“The world is made up of five elements: earth, air, fire, water and the Florentines.” ~ Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503)
The panoramic skyline of Florence is not complete without the famous Duomo, or Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Brunelleschi’s Dome, but the Duomo is only one monument within the greater complex housed within Piazza del Duomo and Piazza San Giovanni. These monuments in the UNESCO-listed historic center of Florence date back to the 13th and 14th centuries and are a testament to the creativity and innovation from the Italian Renaissance.
This image is of the Cathedral at sunset.
The five monuments that make up the Duomo complex include the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Campanile (Bell Tower), the Baptistry of San Giovanni, the Crypt of Santa Reparata and the Opera Museum.
This an excerpt from a 2013 BLOG POST. Your can read it all with millions of pictures here.
Florence isn’t just one of the prettiest, most charming cities in Italy. Historically, it’s also been one of the most important places in all of the western world. So wrapping your mind around this city of cities can take a lot. But we just threw ourselves in… there’s really no other way to experience this grand old dame of Europe.
No we haven’t succumbed to “altitude sickness”. We are in fact in the Arctic Circle right now – with Wifi…It’s just were never able to finish our travel posts towards the end of last year, with all the weddings, work and when the 100 hour weeks took over…
But with us in Norway now for our 37 Frames Aurora Photography workshop, we thought we’d squeeze in a photo essay before we start to chase the lights and live out one of biggest all time dreams – however it plays out. And so from the North of Europe we travel back in time to the south. And here it is. Florence. Firenze. The Florentines. A city bustling with commerce and culture, art, science and fashion. And to quote Frances Mayes, “If I lived here…I have a feeling this place would take me.”
After morning with Ricardo our B&B owner who ran out to buy us breakfast rather than cook it (Why would I? He said. We have the best bakeries, cafes and food selection in the world right outside. Who wants to eat my cooking over that?). We found out that he was an artist. A sculptor. His work was poignant and thoughtful. It was truly remarkable. He bought the B&B for his daughter and was just looking after it until she was ready to take over. He was, is, and always will be a gifted artist. It was a wonderful chance meeting that we ended up in his little B&B in the middle of the city. Thanks Ricardo. We hope our paths cross again someday.
It was then out into the streets to see as much as we could possibly fit into the day without complete collapse. Getting anywhere was always going to be difficult though as just waking the streets – every door, every window, every street was just begging to be photographed.
We made our way past the iconic Duomo. We were coming back here later in the day so we wouldn’t stop to take photos now. Or so we told ourselves. We were on our way to an early appointment with David at the Accademia and so all real appreciation of what we were seeing in front of us would have to wait. But how could we not run off at least a few images on the way past?? Spectacular from any angle.
We made it to the Accademia Gallery. So excited and quite overcome with anticipation. Today, we were here to see Michelangelo’s David. Undoubtedly the world’s most famous sculpture, the museum also houses five other Michelangelo sculptures – the four unfinished Prisoners and St. Matthew – and a collection of Gothic and Renaissance paintings that were once in the Medici collections. Very unassuming building. Would never have believed that so many of the history’s masterpieces were behind the walls of this yellow structure. No photos allowed inside… we totally abided by the rules even though we truly must have been the ONLY ones who did. The awe of seeing that amazing sculpture in front of us – for real – was only slightly marred by the guards constant reprimand to every click of every shutter – “no photography”, “no photography”, “no photography”, “no photography”… echoing throughout the room. But nothing was going to spoil our admiration of the masterpiece in front of us. There are no words to describe seeing it in person. It’s a bucket list moment for sure.
Michelangelo’s David arrived in 1873, moved to the Accademia from the Piazza della Signoria in order to better conserve it. A copy of the statue still stands in Piazza della Signoria where it formerly was displayed. We have a million photographs of that coming up shortly!! Despite the familiarity of the statue, the sheer size of the marble sculpture came as a complete surprise. It was commissioned by the Opera del Duomo in 1501. The work was deliberately designed to symbolize the virtues of Republican Florence and freedom from foreign and papal domination. Recently, it has come to symbolize the ultimate symbol of the artistic and intellectual ambitions of the Renaissance.
The 16-foot high block of marble was transformed in 3 years into the work of art that was to establish, along with the Pietà displayed at the Vatican, Michelangelo’s reputation as the foremost sculptor of his day. David was always intended as an outdoor sculpture which explains some of the extraordinary physical distortions evident in the statue, such as the overly large hands and head. Even the eyes are made to be looked at from below; when examined from statue eye level, in fact, the two eyes were found to be looking in different directions.
Among the other works housed in the Accademia are Giambologna’s original plaster copy of the Rape of the Sabines (original marble one located in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Piazza della Signoria – again photos of that one are on their way below – but we were disappointed to find the plaster copy at the Galleria under renovation), Botticelli’s Madonna and Child and Madonna of the Sea, (just phenomenal and such a beautiful unspoken language. It is through these visual images and works of art that the ideas, moments in time and feelings of Botticelli and others were expressed. A real glimpse into history). There were a few works by Perugino, Filippino Lippi, Pontormo, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Bronzino that also left us breathless. Knowing we would end up being here all day browsing if didn’t keep to our schedule we departed and wandered the beautiful medieval streets.
Feels like we’ve stepped back in time… Until we see the Golden Arches. Oh Maccas. With some pretty doors.
Back past the Duomo again. Again we can’t help ourselves – a few images on the run. We WILL be back later.
Next up we turn down a small alley to find ourselves at the Casa de Dante. Durante Alighieri, mononymously referred to as Dante, was that amazing Italian poet, prose writer, literary theorist, moral philosopher, and political thinker. Of course we LOVE the monumental epic poem Commedia, later named La divina commedia (Divine Comedy). Considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature. Thank you UQ…
In Italy Dante is known as il Sommo Poeta (“the Supreme Poet”) and most importantly, Dante is also called the “Father of the Italian language”… We absolutely had to stop and pay tribute. Even if we were almost run over by the Segway tours.
A near death experience…
Next up we wanted to explore the Loggia dei Lanzi, also called the Loggia della Signoria, adjoining the Uffizi Gallery. It consists of wide arches open to the street, three bays wide and one bay deep. The arches rest on clustered pilasters with Corinthian capitals. The wide arches appealed so much to the Florentines, that Michelangelo even proposed that they should be continued all around the Piazza della Signoria.
It was built between 1376 and 1382 to house the assemblies of the people and hold public ceremonies. The vivacious construction of the Loggia is in stark contrast with the severe architecture of the Palazzo Vecchio right next door. It is effectively an open-air sculpture gallery of antique and Renaissance art. After the construction of the Uffizi at the rear of the Loggia, the Loggia’s roof was modified by Bernardo Buontalenti and became a terrace from which the Medici princes could watch ceremonies in the piazza. Its curved arches foretell Renaissance classicism. The statue of Perseo holding Medusa’s head, by Cellini (1554), is a stark reminder of what happened to those who crossed the Medici, and along with Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines (the real one!), are two of many beautiful sculptures found under the arches of the Loggia dei Lanzi.
On the steps of the Loggia are the Medici lions; two Marzoccos, marble statues of lions, heraldic symbols of Florence; the one on the right is from Roman times and the one on the left was sculpted by Flaminio Vacca in 1598. It was originally placed in the Villa Medici in Rome, but found its final place in the Loggia in 1789. Now seems to be also home to pigeons. In retrospect it seems to be around here that Trace’s obsession with Pigeonography began. In earnest.
Underneath the bay on the far left is the bronze statue of Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini. It shows the mythical Greek hero holding his sword in his right hand and holding up triumphantly the Medusa’s decapitated head in his left. The cliff notes version: “The well-proportioned muscular body of Perseus stands poised on the right leg. Perseus is subdued, holding back his emotions. Blood is gushing from the head and the neck of the dead Medusa. The richly decorated marble pedestal, also by Cellini, shows four graceful bronze statuettes of Jupiter, Mercurius, Minerva and Danaë.”
Benvenuto Cellini worked almost ten years on this bronze (1545-1554). His wax design was immediately approved by Cosimo I de’ Medici. He met numerous difficulties which, according to his autobiography, almost brought him to the brink of death. The casting of this bronze statue was several times unsuccessful. When attempting again, the melting furnace got overheated, spoiling the casting of the bronze. Cellini gave orders to feed the furnace with his household furniture and finally with about 200 pewter dishes and plates, and his pots and pans. This caused the bronze to flow again. After the bronze had cooled, the statue was miraculously finished, except for three toes on the right foot. These were added later.
On the far right is the manneristic group Rape of the Sabine Women by the Flemish artist Jean de Boulogne, better known by his Italianized name Giambologna. This impressive work was made from one imperfect block of white marble, the largest block ever transported to Florence. After being disappointed that we couldn’t see the model under renovation in the Galleria Academia earlier, we were treated to an amazing spectacle as the sun hit the sculpture in just the right way for us to appreciate it’s true artistic merits. Giambologna wanted to create a composition with the figura serpentina, an upward snakelike spiral movement to be examined from all sides. This is the first group representing more than a single figure in European sculptural history to be conceived without a dominant viewpoint. It can be equally admired from all sides. It’s been at the Loggia since 1583.
Nearby is Giambologna’s less celebrated marble sculpture Hercules beating the Centaur Nessus (1599) and placed here in 1841 from the Canto de’ Carnesecchi. It was sculpted from one solid block of white marble with the help of Pietro Francavilla
The Rape of Polyxena, is a fine diagonal sculpture by Pio Fedi from 1865. There were all just astounding.
The Piazza della Signoria has been the center of political life in Florence since the 14thcentury with the prominent Palazzo Vecchio overlooking the square. It was the scene of great triumphs, such as the return of the Medici in 1530 as well as the Bonfire of the Vanities instigated by Savonarola, who was then himself burned at the stake here in 1498 after he was denounced by the Inquisition as a heretic. A marble circle inscription on the piazza shows the location where he was burned.
The sculptures in Piazza della Signoria bristle with political connotations, many of which are fiercely contradictory. The David was placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio as a symbol of the Republic’s defiance of the tyrannical Medici. Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus (1534) to the right of the David was appropriated by the Medici to show their physical power after their return from exile. The Nettuno (1575) by Ammannati celebrates the Medici’s maritime ambitions and Giambologna’s equestrian statue of Duke Cosimo I (1595) is an elegant portrait of the man who brought all of Tuscany under Medici military rule.
Palazzo Vecchio, literally the “Old Palace”, still fulfils its original role as Florence’s town hall. Completed in 1302, the palazzo retains its medieval appearance although much of the interior was remodeled for Duke Cosimo I when he moved into the palace in 1540. During the brief period that Florence was the capital of Italy (1865-71), it housed the Parliament and Foreign Ministry.
The original part of Palazzo Vecchio is the work of Arnolfo di Cambio and was built at the turn of the thirteenth and fourteenth century. The most interesting room is the Sala delle Carte (Map Room) which has a wonderful collection of globes and 57 maps painted on leather, showing the world as it was known in 1563.
Around the corner we had an appointment at The Uffizi Gallery museum… among the most visited in Italy, with over 1.5 million visitors each year, so long lines are inevitable. But it was still eye-opening to see the thousands snaking up and down lines in wait to get tickets. More than once we’ve been thankful for purchasing our tickets WAY ahead of time. We were there to see Botticelli’s Primavera and Birth of Venus and of course Dee was still in pursuit of more Caravaggios…
The Uffizi is the most important and visited museum in Florence. The Uffizi palace was designed and begun in 1560 by the architect Giorgio Vasari in the period when Cosimo de’ Medici, first Grand Duke of Tuscany, was bureaucratically consolidating his recent takeover of power. Built in the shape of a horseshoe extending from Piazza della Signoria to the Arno River and linked by a bridge over the street with Palazzo Vecchio, the Uffizi were intended to house the administrative offices (uffizi) of the Grand Duchy. From the beginning, however, the Medici set aside a few rooms on the third floor to house the finest works of their collections. The Gallery was subsequently enriched by various members of the Medici family. Two centuries later, in 1737, the palace and their collection were left to the city by Anna Maria Luisa, the last Medici heir, and today houses one of the world’s great art galleries.
Again no photos… But we stood what felt like forever at Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. There are no words… Others we loved were Filippino Lippi’s Madonna and Child with Two Angels, Titian’s Venus of Orbino, everything by Cimabue, Giotto, Fra Angelico, Masaccio, and of COURSE Caravaggio and Rembrandt.
And of course, loving Lorenzo Il Magnifico and all he did for ‘the Arts’ … he dedicated himself to promoting culture and the arts during his incredible political career. All of the great artists, poets and musicians who made Florence into the world’s renaissance capital during the 15th century were called to be part of this group. In thanks and in homage to the great Lorenzo… Trace decided to take a part of his name for the day and call herself Trace Il Magnifico for 24 hours…It got old after 1.
Truly entertained while waiting outside…
In its 45 rooms, the Uffizi houses not only the best of Florentine paintings from the 14th and 15th centuries, but masterpieces from other parts of Italy as well as four centuries’ worth of works from leading artists in Germany, Spain and Holland. Apart from paintings, the Uffizi exhibits ancient Roman and 16th century sculpture in its frescoed corridors.
Serious art lovers should visit the Uffizi at least twice. We had two hours. Not nearly enough time. But having planned everything out in advance we knew where we had to be and how long we could spend in each room. We must have looked like mad women racing up and down those corridors. The museum is organized in chronological order from the 13th to the 18th centuries. Stopped here at this window to take a photo of the Ponte Vecchio…
From this vantage point it was also great for us to get a better understanding and view of the famous Vasari Corridor linking Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi to the Pitti Palace on the other side of the Arno. Over 1 km long, the passage way was commissioned in 1565 by Cosimo I to celebrate the marriage of his son Francesco to Joanna of Austria and was completed in only 6 months. The private corridor enabled the Medici to move freely between the seat of government and their private residence without having an escort and without walking among the commoners on the street. Apart from the delightful views of the city through the corridor’s circular windows, its entire length contains a selection of 17th and 18th century paintings, including a unique self-portrait collection of painters.
An area of the Corridor was heavily damaged by a terrorist attack commissioned by the Italian mafia in 1993. During the night of May 26, 1993 a car full of explosives was set off next to the Torre dei Pulci and 5 people died. Many others were injured and several houses were heavily damaged, including a section of the Uffizi Gallery and the Vasari Corridor. In the Corridor, several artworks were destroyed by the explosion. These paintings, even if hopelessly damaged, have been pieced back together and placed back on their original spot to serve as a reminder of the horrible attack.
There are very very limited tours through the Vasari Corridor. We’d have loved to have one but there none scheduled due to restoration. Maybe reopen in 2013 they say. We’ll see… We were disappointed of course, but know we’ll be back to see the magnificent works of art on display, and get a firsthand view of the elevated and privileged position that gives you the opportunity to pass through some of the most beautiful areas of Florence’s city center, walking over the heads of the people below. Trace says she can already imagine people-watching from this vantage point – the people walking by in the streets, looking down through the small round windows that look out to the Arno river and to the city center. This was actually one of the main initial purposes for the construction of the Corridor for the Medici: the possibility to move freely and safely from their home in Palazzo Pitti to Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of government, passing and observing the people below while remaining unnoticed. Walking in the footsteps of aristocracy. We were meant for it. Even if were in t-shirts and backpacks.
The central part of the Corridor that goes over Ponte Vecchio is the most beautiful panoramic point of view. Exactly halfway over the Ponte Vecchio, Benito Mussolini in 1939 ordered the Corridor’s small windows be enlarged so that he could admire the great panorama over the Arno to Ponte Santa Trinita. The windows were to be ready for Adolf Hitler’s official visit to Florence: It said he was so impressed by this magnificent panorama over the Ponte Vecchio that he ordered the bridge be saved from German bombing during World War II as they began their retreat from Florence. All the other bridges in Florence were destroyed.
Up to the building of the Corridor, Ponte Vecchio housed butcher shops since it made it easy for the waste to be thrown into the river. Not a pleasant view… or smell! Since the Corridor was planned over these shops, all the butcher shops were ordered off Ponte Vecchio and were replaced by jewelry shops, shops that still characterize the most famous bridge in Florence. Passing over the bridge and looking at all the jewelry shops, we could still feel that old medieval feeling.
To build the Corridor several medieval towers located along its way were quite literally crossed. All owners were forced to consent to give the space through their properties for the passageway…. all consented except for the Mannelli family that firmly opposed having the Corridor pass through his home. It seems that Cosimo appreciated the courage the family had to stand up to him and thus permitted them to withhold entrance into their home but the Corridor still needed to connect! Vasari was forced to go AROUND the obstacle – if you look closely from below, you’ll see the Corridor does go around the Mannelli tower placed at the end of Ponte Vecchio where it meets Via Bardi and Via de’ Guicciardini. Of course we love MANELLI for a different reason…. HELLOOOOO LIZA!
For at least 200 years the Vasari Corridor was used only as a passageway back and forth between the two residences. The route, even if it was just one kilometer, wasn’t just done on foot – a small carriage for two passengers took the Medici and guests back and forth. It is also likely that the Corridor had several benches along the way so that it was possible to rest.
Ponte Vecchio’s history is just so fascinating on so many levels… Built very close to the Roman crossing, the Old Bridge was until 1218 the only bridge across the Arno in Florence. The current bridge was rebuilt after a flood in 1345. During World War II it was the only bridge across the Arno that the fleeing Germans did not destroy. Instead they blocked access by demolishing the medieval buildings on each side. On November 4, 1966, the bridge miraculously withstood the tremendous weight of water and silt when the Arno once again burst its banks.
There have been stores on the Ponte Vecchio since the 13th century. As we mentioned earlier, initially, there were all types of shops, including butchers and fishmongers and later tanners, whose industrial waste caused a pretty rank stench. In 1593, Ferdinand I decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers be allowed to have their stores on the bridge. Cellini, a 16th century goldsmith, is honoured with a bust on the bridge. By night, the wooden shutters of the shops make them look like suitcases and wooden chests, making it a very suggestive route to take along an evening passeggiata, or stroll.
Next we definitely had to find Il Porcellino – the most popular attraction at the market – the ‘Fontana del Porcellino’, a small fountain with a 17th century statue of a wild boar. The bronze statue is a replica of a Roman statue which in turn was a copy of the original Greek statue. Legend has it that anyone who rubs the – always shining – snout of the boar will return to Florence. The procedure is rather complex: one has to place a coin in the mouth of the boar and when it falls into the water you have to rub his snout. The money thrown in the fountain is distributed to charity. Appearances in popular culture include 2001 Hannibal, starring Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore, as well as 2011 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II. We knew we’d seen him before – there’s also a copy at Sydney Hospital… But we rubbed & gave money. We now know we’ll be back for sure.
We explored the markets a little. Markets were already held here in the 11th century. The current loggia was built in the 16th century to protect merchants from inclement weather.
Inside the semi-enclosed hall, vendors sold luxury items such as silk and gold. At the end of the 19th century this became the straw market, and the market is still known by that name even though most of the vendors now sell tourist souvenirs, leather goods and t-shirts instead of straw products. Florentines also call this market ‘Mercato del Porcellino’, or piglet market, for the wild boar statue that is located here.
At the center of the loggia is a marble circular symbol inset in the floor. Known as the ‘Pietra dello scandalo’ (Stone of Shame), it marks the spot where, during the Renaissance, insolvent merchants were publicly humiliated before they were sent to prison or exiled. They had to drop their pants and stand up while their legs were whipped with a chain – three times in total, each time causing them to fall down on their buttocks. We hate hearing stories like this. We know it’s all part of history – but it’s still a humiliating tale no less.
We could have wandered the streets forever.
Next up we wanted to find the Orsanmichele church. The building was constructed on the site of the kitchen garden of the monastery of San Michele, which is now gone. The church was originally built as a grain market in 1290. It was converted into a church used as the chapel of Florence’s powerful craft and trade guilds. From a place of commerce it soon became a place of devotion, and miracles were attributed to an image of the Virgin painted on a pillar. We were here to see a miracle.
Devotion towards this image of the Virgin increased, especially after some miraculous cures during the terrible Plague of 1348. Late in the 14th century, the guilds were charged by the city to commission statues of their patron saints to embellish the facades of the church.
1) Saint Peter by Donatello
2) Saint Philip by Nanni di Banco
3) Four Crowned Saints group by Nanni di Banco
4) Saint George by Donatello
5) Saint Matthew by Ghiberti
6) Saint Stephan by Ghiberti
7) Saint Eligius by Nanni di Banco
8) Saint Mark by Donatello
9) Saint Jacob by Nicolò di Piero Lamberti
10) Madonna della Rosa by Govanni di Piero Tedesco
11) John the Evangelist by Baccio da Montelupo
12) Saint Luke by Gianbologna
13) Christ and Doubting Thomas by Verrocchio
14) Saint John the Baptist by Ghiberti
The interior of Orsanmichele preserves its late gothic appearance almost intact: its square layout and the positioning of the piers recall the arrangement of the original open loggia. Again no photos allowed. But none were needed. We sat inside for what seemed like an eternity… taking it all in. That was our miracle. The feeling of peace. So ethereal, so spiritual. A respite from the heat and noise outside. It was absolutely one of our favourite times we shared together in Firenze. Whatever your religion – it truly doesn’t matter in the Orsanmichele. We’ll never forget that afternoon. And then it was back to the pigeons.
On to the Piazza della Repubblica, one of the main squares in Florence and marks the center of the city since Roman times. Sadly, its present rectangular form and architecture reflects the result of the urban “clean-up period” Florence went through during its time as capital of Italy (1865-71: another sad destruction of the period was the tearing down of the 13th century walls that surrounded the city to make way for a wide boulevard).
The Column of Abundance marks the point where the cardus and decumanus maximi met and where the Roman forum stood. During medieval times the area around the column was densely populated. It was the location of the market and the Jewish Ghetto, obligated to live here by Cosimo I. There were many tabernacles and churches. Through the centuries the square retained its medieval look, up until the 18th century when the town council decided to widen the square and clean up the center. Medieval towers, churches, workshops, homes and original seats of the some of the Guilds were destroyed.
A gorgeous carousel had us endlessly fascinated.
The square today is theatre to street artists and impromptu shows, particularly after sunset. Piazza della Repubblica is also home to the historical Caffé Gilli, Caffé Paskowski and Caffé delle Giubbe Rosse which were meeting points for many of the city’s artists and writers in the past.
A quick refresh at the Caffé Gilli – With a history dating back to 1733, Caffé Gilli is one of the oldest continuously operating cafés in the city.
And then it was time to head back to the Duomo and explore properly. We started at the Baptistery dedicated to St. John the Baptist.
When you think about the Baptistery of St.John in Florence it’s easy to remember Dante’s words in the Divine Comedy describing it as “my beautiful San Giovanni”. Located in Piazza del Duomo, right in front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, it is one of the most important monuments in Florence.
Its origins are unknown. It is believed that it was built over the ruins of a Roman temple dedicated to Mars dating back to the 4th-5th century A.D. It was first described in 897 as a minor basilica. In 1128 it was consecrated as the Baptistery of Florence. Up until the end of the 19th century, all Catholics in Florence were baptized here.
The Baptistery, dedicated to Florence’s patron saint, has an octagonal plan and an octagonal lantern with a cupola. Outside it is clad in geometrically patterned colored marble, white Carrara marble and green Prato marble that is typical of Florentine Romanesque architecture.
On three of the four sides there are three large doors famous for their decorations.
The oldest ones are the South Doors by Andrea Pisano made around 1330. The doors consist of 28 quatrefoil panels depicting scenes from St. John’s life.
The Northern Doors are by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1403-1424) and depict Stories of the Life and Passion of Christ taken from the New Testament. At the beginning of the 15th century the Arte of Calimala – the Wool Merchants’ Guild – announced a public competition to design the Baptistery’s northern doors. Many famous artists participated in this competition such as Ghiberti and Brunelleschi. Every artist had to design a quatrefoil panel depicting the Binding of Isaac using the lowest quantity of bronze. Ghiberti created a balanced and carefully detailed panel, thanks to his skills as a goldsmith. Brunelleschi’s work was completely different from both a technical and artistic point of view: Isaac writhes in pain and all the figures are so realistic they seem to come out of the panel. The new relationship between space and the human body already foreshadow Brunelleschi’s achievement in perspective. His panel, however, was heavier than Ghiberti’s and the bronze casting was not so perfect. Ghiberti won the hearts of the judges and was thus awarded the commission to create the northern doors. The “cradle of the Renaissance” was not yet ready to “understand” Brunelleschi’s revolution and preferred the traditional gothic aesthetics, still vibrant and lively at that time. The golden East Doors (facing the Duomo) are also known as the Gates of Paradise after a famous quotation by Michelangelo. Michelangelo is believed to have exclaimed: “they are so beautiful that they would be perfect for the gates of paradise“. They were also commissioned to Ghiberti and depict scenes from the Old Testament. It was the Gates of Paradise that we were there to see. Along with a thousand other tourists.
Florence’s cathedral stands tall over the city. The church of Santa Maria del Fiore, the cathedral or duomo, of Florence is a vast Gothic structure built on the site of the 7th century church of Santa Reparata, the remains of which can be seen in the crypt. The cathedral was begun at the end of the 13th century in the Gothic style and the dome, which dominates the exterior, was added in the 15th century. The church was then consecrated and “completed” although the façade was only half finished (it was redone and completed in the 19th century). The exterior is covered in a decorative mix of pink, white and green marble. The interior, by contrast, is pretty stark and plain. Inside, the clock above the entrance was designed in 1443 by Paolo Uccello in accordance with the ora italica, where the 24th hour of the day ended at sunset.
The famous Dome… Built by Filippo Brunelleschi who won the competition for its commission in 1418, the dome is egg-shaped and was made without scaffolding. The full story behind this masterpiece is fascinating. Brunelleschi had to rediscover knowledge lost for more than a millennium to build it! The raising of this dome, the largest in the world in its time, was no easy architectural feat. At the base of the dome, just above the drum, Baccio d’Agnolo began adding a balcony in 1507. One of the eight sides was finished by 1515, when someone asked Michelangelo — whose artistic opinion was by this time taken as cardinal law — what he thought of it. The master reportedly scoffed, “It looks like a cricket cage.” Work was immediately halted, and to this day the other seven sides remain rough brick.
The dome would occupy most of Brunelleschi’s life. Brunelleschi’s success can be attributed to no small degree to his technical and mathematical genius. Brunelleschi used more than 4 million bricks in the construction of the dome. He invented a new hoisting machine for raising the masonry needed for the dome, a task no doubt inspired by republication of Vitruvius’ De Architectura, which describes Roman machines used in the first century AD to build large structures such as the Pantheon and the Baths of Diocletian, structures still standing which he would have seen for himself.
Brunelleschi kept his workers up in the building during their breaks and brought food and wine up to them. He felt the trip up and down the hundreds of stairs would exhaust them and reduce their productivity. In a further attempt to motivate the workers, he gave them diluted wine, similar to that given to pregnant women at the time. Brunelleschi’s body lies in the crypt of the Cathedral of Florence. As explained by Antonio Manetti, who knew Brunelleschi and who wrote his biography, Brunelleschi “was granted such honors as to be buried in the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, and with a marble bust, which they say was carved from life, and placed there in perpetual memory with such a splendid epitaph.” Inside the cathedral entrance is this epitaph: “Both the magnificent dome of this famous church and many other devices invented by Filippo the architect, bear witness to his superb skill. Therefore, in tribute to his exceptional talents, a grateful country that will always remember buries him here in the soil below.”
The best way to see the dome is to climb its 463 steps: so we did. Doesn’t sound too bad. Except it was almost 40C degrees and we were bum-per to bum-per the whole way up. The route took us by the interior of the dome where we admired close-up Giorgio Vasari’s much-reviled frescoes of the Last Judgment (1572-9): they were designed by Vasari but painted mostly by his less-talented student Frederico Zuccari. The frescoes were subjected to a thorough cleaning completed in 1996, which many people saw as a waste of restoration funds when so many more important works throughout the city were waiting to be salvaged. The scrubbing did, however, bring out Zuccari’s innovative color palette. We continued upwards through the two shells of the cupola and out onto the lantern, from which we enjoyed impressive views of the city.
And we climbed and climbed and climbed. And it was hot…
And then there was Firenze…First saw the Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) is the principal Franciscan church of Florence, Italy. Situated on the Piazza Santa Croce to the east of the Duomo, it is best known for its Florentine artwork and its tombs of illustrious dead, including Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli.
And then just enjoyed views the whole way round. It was just spectacular up there…
And then it was down down down down down… The downward spiral never seemed to end. And then we were back out in the streets. Looking like we’d been swimming. Wringing out our shirts…
And we kept looking up at Giotto’s Bell tower and figuring out if we were going to climb that one too. Were we really?
And well… we did. Just. so. Hot. Giotto’s magnificent bell tower, one of the four principal components of Florence’s Piazza del Duomo. Richly decorated with sculptures, reliefs, and polychrome marble, it is the most eloquent testimony of fourteenth-century Florentine Gothic architecture. The majestic bell tower, probably created as a decorative rather than a functional element and considered the most beautiful in Italy, was begun by Giotto in 1334. There are 414 stairs.
Best views of The Dome from the Bell Tower. All worth it.
And then with jelly legs, it was more gelato while we waited for sunset… We’d earned it.
Walked to the Santa Trinita bridge so we could photograph the sun setting behind the Ponte Vecchio. No words at all to describe this.
Quickly ran back to the Piazza della Repubblica. Dee had this long exposure of the carousel in mind. And Trace wanted the Uffizi Gallery by night.
And then it was just one more trip across the Ponte Vecchio to get home to Riccardo’s. What a day. Everything we had imagined it’d be and more. So much more.
And THAT was our day in Florence. Gucci Museum – we will see you next time. Without a doubt, one of the most amazing cities with one of the most fascinating histories, in the world. “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” –Giuseppe Verdi
I think we kind of grew up that day in Florence. And handled it all very maturely. But fear not we’re sure to be in and out of trouble very, very soon with more travel photo essays in the works. More journeys yet to unfold. This little breather at the top of the world with the endless Polar nights entirely productive & reflective. And a sweet diversion from the utter excitement of the light chase to come…
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