THE FORT Major news: one of the most striking and scenic spots in Florence reopened on July 8. After five years of closure, spent securing the premises after the tragic deaths of two young people, the Fort of St. George, better known as Forte Belvedere, reopens, welcoming residents and tourists with contemporary art exhibitions and one of the most fantastic views of the city. This beautiful Renaissance fortress was built in 1590-95 by Gran Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici and designed by Bernardo Buontalenti on the southern side of the river. The fort served several purposes: to protect the centre of government in Florence, the Pitti Palace and the south end of the city (although it never actually played this role) as well as demonstrating the power of the Medici family, holding the family treasury and providing a shelter for the Grand Duke in case of emergencies. Therefore, the fort was connected to the Palazzo Vecchio, via the Vasari Corridor, and there is a passage connecting it to the Pitti Palace, through the Boboli Gardens. The elegant Palazzina di Belvedere at the centre of the fortress is a pre-existing building, probably designed by Bartolomeo Ammannati around 1570. Walk up here to enjoy spectacular panoramics over Florence, wander along the ancient walkways, lie in the sun or read a good book. In the past the venue has hosted some beautiful and spectacular contemporary art exhibitions by Henry Moore, Fausto Melotti, Mimmo Paladino, Mario Merz, Giuseppe Penone, Anish Kapoor and Folon. Moreover, it has always been the perfect location for giant sculptures, like the ones decorating the fort's terraces today, with the exhibition “L’Anima e la Materia/Soul and Matter” by Zhang Huan. THE EXHIBITION “L’Anima e la Materia/Soul and Matter” is the largest exhibition ever organised in Italy for the Chinese artist Zhang Huan, one of the most interesting artists on the contemporary international scene. Transience is what distinguishes the work of this artist: massive yet short-lived ash statues destined to unravel in the wind. “The ashes of incense is not only ashes, nor only matter, but it is the collective soul of our memories and our hopes." Apart from the ashes of incense, Zhang Huan uses metal, leather and bronze. The Chinese artist has been heavily influenced by the works of the Renaissance masters and this influence is reflected today in some of his works, particularly those on display in the Palazzo Vecchio, the other location of the exhibition. Dominating the Fort is the gigantic work “Three heads – six arms”, while inside the Palazzina di Belvedere you’ll find the striking large-format paintings of the Ash Painting series, like Confucius No.3 and Confucius No.4 (both from 2011), where the ash is spread on large linen canvases. Inside the building there’s also the Taiwan Buddha statue, a monumental installation consisting of two parts: an aluminium cast, more than 5 metres high, used to make the ash statue, and the Ash Buddha statue itself, unprotected, and therefore destined to disintegrate and dissolve during the exhibition period. In the meantime, in the Palazzo Vecchio, in the Sala dei Gigli, an ash-Buddha and an ash-Jesus, study each other, face-to-face, East and West. The exhibition continues in the Sala degli Elementi with Florence Buddha, a work in compacted ash made in 2012, and in the Sala dell’Udienza, where you will find a selection of Ash Sculptures. In the Salone dei Cinquecento there’s a statue of Confucius, made in white Carrara marble, a material used here for the first time by Zhang Huan, in homage to the tradition of the great Renaissance sculpture. Information “L’Anima e la Materia/Soul and Matter” July 8 – October 13, 2013 Florence Forte di Belvedere, via San Leonardo Palazzo Vecchio Forte di Belvedere opening time: 10am-8pm, closed on Thursdays Ticket: 5 € Palazzo Vecchio opening time: 9am-midnight, closed on Thursdays Ticket: 10 € Ticket Forte di Belvedere + Palazzo Vecchio: 14 € Forte Card (allows entrance to Forte Belvedere at anytime during the exhibition period): 5 € How to get there: By BUS: take bus no. 12 from Santa Maria Novella train station towards Piazzale Michelangelo and get off at the Galilei 03 stop, then walk up to Via San Leonardo. On FOOT: next to Ponte Vecchio, take Costa San Giorgio and walk up to the fort. By CAR: take Viale de Colli/Viale Michelangelo, turn right – Via dei Bastioni, then continue to Via di Belvedere and Via di San Leonardo. There is free parking at the entrance of the fort… if you manage to find a space!