L’esperienza de questa dolce vita
L’esperienza de questa dolce vita. The experience of this sweet life
Dante Aligheri, The Divine Comedy
Please note that this series of posts are out of order. As I am sure you have noticed, it has been a long while since my last update (but don’t worry, I promise they are coming soon so please stick around!) I have since been to Florence three times although we have been to a number of other locations in between my subsequent returns to Florence; I wanted to keep this organized by city.
Firenze Part I
Florence is amazing but it was absolutely freezing while we were there! But even in the bitter wind and numbing cold, you still can’t deny this city of its beauty; I wouldn’t sacrifice standing outside all day in negative 2 degree weather for just any city.. The culture and caliber of art and architecture Florence has to offer is almost unmatched; but then again how could I expect anything less from the city associated with the likes of Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante, Machiavelli and the Medici family as well as hundreds of other notable figures.
Traveling in Florence is excellent, the city is small and walkable from end to end; all the major attractions can be reached by foot. From the train station it is a brisk 5 minute walk to the heart of the city and Brunelleschi’s dome rising from Cattedral di Santa Maria del Fiore. We visit the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Ghiberti, Machiavelli and cenotaphs (empty tombs) of Dante Alighieri and Leon Battista Alberti in the Basilica of Santa Croce. As I step out into the cloister, the Pazzi chapel is before me, a 600 year old Renaissance masterpiece. I am taken by surprise; this sensation is still new to me; it is as though at every corner I turn to see a page from one of my architecture or art history textbooks come to life.
Returning to the iconic Duomo, it is beginning to sink in that I am finally in Florence; in Florence and preparing to climb to the top of Brunelleschi’s Dome! Now, if ever you wanted to experience a staircase that does not adhere to any modern day code or known safety regulation, this would be a good place to start. The 463 steps to the top of the cupola are so irregular and unpredictable that I find it almost comical, but maybe that was just the physical exhaustion speaking. The higher you climb, the more twisted and bizarre the passageways become, and in such a dim light, I feel as though I am in a Tim Burton movie. As a short rest from the stairs, there are two levels along the interior which allow you to walk around the circumference of the dome; I wish more churches would let you access these areas, the frescoes are difficult to see from the ground, and standing here I have a unique vantage point where I can make out all the details I missed from the ground. However the view from the top of the dome is well worth the workout because upon reaching the viewing area, the city reveals itself to you. Extra bonus: while we were up there we ran into some other American students studying abroad who pointed us in the direction of some sort of chocolate festival going on which we may not have found otherwise. Approximately 50-60 vendors were selling every sort of chocolate delectable imaginable in Piazza della Repubblica. Rewards for conquering the stairs and gathering energy to climb Giotto’s campanile, up next. With frequent breaks, we next climbed to the top of the campanile (bell tower) which blessed us with excellent views looking back at the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore before continuing on to gaze up at the ornate golden ceilings in the Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistery of St. John) beyond Lorenzo Ghiberti’s famous bronze doors, the Gates of Paradise.
Piazza della Signoria, the square in front of Palazzo Vecchio was nearly empty on this, likely one of the coldest days of the year; mental note to come back here some other time to enjoy the square and adjacent loggia. Our last major stop for the night is the renowned bridge, Ponte Vecchio over the Arno River, another landmark many associate with Florence. In recent decades, this bridge is known for the jewelry shops that occupy the buildings built up along the sides of the bridge. I can’t afford any of these luxuries but it is still nice to browse through all the window displays, you know, just in case I win the lottery or marry a billionaire.
First stop for day two is the Galleria dell’ Academia, home of Michelangelo’s David, there were a lot of other spectacular statues, frescoes and artifacts on display, but it’s rather hard to compete with this museum’s 17′ tall nude marble main attraction; he really is as beautiful as they say. Also fascinating, leading up to the David, are Michelangelo’s unfinished Prisoners. An elbow, an abdomen, half of a face, a man trying to escape his stone prison; the figures are simultaneously submerging and emerging from the stone, they gasp for breath, twisting and flailing like the arms of a drowning man.
As the weather was still abysmal, opting for a day of museums and indoor activities was mutually agreed upon. Next on our list was the Duomo museum, which holds many of the more delicate pieces from the Cathedral, Campanile and Baptistery. Most of what you see on the facades currently are replicas of the original panels and statues which are kept in the museum for preservation. While it is unfortunate that the originals can no longer be where they were intended, such has become the reality of many buildings across Europe. On our way back to the train station we make one last stop to visit the Basilica Santa Maria Novella before heading home to curl up in our warm beds.
Firenze Part II
We returned to Florence a second time to experience one of the most prestigious galleries in Italy: the Uffitzi Gallery. The collection of art here is outstanding, everywhere I look I see the phenomenal genius of some of the most influential Renaissance and pre Renaissance sculptors and painters of Italy including Boticelli, Michelangelo, Giotto, Cimabue, Duccio, Lippi, da Vinci, Raphael, Titian and Carravaggio. It is impossible to see everything properly and appreciate each room the way it deserves, to do that would take days, so instead Marco takes us through the museum to the most important pieces. Even so, it doesn’t take too long before I have wandered farther and farther away from the group and into the Boticelli room, because for me this is what I have been most anxious to see. Boticelli’s Birth of Venus and Allegory of Spring are the two that I remember most vividly, I must have been in there for at least an hour, it may have been shorter but I can’t say for certain, I was captivated.
Stepping out into Piazza della Signoria feels much different the second time around, as does the entire city. The last time we were here the weather was miserable, but now I don’t even need a coat! Crowds of tourists are bustling and there are street performers and vendors all around. We can enjoy being outdoors today and after admiring the statues in the Loggia del Lanzi continue on to the Boboli Gardens of the Piti Palace. I did not realize how extensive these gardens were, we saw much of it but not nearly half. I remember taking a break to lie in the shade of a giant tree and the next thing we knew they were announcing that the gardens were closing and it took us 10 or 15 minutes to walk back to the entrance.
Firenze Part III
My roommate and I took a weekend trip into Florence to see La Traviata performed in St. Mark’s Anglican Church; this was my second opera in Italy (I also saw Madame Butterfly at Teatro dell’Opera in Rome). At first I was a little concerned about what to expect in regard to the caliber of the performance as it was such a small venue, however everything was fantastic, from the voices and the sound to the intimate setting. The only downside was that because the venue was so small, there was no live orchestra, however I did not mind because the pianist was excellent and we had second row seats, 10 feet away from the stage and could see the performers 100x better than I could ever have seen them in a big opera house like the one in Rome. To date, this is still one of my favorite highlights of experiencing Italy thus far.
In case you were wondering…La Traviata is the story of a courtesan and nobleman falling in love against the will of his father and is the inspiration for the movies “Pretty Woman” and “Moulin Rouge”. While you may not be familiar with the name, I am certain you have heard at least one of the songs from Giuseppe Verdi’s famous opera: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDo8Iz8LzW4
Okay, so…..this post was going to be strictly Florence related, however the perfect segue opportunity has arisen and I’m going to take it because I don’t want to forget to mention it later and also I just really love Italian operas.
The opera I saw in Rome was Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. I had a box seat in the third balcony which was exciting because I’d never sat in a box for a performance before, however this particular box was not situated in the most ideal place to see the stage, I could however see straight down into the orchestra pit, haha. Still, it was an amazing experience to see such a large production in a beautiful opera house even if I spent 3 hours craning my neck over the side of the railing. Hearing this song live gave me chills. 🙂 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ofaoLKPz7c