The Church of Santa Maria lies a few steps from the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Watching on the left side of the tower, facing Via de’ Cerretani, you will notice a female stone head embedded in the bricks, the Florentines call her “Berta”. Two stories are told about its likely origin: the first legend dates this mysterious head to 1326, when Cecco d’Ascoli, an astrologer condemned of witchcraft, was burnt at the stake. While he was carried in procession along Via de ‘Cerretani he stopped to ask for some water. Looking out a small window, Berta shouted a warning to the crowd, in fact she knew that the wizard had made a pact with the devil: if he received a drink he would not die. The man was furious and cast a curse to Berta: she would never lift her head from there.
The second story tells about Berta, a greengrocer who donated the church a bell, to be used to alert the citizens with its chimes about the opening and closing of the city gates: this small bust is therefore a sign of gratitude of the Florentines to Berta.
Despite of these legends, this head was more likely a remnant of one of the several Roman statues that were used to embellish the buildings in the Middle Ages: this kind of decoration can be admired also on some ancient palaces in Via delle Belle Donne, just a few steps from Santa Maria Maggiore.