Europe, Italy

La Vita Bella

I was only in Florence for a day but it’s easily one of my favorite places in Italy if not the world – that I’ve been to at least.

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Looking up at the dome

After spending Wednesday in Tarquinia, a little town on the coast, it was fun to go back to a bigger city. Tarquinia is known for its Etruscan tombs all of which have frescoes on the interior walls that are incredibly well-preserved, and it was cool to go to the beach for a few hours after seeing those.

Florence though was spectacular. It feels kind of like an expanded small town. When you’re walking down the streets, there’s still a small town feel that you don’t get in Rome or Naples even though Florence is still one of Italy’s biggest cities. This is largely because it has held onto its Medeival/Renaissance past and lacks the wide boulevards that Mussolini installed in Rome. Looking across Florence, you can still see the old tower houses and the loggia built for the cloth markets of the Medici and today functioning as leather markets for all the tourists who come to see Florentine leather. We started our tour walking along the River Arno before turning onto a side street where we walked by Santa Croce (Holy Cross) and then on to a Proto-Renaissance palace that is now a museum of what everyday life was like back then. Some of the rooms retain original wall paintings, and all have either original or replica furniture and artwork to give you an idea of the sort of luxury enjoyed by the rich families of Florence. The artwork is especially interesting as you can see the transition into the Renaissance. On the top floor is the kitchen – in case a fire started, this way only the top floor would burn. It’s filled with the sorts of tools that would have been used and even features a huge bellows for the fireplace.

For lunch, I went with some of my friends to a food market to look around but not finding anything we wanted, we ended up instead a trendy bar down the street. We didn’t actually know this before going in; they just seemed to have good prices and we were hungry. Outside was a little bookshop, so we stopped there before heading back for gelato and a stop by the tourist stands to buy souvenirs. I didn’t get any leather here, but just walking through the market smelled really good. Completely by accident, we came across Orsanmichele, a building once dedicated to the guilds of Florence that is home to one of Donatello’s most famous statues. Naturally I dragged my group around the back of the building to see it, though I had to explain what we were looking at.

We met back with the group in Piazza della Signoria, which is home to some really famous statues. Although they’re all priceless enough to be in museums, only three are copies and the rest are originals. Michelangelo’s real David is of course one that’s a copy, since city officials feared it would be damaged by pollution, but the copy is still striking enough to give you an idea of what it would have been like to enter this square – the center of political life- and see the man who symbolizes Florence. Other statues include Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women and his bronze of Cosimo de Medici. Figures like Perseus, Hercules, and Neptune make up the rest. Just like when the statues where commissioned, it’s like being in an outdoor museum.

The group then walked through the interior plaza of the Uffizi Museum to the river and the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) which is full of tourists and expensive jewelry stores. The bridge used to be where butchers sold their wares but with the rise of the Medici, some of the noble women complained about the smell. That’s why even today, only jewelry stores can operate on the bridge.

Finally, we walked to Florence’s most famous building, the cathedral – Mary of the Flowers. Florence is symbolized by lilies, so in the Italo-Byzantine façade, you can see both the red lilies of Florence and the white lilies of Mary. The baptistery in front of the cathedral is a few hundred years older than the rest of it, and is actually dedicated to John the Baptist.  It was built along with an older cathedral that was torn down for this one to be built in its place, though the famous dome built by Brunelleschi was constructed 43 years after the rest of the Church was finished.   We didn’t go in the church unfortunately because of the long line, but walking through Florence is absolutely amazing since many of it’s famous sites are all outside. On the way back to the bus, we saw Dante’s house, which was pretty cool too.  Florence really just feels like a bigger Siena with lots of little streets, nice people, and good food.  It’s a place I would love to visit again.

Until next time ~

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