Florence, Italy - Day Three
Welcome to France WELCOME TO FLORENCE,

The other City of David

Click on each image to enlarge.
The Baptistry The oldest of the Cathedral Square religious structures, the Baptistry and it's fabled bronze doors were the key to the renewal of the arts and sciences which began in Florence in the year 1400. Here we first see central doors, Michelangelo labeled the "Gates of Paradise."
The Gates of Paradise The The East Doors of the Florence Baptistry, by Ghiberti, are the most beautiful and most famous, though they came AFTER he won the competition to create the quadrafoil panel designs used in the somewhat older North Doors.
The Flood Rendered in high relief, this panel depicts the flood from the Old Testament.
Joshua and the Battle of Jericho Here we see Ghiberti's visualization of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho. Other subjects include the Creation of Adam (a strong influence upon Michelangelo's version), Cain Killing Abel, and the Drunkeness of Noah (also influential in Michelangelo's depiction).
The Baptism of Christ Over the East Doors we find a sculptural group depicting the baptism of Christ.
The East Doors The North Doors are also by Ghiberti and contain the original trial panel depicting the sacrifice of Isaac.
East Doors (detail) Here's a less distorted view illustrating the incredible detail Ghiberti achieved in Bronze.
South doors The South Doors were completed last. They're by Andrea Pisano and depict stories from the life of John the Baptist.
The Cathedral Facade The main facade of Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as the Duomo, was not completed until 1871 after an earlier, unsuccessful, uncompleted attempt by Arnofolo di Cambio was torn down. What we see today reflects a highly decorative, nineteenth century view of the Gothic style. The Cathedral itself was designed by Bruneleschi and built between 1420 and 1434, a remarkably short span for Cathedrals of its time.
The Cathedral, Capanile, and Baptistry The Campanile or bell tower was designed by Giotto, started in 1334 and completed in 1359, some 22 years after his death, by Francesco Talenti. The Bapistry had been completed by 1202. Thus, the Cathedral is the most recent additon to the complex.
S_Cathedral Plan Designed in the typical Latin cross pattern of the time, the structure appears to be very much a dome with a cathedral attached. Until the building of Michelangelo's dome over St. Peter's in Rome, the Duomo was the first and largest in Italy since the building of the Pantheon during Roman times.
The cathedral clock & window The clock, seen here inside the cathedral, follows the Medieval pattern of 24 numbers around its face and had to be reset periodically to reflect the seasonal changes in the length of the day. The stained glass windows are beautiful, but contribute greatly to the problem of photographing the vast, dark interior of the Cathedral.
Villefranche The recently restored dome frescoes are by Vassari and Zucarri, painted between 1572 and 1579. One might consider them too much of a good thing. Given their height and modest scale, only a very dedicated art scholar or worshiper with a pair of binoculars could discern their meaning. It makes my neck sore just to think about it.
The Piazza della Signoria At one time a fortress, later a center of city government, today just another museum, the Palazzo del Vecchio dominates completely the square and the many works of art chosen to enhance its power and prestige. For many centuries, Florence was more than just a city, but in fact an independent principality governing the entire region of Tuscany.
Palazzo del Vecchio Michelangelo's David guards the entrance to the Signoria on one side while Hercules and Cacus wrestle over the honor on the other side, and a souvenir vendor much more effectively blocks the door (or at least the view).
Michelangelo's David (copy) Long the symbol of Florentine culture and civic pride, Michelangelo's David was moved during the nineteenth century to it's current location in the Academia. A copy stands today in its place. Vendors all over Florence sell their own copies for as little as $2.00. I even saw one version with David embracing a nude Aphrodite. Michelangelo must be rolling in his grave.
Michelangelo's David (copy) Here's a view you have to go there to see. Actually, similiar shots are available as postcards on the streets nearby.
Hercules and Cacus Hercules & Cacus by Bandinelli. The Ufizzi fills the background.
Perseus Perseus, a bronze by Cellini, depicts the moment after Perseus has cut off the head of Medusa to free Andromeda. The base of the statue is as fascinating in his intricate detail as the sculpture upon it. The whole thing sits beneath the shelter of the Loggia del Lanzi facing the Piazza Della Signoria at a right angle to the Palazzo Del Vecchio.
A Restorations Shed Surrounded by lesser works, the Rape of the Sabines sits enshrouded by a wooden shed while experts clean and restore it for the first time since its creation in 1583.
St. George by Donatello Saint George in bronze by Donatello.
Chandelier This is the Chandelier which hovered over our heads during lunch at the Palazzo Borghese. Lunch consisted of a vegetarian lasagna, a few roasted potato bites, Veal Marsallis, green beans, a light ice cream dessert, and a red wine. The meal was a part of the cost of the day-long tour ($150). The chandelier showed no indication of ever having sported candles.
Lunch The dining room of the nineteenth century Palazzo Borghese in Florence with it's mirrors, frescoes, and marble floor seems authentically Renaissance until one notices the absence of fireplaces and the presence of a steam radiators designed to match exactly the elaborate detailing of the room.
A two-hour lunch This was probably the most elegant "ristorante" in which I've ever had the pleasure of dining.
The Piazza dela Republica The Piazza dela Republica, once the city's forum in Roman times, is the largest, most impressive piazza in Florence...also the newest (Now getting it's first "facelift"). It's the current home of the city government. Built in the 1860s as the temporary capital of Italy, it is today the most "modern" building the the historic part of the city.
A Map of Florence A Map of the Eastern section of historic Florence showing the Piazza di Santa Croce.
Carriage Outside Santa Croce.
The Michelangelo Memorial (lower part) Inside Santa Croce, the lower, sculptural portion of the Michelangelo Memorial featuring figures inspired by some of some of his more famous works.
The Michelangelo Memorial (upper part) The newly restored fresco section of the upper portion of the Michelangelo Memorial. He is buried nearby beneath the floor of the church.
Piazza Santa Croce Artist As in all major cities in Europe, street artists are a fixture of the urban landscape, as picturesque themselves as the landmarks they paint.
An artist at work Catering to a one-time-only tourist trade, works by most street artists are small, modestly priced, and fairly realistic.
Artist and his work This artist's work was more colorful and more photographic than most of the others.
An artist and her dogs An artist rests in the shade of Santa Croce with her beautiful Collies. One doesn't often associate such animals with Italy. They made me instantly homesick for our Shelty, Fileena. Though slighly smaller, she very much resembles these two.
Florence This was our departing view of the city of Florence from the Piazzale Michelangiolo as seen from a hill overlooking the cradle of the Renaissance.

Florence, Italy, Firenze to the Italians - comes from their word fiore, meaning flower. Frankly, I've seen more flowers at Walmart. It's spring, they should be flourishing abundantly. There weren't even any Dandelions growing up between the uneven cobblestones of the city's horribly Medieval streets. Even by Italian standards, historic Florence is a nightmare to navigate. Also, never visit Florence on a Monday. The museums are all closed. I went to see paintings. Those I saw in the Florence Cathedral (the Duomo) and at Santa Croce were all (with one notable exception) dark and badly in need or restoration. Add to that the fact that two or three of the city's most famous sculptures WERE being restored and were thus shrouded from the public by giant packing-crate-like sheds, and I have to say, Florence was a disappointment. It is just that you expect so much from it. The beauty of Florence is celebrated all over the world. You have probably already seen it even if you have yet to visit. A television documentary, a painting hanging in Britannia hotel rooms , or a postcard from the beautiful city might have been your first introduction to Florence. Since it has this amazing reputation, you kind of expect a lot. .

The weather was perfect.  May is a wonderful time to visit the Mediterranean.  The 90-minute bus ride from the port city of Livorno to Florence was interesting, if not exciting.  Power lines, vineyards, sheep, light industry, WW II ruins, olive trees, and middle-class homes all compete for attention and give insight into the Italian lifestyle.  Rarely, if ever, does one see a single-story home.  All are built of masonry, all have red tile roofs, and all look pleasantly comfortable.  As the modern freeway (superstrada in Italian) nears the city, the private homes give way to apartment buildings which grow more and more dense, but not taller.  Florence strictly forbids any construction taller than their Cathedral.  Just when the congestion seems impossibly dense, it gets worse.  No bus enters the historic center of town.  There you walk...carefully.  You find yourself so concerned about tripping over the uneven stone pavement that all you ever see are streets and sidewalks.  Pedestrians have the right of way but motor scooters have going for them the stealth factor.  They're very quiet, sneaking up behind you. Startled, you stifle the urge to jump out of their way lest you jump INTO the path of yet another one.

Cathedral Square isn't very.  At best it's a slightly wider street between the octagonal baptistery and the over-decorated cathedral with its matching campanile (bell tower).  The cathedral, both inside and out, is fascinating, if not exactly beautiful.  It goes without saying it's huge (third largest in Christendom).  The dome, because of the way it's constructed (actually an outer dome housing a flatter, inner shell), is much more impressive from the outside than inside.  However the dome's recently restored frescoes are probably the structure's most memorable feature.  But unlike the Sistine frescoes, they're not scaled large enough to study from the floor. One comes away with the feeling that Florentines have always cared much more for sculpture than painting.  The much older baptistery with its three massive sets of bronze doors, whose decoration competition in the year 1400 sort of "kicked off" the Renaissance, are impressive.  I was chagrined to learn later that, like the David in the Piazza Signoria, they too are copies.  The originals, also like David, are in closed-every-Monday museums.

The Medici tombs of San Lorenzo, not far from the Duomo, were magnificent.  Here, directly in back of the church, one is overwhelmed by Michelangelo's New Sacristy (no photos please).  Here is Michelangelo so close you could reach out and touch him (if one dared).  Here is Michelangelo (Mick-el-AN-jel-o to the Italians) the way he wanted to be remembered - Michelangelo the sculptor and architect.  So pervasive was his influence everywhere you look you wonder, could THAT mighty sculpture possibly be a Michelangelo?  If there's not a sign saying, "No Fotografica," it probably isn't.

The Piazza Signoria is much more what one expects of Florence.  It's not as big as the Piazza Santa Croce, but you can almost SMELL the history that permeates every cobblestone.  It was here the radical theologian Savonarola rose to drive out the de Medici for a time; and here he lit the Bonfire of the Vanities.  It was here too he was burned at the stake a year later. (Florentines are rather fond of their vanities.)  Here also are Hercules and Cacus, the pseudo David, Cellini's Perseus, Gianbologna's Rape of the Sabines (boxed up for restoration), and the Neptune Fountain.  Despite being the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence looks and feels more Gothic, even Medieval than Renaissance.  The Palazzo Vecchio reinforces that impression.  Only in the nineteenth century Palazzo Della Republica, fronting what once the ancient Roman forum, does one sense any Classical architectural flavor in the city.

Santa Croce is a graveyard masquerading as a church (not uncommon in Europe where abutting marble floor slabs replace tombstones, almost demand you walk on the graves of the notables).  It's typically Florentine inside and out with a piazza sprawling out before it worthy of the name.  Inside Santa Croce, if you could get close enough, you might see frescoes by Masaccio.  Here you CAN see a beautiful memorial to Michelangelo featuring sculptures influenced by some of his most famous works arrayed before a beautifully restored Fresco memorializing the unhappy master of arts and sciences who put Florence on the map.  He's buried nearby, but then again, so are most of the rest of the Florentine population with any mention in the history books, including Dante, Michiavelli, and Marconi.

I saw it, but I didn't get close enough to the jewelry store masquerading as a bridge called the Ponte Vecchio to now say much about it.  I've been told it looks better from a distance anyway.  In fact, ALL of Florence looks better from a distance, a distance such as the Piazzale Michelangelo which tops a high bluff just across the Arno from the old city.  Built in 1868 with tour busses (or at least very large carriages) in mind, it may be the best place from which to see the city. Capped with yet another fake David (how many does that make now?), the view is one of an idealized Florence, as seen in photos, not the  flowerless, walkathon, closed-on-Mondays, claustrophobic, cobblestoned, motorscootered, tourist Mecca seen from within.  I'll go back someday - on a Tuesday.  Next time, I'll be sure to leave my illusions behind.