Visiting Italy - Rome to Venice & Back - Part 4
Back in 1997 my Aunt Mary took my sister Nanci and I on the trip of a lifetime to Italy. We were very excited about this as both our father and our maternal grandparents came from this beautiful country, and we had always wanted to visit. This hub is a continuation of Visiting Italy - Rome to Venice & Back - Part 1.
It is the morning after the night before that ended with a bus load of sleepheads who had been wined and dined in Chianti, pulling into Florence just in time to check into our hotel. We had got a good's night sleep and now we were ready for this next very busy day.
As our bus entered the city itself we immediately noticed the beautiful skyline. The Dome of the Cathedral was readily visible, along with the bell tower amongst red tiled roofs, stretching in every direction towards the wonderful rolling hills that are the beauty of Tuscany. Florence was originally established by Julius Caesar in 59BC and was set up as a settlement for his veteran soldiers. In fact it was laid out in the style of an army camp with the main streets intersecting at the Piazza della Republicca. Situated in the fertile valley of the Arno River, Florence quickly became an important commercial centre for Medieval trade and finance. Throughout the ages it came under the rule of different powerful families, the Medici being the most prominent. After several generations and in the late 1400's Lorenzo, grandson of Cosimo di Medici gained control and Florence would be forever changed. Lorenzo was a great patron of the arts and over time he introduced musicians, composers and singers to Florentine life, but of most significance are the names of artists such as Botticelli, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.
Today Florence is known as the "cradle of the Renaissance" for its many monuments, churches and beautiful buildings. This morning we are starting off our walking tour in the square that holds the Domed Cathedral - Santa Maria del Fiore - simply known as The Duomo. This I think was the most beautiful Cathedral I have ever seen - at least from the outside appearances. First of all it is massive, but the architectural detail is magnificent with it's pastel colored marble facade from Carrera, Prato and Sieno in tones of pink and green over white.
Toward the top of the Cathedral and all along the face of it are archways holding marble statues and to the right of the Cathedral rises Giotto's Bell Tower. The front door of the Cathedral is made up of squares depicting scenes with figures of people raised and sculped in gold and bronze. We had a little bit of time to tour the inside of the Cathedral before moving on to the next destination. All of a sudden I was thinking more and more of my father, and it was in this Cathedral, in this country that I was inspired to light a candle in memory of him. It was as though with the dawning of each new day, and the further I traveled through Italy, the closer I was able to connect to who my father was.
The Florence Museum
Next we are heading for the Florence Museum - The Gallery of the Academia. When we reached the museum the guide went in ahead and presented our passes. Once again we experienced one of the "pros" of traveling this way, as we breezed by many people waiting in line to purchase their tickets. We entered the first long hall of the museum and immediately saw Michelangelo's David at the end atop a pedestal. We would have loved to just head straight down the hall to gaze at David, but of course protocol tells you that you must at least have a glance at the works of art along the way. This area held early works by Michelangelo, some of them unfinished, so we were able to get a bit of an insight as to his technique.
Eventually we got closer to David, and as we approached we noticed that his upper body, and in fact his hands are out of proportion to the rest of his body. Yet, when you stand at the foot of this magnificent work of art the uneven proportions seem to disappear. It has been thought that originally this piece was intended for a church facade or a much higher pedestal, and therefore looking up at it, the proportions would even out. Aside from all of this, the details put into David are wonderful, from the shoulder blades, rib cage and right down to the sinewy muscles in his arms and legs. And now I will stop right here, but I am sure you can fill in the rest.
The rest of this morning was spent shopping in the many stores looking at the gold that Florence is famous for, as well as leather goods stores, and thinking of David. In one shop I almost bought a leather coat. It was absolutely gorgeous, like butter. And it fit me to a "T". However, it was a bit more expensive than I was willing to pay, so I showed great restraint and walked away from it, and proceeded to think of David once more.
On Auntie Mary's suggestion, once again we had opted out of the optional tour for the afternoon and instead decided to tour Florence on our own. In and out of shops we went, all the while taking in the beautiful architecture all around us in the detailed columns, arches, lintels, domed buildings and niches containing various statuary. We also looked into the windows of gorgeous pasticciarias and candy shops showcasing very tempting looking delicacies. And, as we had done in San Gimignano and Siena, we admired the beautiful wooden doorways, that are so much a part of Tuscany, as well as the colourful potted flowers and shrubs that we saw everywhere. It was a gorgeous day for strolling and we had decided to make our way over to the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio Bridge.
The Ponte Vecchio Bridge & The Uffizi Gallery
The Ponte Vecchio is a Medieval bridge that was originally made of wood. After being damaged from a flood it was rebuilt completely enclosed in stone. There have been stores on the Ponte Vecchio since the 13th Century. But where once it held tanners, butchers and bakers, it now houses some of the best gold jewelry shops along with various other gems and souvenirs. So of course we headed for some of the gold shops.
In one of these shops Auntie Mary purchased a loved little gold bauble, This piece is a completely round filigreed gold ball - hollow in the middle - about the size of a nickle. I remember that afternoon like it was yesterday, and I remember how much I admired that bauble. When she passed away in 2007 she left it to me along with several of her other gold pieces. This is of course my favourite piece as it holds so many memories of that wonderful trip with my aunt in Italy and of Florence in particular.
When we were leaving for this trip Craig asked a special favour of me. He had always wanted to see the Ufizzi Gallery, and therefore asked me to go in his place and tell him all about it. So after we had our fill of gold shops we started heading for the Piazza della Signoria and the Uffizi which was just a short distance from the Ponte Vecchio. Here we were treated to another sight of David, this time of course it was simply a copy, but nonetheless! This apparently was the resting place of the original David, but after it was damaged it was whisked away to the Gallery of Academia - and a copy put in its place. The Uffizi Gallery is located just off this square.
Aunt Mary has decided that she is just going to sit in the square, have a coffee and rest, so off Nanci and I go to get tickets. The Uffizi is massive and sits on the top floor of a building dating from the mid 1500's which once held administrative offices of the Tuscan State. It was created by the Grand Duke Francesco 1 - and subsequently enriched by the Medici family who were great collectors of paintings, sculptures and all works of art. The works of art are largely from the Renaissance period by painters such as Botticelli, Carravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci and of course Michelangelo as well as many of the Dutch Masters. Truth to tell it is a bit overwhelming, but Nanci and I did our best taking in as much as we could spending almost two hours wandering in and out of the many rooms until we finally realized we were exhausted.
Out in the square once again we located Auntie Mary resting by a fountain. After some discussion we hailed a cab to go back to our room, freshen up and have a rest. We had done ourselves proud walking around Florence that day and our feet were letting us know they'd had enough for a while. We decided though that our time in Florence was so short and we were enjoying it so much that we would come back down that night to this very square and have dinner in one of the outside cafes. It was a great way to end our stay in Florence and we were glad that we did. Once again, we had taken the opportunity of communing with the locals on our own, rather than joining in on an extra tour dinner
Please check out part 5 of this series by the same name to read about Verona and Balogna