03 June, 2006

11. A cryptic marker

Somewhere near San Marco, I noticed this brick-sized paving stone just before I stepped on it. No other paver near it had any word inscribed on it, and there was no obvious reason for it to be there, so I just recorded it as an interesting oddity, and walked on.

I keep coming back to this picture and it bugs me. The other paving stones round it were not a random collection of recycled building material, they were all carefully laid from similar stone, apart from this one. It was not put there by accident, it was not just a piece of old stone that happened to have been carved with letters, the word must have meant something to the person who placed it or caused it to be placed where it is.

In Latin, 'sacrum' means a holy thing, or place, which seems a strange thing to call the middle of a public footpath. Apparently, it can also mean a sacrifice, or a victim. Was someone accidentally, or even deliberately, killed on this spot?

In the middle of the Piazza Signoria in Florence is a plaque embedded in the paving which marks the exact spot where Savanorola was executed by being burned at the stake in 1498. This ultra-orthodox priest was briefly the ruler of Florence after an overthrow of the Medici and was responsible for the original 'Bonfire of the Vanities' by ordering the collection and burning of such things as cosmetics, mirrors, fine clothes, and non-pious artworks and books. He also changed being gay from a fineable misdemeanor into a capital offence, so it didn't take long for the fun-loving Florentines to get rid of him, but he made a memorable mark on the city before it revolted against him.

Savonarola was famous, and earned his explanatory plaque where he died, but perhaps the victim commemorated by the single word on this lone paver was a simple commoner whose passing, whether innocent or guilty, deserved only this marker and nothing more.

I also like the way the cigarette butt balances the picture visually and conceptually.


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