The pyramid of the Cascine Park
Between a dive in the Pavoniere swimming pool and a stroll at the Cascine Park, a very peculiar structure might have caught your eye, looking quite out of place along the avenue: a pyramid. That’s right.
What on earth is a pyramid doing in Florence, you may ask. Well, it has nothing to do with the Egyptians, that much is clear. It is actualy an ice house built in 1795 by Giuseppe Manetti. Whithin its thick walls, ice was stored during the summer months, so that the Florentines could make sorbetto and gelato!
Two desserts of which Florentines were very fond of. In fact, it is here in Florence that these delicacies were invented. In the XVI century Caterina de Medici launched a competition to create a new unusual dish. It was the butcher Cosimo Ruggeri that won this competition with the revisitation of a very ancient recipe, traditionaly involving the use of ice, honey and fruit. He changed the recipe and created sorbetto, which became instatly became the favourite dessert among the nobles of Florence, so much so that Caterina de Medici decided to take Ruggeri with her in France where his desserts conquered Versailles.
Gelato as we now it today though, was invented by another Florentine, the very talented Bernardo Buontalenti. On the occasion of a feast in honor of some Spanish ambassadors, he modified Ruggeri’s recipe adding also eggs, milk and a sprinkle of wine, creating the fresh, rich dessert that we all love!
Back to our pyramid in he Cascine park, this is not the only one you can find in Florence: since the Renaissance period there were in fact numerous structures like this one, placed in the ditches along the city walls that were exposed to the cold north-east winds, such as Porta al Prato, Porta San Gallo or Porta alla Croce.
And the winds that helped keep the ice from melting, were sometimes strong indeed; it is said that a particularly windy autumn day at the Cascine park in 1819, inspired Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind”.
The ice houses came in the shape of a double cone or pyramid, with a half buried underground and the other rising above ground.
These structures, may not have been actually connected with the Egyptian art, but indeed, a newly discovered taste for the ancient Egypt pervaded Florence from the end of the XVIII centry. Testimony of this, are, for example, the Egyptian temple in the garden of the Stibbert Museum, the pyramid-shaped funerary chapel of the Levi family in the Monumental cemetery of Porta San Frediano and the decoration of the Hall of the Niches in Palazzo Pitti – only to make a few exaples.
So, there you have it! The pyramid really is not what it seems. As it often happens, appearences are deceptive!