My First Impression of Europe: Florence

Duomo

Duomo

Florence was not part of the original itinerary but I had read about the famed city: a classic city through which the Arno River flows, a city of undeniable historical importance as the European trade and finance center in the Middle Age and birth place of the Renaissance and that it was in Florence Michelangelo at twenty six created the renowned and timeless sculpture, David.

While in Rome, we booked via our hotel a day trip to Florence. We were picked up from the hotel early at quarter to 7 and did not come back to Trastevere till 9:30 at night. It was a long day but with 6 hours on the road and 3 hours in waiting, 1.5 hours in the morning at the tour company’s office and another 1.5 hours in the afternoon in Florence for straggling tour mates, our time in Florence was a tight rush.

Nonetheless, it was a fun day. It started with a couple of breakfast boxes handed to us on our way out by a front desk staff, a nice service from our hotel providing boxed breakfasts for guests heading out too early to make the regular breakfast time. We had a big group that filled a mid-sized bus. Most were from the U.S., a small group from Japan, a mother and daughter from Russia, another mother and daughter team from Israeli and two sisters from Lebanon, the two stragglers who kept everyone else waiting in Florence for 1.5 hours because they were “lost”. I think they were just lost in shopping since they came back with a dozen shopping bags 🙂

Our chief tour guide was a young lady who had moved to Italy from Russia and she could speak Italian, Russian and English. Another tour guide was a Japanese lady who guided the Japanese group. On the drive up, we passed a large sun flower field that made a picturesque sight of the road side. At some point later, I descried what seemed a packed old town perched on a hill top quite distant from the right side of the road; I could not tell if the many buildings of classic style intact or ruined.

Our first stop in town was Accademia Gallery (Academy Gallery), the gallery of Accademia dell’Arte del Disegno (Academy of the Art and Design). The academy, founded in mid 16th century, was the first art school of drawing in Europe. It was moved in18th century to its current location on Via Ricasoli, the former St Matthew’s hospital, and the gallery was accreted adjacent to the academy then. Accademia Gallery is where Michelangelo’s David has resided since it was moved here in 1873 from its original outdoor location. The marble sculpture, David, standing 17 feet above its pedestal, was more surreal and powerful than all the images I had seen. Wish I got a snap shot but it was not allowed. Michelangelo was commissioned to work on David between 1501 and 1504. In this representation of the biblical shepherd, at the moment he was ready to face Goliath, Michelangelo united physical beauty, courage and competence into one body and idealized man. Michelangelo‘s David epitomizes Renaissance’s immeasurable worth to the development of humanism, ending medieval age’s dark view of man and returning to a happy view of man, who is not a slave but a master of his own body and mind, who is beautiful, rational and capable of great achievement. The gallery charges for admission, for us it was included in the trip.

After the Academy Gallery, we were transported to the city’s historical center and were left on foot for the rest of the day.

Duomo

Duomo


Cathedral Santa Maria of Florence (or Duomo, or Santa Maria del Fiore) is situated in a crammed neighborhood. Its most striking element is the unprecedented octagonal dome designed by architect Brunelleschi, the largest dome of its time and built without the use of scaffolding. The construction of the church took a long 170 years from 1296 to 1436. As the tallest building in Florence, its dome and campanile dominate the city’s sky line which is best when seen from a distant altitude.

Upper Façade and Campanile

Upper Façade and Campanile


The entire exterior of the church is ornately decorated with colorful marbles of green, red and white. The original façade however was bare and the present one was not added till 19th century. On the right of the façade is the campanile (a free standing bell tower) designed by Giotto. I would have given myself time to climb the tower if I wasn’t with the tour group.

Ribbed Vaults

Ribbed Vaults


Duomo is the 4th largest church in the world and has a capacity for 30,000 people. The Gothic styled interior is lofty but not decorated a whole of. On the ceiling are impressive ribbed vaults.

Interior of the Dome

Interior of the Dome


The inner side of the Dome is decorated with frescos depicting the Biblical stories from the Creation to the Last Judgment.

Baptistry

Baptistry


Baptistry, where the Florentines were baptized till the end of 19th century, is right across from the front of Cathedral Santa Maria of Florence. The Romanesque, octagonal baptistery, one of the oldest buildings in Florence, was constructed between 1059 and 1128 on the site of an older 6th century baptistry. We did not get to go inside. The exterior was decorated with marbles of green and white.

Gates of Paradise

Gates of Paradise


There are three remarkable bronze doors on the baptistry. The gold dripping East Door ( or Gates of Paradise) is most conspicuous. Facing the Duomo, it comprises 10 gold panels depicting biblical scenes from the Old Testament and was completed in 1553 after 27 years of work between Ghiberti, Michelozzo and Benozzo Gozzoli.

Piazza della Signoria

Piazza della Signoria


Piazza della Signoria, civic center of Florentine life since the medieval time, is still a popular square in the heart of historical center. Seen here on the north east corner of the L-shaped Square is a bronze equestrian statue of Cosimo I from 1594 by Giambologna.

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio


Constructed at the end of 13th century and the municipal government building of Florence since 1872, Palazzo Vecchio occupies one long end of Piazza della Signoria. It was built as a Tuscan Gothic fortress-palace with ogival, mullioned windows and crenels on top of the building. A tower built into the façade was encased in scaffolding at that time for some work. Out in the open air right to the front entrance are sculptures of Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli, and left to the entrance is a replica of Michelangelo’s David, where the original stood till it was moved to Academy Gallery. Next to the left side of the build set Fountain of Neptune.

Loggia della Signoria

Loggia della Signoria


Loggia della Signoria sits on the south west corner of the square and right across from the front entrance to Palazzo Vecchio. Built in late 14th century, the loggia is open on its north and east sides with interspersed arches. Under its roof, are some great Renaissance statues and sculptures on display. The foremost one in the photo is The Rape of the Sabine Woman.

Fountain of Neptune

Fountain of Neptune


Fountain of Neptune, built in 16th century, sits across to the front left of Palazzo Vecchio.

I wish I had known then, or our guide had pointed it out to us, that a few steps further to the south side of the square, we could find Arno River, the famous bridge over the river, Ponte Vecchio, and Uffizi Gallery, a magnificent river bank gallery from the powerful Medici family. Instead we were taken through a different direction to a restaurant for lunch and totally missed these sites.

Group Lunch

Group Lunch


We shared with the two mother daughter teams our group lunch, that was included in the trip.

Following lunch was Piazza Santa Croce, which is another square near by, located east of Piazza della Signoria and behind Palazzo Vecchio. We walked back to and through Piazza della Signoria to get to Piazza Santa Croce. Piazza Santa Croce is a much larger square decked with buildings and shops on all sides. Dominating the east side of the square is Basilica di Santa Croce, which we visited after our group tour of a leather shop on the sqaure.

Basilica di Santa Croce

Basilica di Santa Croce


Basilica di Santa Croce is a Franciscan church built between 1294 and 1442 in Gothic style. The orante façade of green and white marbles replaced the austere Gothic façade in mid 19th century while the rest of the exterior remains the original plain design. Erected on the front left of the church is a remarkable statue of Dante.

Interior Basilica di Santa Croce

Interior Basilica di Santa Croce


The interior of the church is also typical of Gothic, not ornately decorated. Through out the church however there are some remarkable chapels and tombs of the illustrious.

Michelangelo’s Tomb

Michelangelo’s Tomb

Galileo’s Tomb

Galileo’s Tomb

The hour or so left for the day, we spent on shopping between Piazza Santa Croce and Piazza della Signoria. It was a good place to find some leather goods. I bought myself a leather jacket for €100 from an asking price twice as much. Obviously most of the shops in that area allowed bargaining. Some might not though. If in doubt, err on the money saving side, find out if you can negotiate the price.

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