proves that water is a source of inspiration for many of us. What’s up for next week? Tina will lead LAPC #189 on Saturday, March 5th. Her subject is Odds and Ends.

Until then, have a safe and inspiring week.

66 replies »

    • Good point, Anne. True, orphanages are not “beautiful” places, but there was so much here to admire–the humanitarian ideals to provide these children with a safe place to live and skills to earn a living. I really admired that and the architecture, too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Sofia. I never expected it to be as good as the description on a website, but it was. I’ve gone back a few times for the view! Have a good weekend. I’m looking forward to your special place, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m fairly sure that when I worked as an au pair there in the mid 1960s, it wasn’t yet a museum (if it was I never went there, and I tried to visit everything), it functioned at lunch time as a refectory, feeding good and hearty and very cheap meals to students like me, and anyone of limited means. Thanks for the memories, and for bringing me up to date.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think we may have stumbled upon it in our visit 4 years ago, Patti. Certainly the courtyard looks familiar but I don’t think we were able to go inside- or perhaps we didn’t try? Our loss! What a very special place. I shall Google it and look back at my photos to try and check. I love the matching medal notion. So sad to be parted at birth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Jo. It could be the same place. But that type of loggia was popular during the Renaissance so maybe it was some place else? I love matching the medals, too. How heartbreaking for the mother to have to give up a child because of poverty. But I know the same thing still happens today all around the world. So much for progress…๐Ÿ˜’๐Ÿ˜’

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      • I looked at the images on Google and I don’t think it’s the one I thought. I doubt my own ohotos will give me any clues but they’re on a stick. I’ll get around to looking eventually.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Karina. It is a fascinating place–with so many dimensions…The roof terrace is really an added bonus. The museum itself is remarkable. Once again, thanks for the inspiration this week that led me to write this post!! I’m looking forward to seeing the collection of special places from other participants.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is fantastic. All the feels. I love that the medal was broken with a tiny part left with the mother. And I canโ€™t help but wonder if anyone had reconnected and found the fit.

    This IS a special place for so many reasons. Glad you picked it. It will be in my list for next time too. Donna

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wonderful, Donna. I hope you can go and experience it for yourself. If you do, can you let me know what you think about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts. The broken medals are so touching and heartbreaking, aren’t they? The pain of those mothers who had to give up their children because of poverty….and mothers still have to make that choice today. So much for progress.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Frank. I’m an obsessive researcher, so I came across it on a website that specializes in off-the-beaten track places to visit. But it was still far, far better than the description. I’m so glad it’s on your list. I’d highly recommend to have a glass of wine on the terrace near sunset and bring your camera.๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Amy. Thank you! I was so moved by the stories of the medals. Women would also leave a strip of cloth from a dress or a ribbon. I can imagine there was so much heartbreak and hope at the same time that the babies would be taken care of and have a better life. ๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€. Take care and have a good week.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. An amazing choice for the week Patti, and a place neither I, nor I suspect most of our followers, have ever heard of. It’s beautiful and a sad reminder ochoa lucky we are. I often think of the accident of birth, over which we have absolutely no control, has such a huge influence on our lives. I do wonder if any orphans ever found their mothers through the medals. And of course based on recent history, I wonder how well the children were REALLY treated. How sad we have to wonder such things. Terrific post.

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    • Yes, it’s true. We are very lucky. I wondered the same thing. How many were reunited? So many stories in those bits of medal and ribbon and cloth….I was so moved by them. I’m glad the post resonated with you! Thanks.

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