The Italian Almanac

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buried secrets

Italian News - February 12

Italy is set to dig up more of the Medici family in a bid to discover the buried secrets of Florence's fabled dynasty. Over the next three years, experts aim to find out more about how the opulent and sometimes murderous family lived and died while they ruled Florence for 300 years and turned it into the European centre of art.

The unprecedented project, which began two years ago, hopes to solve the riddles surrounding a number of the deaths among the Medici, who were as notorious for their court intrigues as their magnificence. In this new phase, art experts and forensic historians are set to open a larger number of tombs, several of which are believed to harbour some of the murkiest mysteries.

Florence cultural heritage superintendent Antonio Paolucci said: "This project is restarting on the right foot. It's a strong alliance between the best of Italian medical science, the best of museum knowledge and the best of restorers' know-how. This 225,000-euro second phase will help us learn more about the lifestyle of the Medici and, if possible, what killed them".

In the first two years a team of scientists from Florence, Pisa and the United States exhumed 14 of the 49 bodies entombed in the Medici Chapel. So far, the research has thrown up as many questions as it has answered. Traces of gout, heart attacks and bone decay have been found - but contradictory signs of poison. "It'll take years to sort things out properly," said lead researcher Donatella Lippi.

The Medici family rose from humble merchant origins to rule Florence and Tuscany. They held power from 1434 to 1737, producing three popes and two queens of France and becoming important art patrons who exerted a vital influence over Renaissance Florence. The tombs are graced by some of Michelangelo's greatest works.