Sunday, March 13, 2011

Our Italy Trip: Florence

Florence, Day 1

Well, first we had to get there. We hopped on a train out of Venice, and along the way, I firmed up our plans for what we would be seeing and when in Florence. We enjoyed our train travel in Italy -- probably because we sprung for first class for the duration of our trip. After arriving and checking in, we headed to the famous Duomo.

It's officially the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, but we never heard nor seen anyone call it that; it's just the Duomo. Its construction began in 1296, ambitiously designed to be capped by the largest brick dome -- and it still is. Progress was slow to begin with, though. It wasn't until 1418 that they were ready to work in earnest the dome, with the rest completed. Well, it turned out their ambition was greater than their knowledge, because by that time they still had no idea how to actually build the dome. Filippo Brunelleschi had to invent hoists and cranes that were marvels at the time, as well as new designs to add the strength the dome would need. It was finally finished in 1436.

We started by observing the baptistery doors, crafted by Lorenzo Ghiberti. On the north side, the panels depict the life of Christ, and on the east, they show scenes from the New Testament. Next, we undertook the tiring journey to the top of the campanile (bell tower). It's possible to climb the Duomo, too, but we decided on the bell tower. Its 414 steps are a little better than the Duomo's 463, and the bell tower also affords a view of the Duomo against the city. (We considered doing the Duomo another day, but after doing the bell tower...I don't think we wanted to!)

Next we headed south, across Ponte Vecchio (more on Ponte Vecchio later), and up to Piazzale Michelangelo. Here, we had a good view of the city, as well as a bronze replica of the David.

That wrapped up Monday, so after dinner we headed back to our hotel, Residenza Johanna.

Florence, Day 2

On Tuesday morning, we started with the Galleria dell'Accademia, home to Michelangelo's famous David. David was sculpted by a 26-year-old Michelangelo from a leftover block of marble ruined by another artist. The proportions seem odd when viewed in the gallery, and for good reason. David was intended to be placed atop the Duomo, which perspective would render the proportions correct. As it stands in the gallery, it's plain to see the over-sized head, hands, and arms. David is flanked by Michelangelo's unfinished Slaves, never quite freed from their marble blocks. The gallery is also home to the mock-up of Giambologna's Rape of the Sabine Women (or, more accurately, "abduction"). The work was intended as a demonstration of the artist's ability to create a complex sculptural group, and the connection to the legendary event in Rome's early history was only invented later. The completed sculpture is found in the Piazza della Signoria, outside the Uffizi.

After lunch, we visited Santa Croce. There we saw the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Ghiberti, and Rossini. Off the main cloister, in the Cappella dei Pazzi, we observed the dome shown above. The painting has been partially restored, but the interesting part is that the arrangement of the constellations (depicted here as their mythical figures) is rendered exactly as they would have appeared over Florence on July 4, 1442. Nobody knows why this date was chosen (the chapel was not completed until years later), though some speculate that the date was important to the Pazzi family.

After another delicious dinner and a sampling of several more flavors of gelato, we called it a day.

Florence, Day 3

We began Wednesday with a trip to the Bargello. This museum houses a large collection of sculptures by Michelangelo, Donatello, Cellini, and others. We were also able to compare Ghiberti's design for the Duomo's baptistery doors to that of his competitor, Brunelleschi. Personally, I think the right choice was made.

We then returned to the Duomo, since we hadn't had much time to spend there on Monday. It's hard to describe just how grand this cathedral felt. It wasn't just enormous, it was also very elaborate. We opted against climbing to the top, after seeing how exhausting the climb up the campanile was. The interior of the dome was covered in depictions of heaven and hell, and even had a false cupola illusion around the actual one.

Next, we visited the Galleria degli Uffizi. The Uffizi is most famous for Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. However, the gallery also contains many great works by Botticelli, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and others. Its collection of Renaissance masterpieces is unrivaled.

After the Uffizi, we wandered the area a bit and did a little shopping. We picked up a few keepsakes in Mercato Nuovo. We also found a stationery store. During our entire trip to Italy, we kept our eyes open for a set of stationery that would remind us of our trip. While we never quite found what we were looking for, this little shop had cards of several famous sites in Italy with fronts that could be formed into a sort of diorama. So, naturally, we snapped up cards of the places we'd already visited and those we planned to visit.

We then visited Ponte Vecchio. In 1593 the Medici grand duke Ferdinand I, who had to cross the bridge (via a second floor passage) to get between the Medici palace and his offices, threw out all the shops on the bridge -- except for the goldsmiths and jewelers. Since that time, Ponte Vecchio has been home to only those two trades.

We finished up our last night in Florence with a cooking class across the Arno, near Palazzo Pitti. Our Australian-Italian instructor was great, as was the food! Things moved quickly, but fortunately we have copies of the recipes we made. It was a great way to end our stay in Florence.

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