Florence, or Firenze in Italian

Florence is, according to your taste, an over-praised, over-crowded city, full of tourists, too hot and impossible to navigate, or (and here lie the majority) The birthplace of the Renaissance; the world centre of culture, art and technology in the late 14th and early 15th century, The proving ground of Donatello, Michelangelo, Giotto, The home of the Italian language, birthplace of modern political science and above all, site of the world’s most beautiful cathedral dome.

Where to start? The Duomo.

The magnificent cathedral at the heart of the city (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) features Brunelleschi’s 114-metre-high dome. The most outrageous and awe-inspiring construction ever seen on the planet when it was completed in 1436. This dome marked the end of the gothic period of architecture, and the start of the Renaissance. The cathedral itself was started in 1296 by Arnolfo di Cambio but was not consecrated until 140 years later, when the dome was completed. The interior is in the shape of a Latin cross with three naves, and is of the purest and most majestic lines. The reliefs on the doors; the frescoes inside, the clear blue skies and the smells of an Italian piazza...

I can’t write any more about this. You have to go there. Really! Just sit silent for a moment, and imagine how this building would have looked to a peasant in the early 1400s. Visit, go there. Now! Take my car. Book air tickets on my credit card. Just go!

Where next? The baptistry

It’s next door to the Duomo. The huge octagonal building. They say it is the oldest building in the city, going back to the fifth century. One set of huge bronze doors were made in the 14th century with more relief work, by Andrea Pisano, yet another fantastic artist to add to the list above. Another set made 50 years later by Lorenzo Ghiberti helped by Donatello. Another set, which Michelangelo said came from Paradise. Yet more art by Donatello and Michelozzo. I meant that about my credit card. Just do it.

On to the Uffizi (Galleria degli Uffizi) (http://musa.uffizi.firenze.it/)

One of the world’s most fabulous art galleries, along with the Prado, the Met, the Tate and the Louvre. Works by Boccaccio, Corregio, Carravaggio, Botticelli (the birth of Venus, Allegory of Spring, Madonna of the Pomegranate and more), Brueghal, Michelangelo and many many more. Paintings, sculptures, drawings. One of the world’s top cultural attractions.

Next stop, the Accademia Gallery

Although this gallery is packed with treasures, people visit it because it houses Michelangelo’s famous 20-foot tall marble sculpture of David, the beautiful, naked shepherd boy. Enough said.

There is so much more to see. The Ponte Vecchio , built in 1345, now housing high-class jewellery shops.

A personal choice: the Institute and Museum of History of Science, (http://galileo.imss.firenze.it)

This museum contains many of the instruments, optics and machines developed by Galileo Galilei. I have to admit that the first time I went to Florence, I came here first and ignored the other sights (each to his own). Since then I been back and have now done justice to the Uffizi and Accademia.

Dante wrote many of his poems in Florence, and a reconstruction of his house contains copies of the Divine Comedy in many different languages.

There’s the Boboli Gardens, a haven of peace in a city where your feet do all the walking. The Boboli are behind the Pitti Palace, home to the Medici family.

And Florence is in the heart of Tuscany, home to Chianti and Pomino wines. The food is generous and subtle, the scenery is magnificent, and I want to go back .

I know this write-up does not do the place justice. I welcome more write-ups below. Please help tell Everythingians how wonderful this city is. And as a bonus, there are loads of links in here that need rescuing. (Another quest anyone? Great artists and painters)

If you have a day, an hour in Firenze, and you want to embibe its essence and its grandeur all in one, go to the church of Santa Croce. If you have more time on your hands, allocate at least a full morning to it, not so much to see it but to feel its awesome presence descend on you.

Santa Croce is, first and foremost, the holiest place I have ever visited. It breathes an air of respect for the past, joyful expectation of the future, love of art and interest in science. A simple, basically unadorned building, as would be expected from Franciscan brothers, it is a stark shell which only helps bring to the fore the awesome repository of history and art that lies whithin. The care and attention given to the collection of treasures within the chruch by generation of studious monks seem to coat the flagstones with a patina of reverence.

The world famous frescos of the death of St. Francis by Giotto completely defy description. I had seen literally dozens of photographs of them, had had it explained to me that they mark the birth of Rennaissance imagery. But nothing could have prepared me for the emotional impact of the chubby, brown clad, unpreposessing two dimentional monks crying for the loss of their spiritual leader. The only way I can describe it is that standing there, craning your neck to get a good view in the bad light, from an uncomfortable angle, you want to cry with them. Giottos achievement was not that of perspective or composition, but that of capturing pure emotion in plaster.

Apart from being a repository of great art, Santa Croce is also a capsule of the political, scientific and artisitc history of Florence. Michaelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli - they are all buried there. The feeling of being surrounded by so much hovering greatness is humbling and empowering, the almost physical presence of the past masters inspiring one to atempt feats of intellectual heroism oneself.

Firenze is a wonderful city, full of things to discover and enjoy for all - from the art lover to the sybarite. But if I had to tell you to go just one place and learn Florence, it would not be the Duomo or the Academia. It would be this relatively modest and secluded church of the Franciscan bretheren.

Flor"ence (?), n. [From the city of Florence: cf. F. florence a kind of cloth, OF. florin.]

1.

An ancient gold coin of the time of Edward III., of six shillings sterling value.

Camden.

2.

A kind of cloth.

Johnson.

Florence flask. See under Flask. -- Florence oil, olive oil prepared in Florence.

 

© Webster 1913.

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