visits Florence in Italy


Maria Nolan

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EUROPE > Italy > Florence

How I Fell in Love — with Florence

Maria Nolan

Article & Pictures © 2007 Maria Nolan

T/T #79
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In Rome one feels the power and the strength of the Holy Roman Empire... but in Florence one sees its greatness and its glory

The Great LeonardoOne could be forgiven for falling in love with Florence at first sight. Her ornate and beautiful buildings, her collage of fine art and sculpture, her magnificent vistas, the haute couture of her fashion streets, her wonderful cultural ambience all combine splendidly in this romantic see of knowledge and magnificence. Her old world atmosphere will transport you back to a time when `The Masters` roamed her narrow streets and you almost half expect to see a Leonardo or a Michaelangelo dashing around the next corner with gowns flowing, hat askew, bundles of drawings under their arms and an animated look on their faces.

One feels privileged to be here and honoured to be allowed witness genius. There is a sense of being an invited guest summoned to marvel and wonder rather than a mere tourist come to examine and exploit.

In Rome one feels the power and the strength of the Holy Roman Empire... but in Florence one sees its greatness and its glory.

To stand in a room in the Uffizi, or the Accademia or indeed the Pitti Palace or the Palazzo Vecchio and be completely encompassed by some of the world's greatest and most famous masterpieces, to come face to face with the genius of Michaelangelo/Leonardo/Raphael/Bellini/Botticelli/Lippi — to name but a few — is awesome. It confirms Florence was truly the centre of the Universe during the Renaissance period, thanks in no small way to the patronage of the ruling family the Medicis: lovers of art and artists.

It must have been a wonderful place to live then — and today, hundreds of years later, it is still a wonderful place to visit.

Having flown from Dublin into Pisa we boarded a coach just outside the airport bound for Florence, and an hour and fifteen minutes later arrived at our destination The Pensione Pendini in the Piazza della Republica. A marvelously central location, but a stone's throw from Brunelleschi's magnificent Duomo which totally dominates the Florentine skyline making it virtually impossible to get lost.

The Pensione Pendini in the Piazza della Republica - click to enlargeThe Pensione Pendini is situated on the fourth floor of a spectacular building over looking the impressive Piazza and proved to be very reasonable accommodation. If you are lucky enough to be allocated one of the rooms to the front, facing on to the Piazza, you will be treated to a wonderful panorama of sights and a cacophony of sound as this square becomes a backdrop to a wide variety of entertainment from carousels, to opera singers, to jazz musicians and accommodates a plethora of cafés and restaurants serving good food and wonderfully good full-bodied Chiantis — if a little expensive. One of my travelling companions was more than surprised to pay €13 for what looked like a swish of red wine at the bottom of a glass at the Restaurant Gilli, but thankfully, just round the corner, prices were much more normal and much more to our liking.

The Italians love their food and the food in Florence is wonderfully good and wonderfully Italian. A lovely little restaurant called ZaZas on the Piazza Mercato Centrale, 2 minutes from the Duomo, had been recommended to us before we left and I would have no hesitation passing on the recommendation. It is a wonderful establishment where you will be treated to the most excellent repast of fine Tuscan dishes in very pleasant surroundings. Mind you, if you are thinking of visiting ZaZas then it is advisable to book or you could be facing a wait of up to one hour for a table at this extremely popular venue. And if, perchance, you are waiting, you could do worse than call next door to the Flexo Restaurant where the food is of the same excellent standard and the staff are most friendly and helpful and are in no rush to get rid of you regardless of the late hour.

ZaZas have a lovely little finishing touch — they produce their very own Cookbook full of recipes from the Menu — which you can buy for €13 — and what a wonderful keepsake or present it makes.

There is just so much to see in Florence that one just cannot take it all in and I would suggest you decide on a couple of special personal choices otherwise everything will just blend into a blur and you will remember nothing. For me it was Botticelli — one of my favourite painters — and in particular, his famous 'Birth of Venus'. Watching Venus rise from her shell in the Uffizi Gallery I experienced that warm swell of deep satisfaction basking in the knowledge that as I stood there allowing the huge painting to totally envelope me; I was realising one of my long-time dreams. In the depths of many humdrum and banal days in my future — well we all have `em don’t we? — I will conjure up those moments and use that image to transport myself out of the ordinary and back to that majestic time of excellence.

Michaelangelo's 'David' is another must — with the original housed in the Accademia Gallery and copious copies at the Uffizi and on the Piazzale Michaelangelo. This truly captivating sculpture is the recognised symbol of Florence.

However, I would also have to say that if I had seen another 'Adoration of the Magi' I would have been tempted to scream; every painter in Florence must have painted it at some stage or other. But at €6.50 admittance fee, to feast your eyes on some of the best and most famous works of art in the world, the Uffizi is a steal. If one wants one could spend the entire day star gazing. a little tip; if a queue has formed there when you arrive just go to the ticket desk and book for a later time then you can come back and walk straight in; there is no point wasting time in this totally absorbing city. One criticism would be that there appeared to be no itinerary of paintings; it would have been very helpful to have a small leaflet with each painting listed and explained.

Brunelleschis Duomo as seen from Piazzle Michaelangelo - click to enlargeBrunelleschi's' Duomo' and Giottos 'Bell Tower and the Baptistery', all in the Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza di St. Giovanni, are truly impressive buildings both inside and out, with the frescoed dome getting my vote for splendour and excellence.

The Piazza della Signoria is home to a myriad of imposing sculptures including 'Cosimo 1' on horseback, the splendiferous 'Neptune's fountain', a copy of Michaelangelo's 'David', and of course The Loggia where one will find the Rape of the Sabines, Hercules and the 'Centaur' and a wonderful bronze statue of 'Perseus holding Medusa`s head' — stunningly savage.

From here, you can also enter the ostentatious Palazzo Vecchio and once again feast your eyes on the glories of the Renaissance that abound in the many great halls and apartments.

The famous Ponte Vecchio - click to enlargeThe aesthetic Arno winds its way affectedly through Florence and of course is spanned by the famous Ponte Vecchio: the only bridge to have survived since 1545, even escaping the German bombardment of 1944. This bridge is covered on each side, from one end of it to the other, by jewellery shops. I have never seen so much gold in all my life — expensive too — but hang the expense, wouldn’t it be nice to have a piece? Even just one little piece from the famous Ponte Vecchio?

Speaking of spending money, Florence is a wonderful city for leather and leather goods and the markets offer the punter marvelous choice and bargains in jackets, bags, boots, shoes and gloves. I purchased two pairs of the softest kid gloves at €20 each and looked at a black leather jacket at one of the stalls and was very quickly ushered into the shop at the back to be shown an even greater array of goods. The markets were full of the most beautifully decorated pashminas ranging in price from €5 to €12, exactly the same pashminas that I have seen in shops at home for €38. Ladies, don’t come home without them, they are a huge fashion accessory and will stand the test of time just like Florence itself.

Florence is awash with Churches that house the most splendid and complete collections of religious paintings and sculptures that you are ever lightly to see, including Michaelangelos wonderful Pieta. These elegant edifices are also the final resting places of some of Florence most famous sons from the members of the Medici family to Machiavelli, Lippi, Botticelli and of course Michaelangelo himself.

'Heaven and Hell', 'Paradise and Purgatory' abound to the extent that it appears that nothing else was painted in Florence between 1400 and 1600.
There is an admission fee to some of the churches, but not all, and there are different regulations applied to taking photos; in some you can, in some you cannot, and in others you can without the flash.

The Pitti Palace, with its Palatine Gallery and Royal Apartments, is an impressive structure and again a must for all art lovers, as it is home to the private collection of the Medicis and includes Italian and European masterpieces. My favourites here were 'The Three Graces' by Rubens and 'The Sleeping Cupid' by Caravaggio. There are some stunning Raphaels on display along with Titian/Van Dyck and Suttermans. The Royal Apartments are both interesting and breathtakingly beautiful and then the tour ends with the Boboli Gardens — an expanse of green and ornamentation, including the 'Fountain of the Pitchfork', an Egyptian Obelisk and the Grand Grotto.

At a cost of €11.50 for entrance to the Palace and then an additional €6.50 for entrance to the gardens it is an expensive tour. I would think that €11.50 for both would suffice in fairness the gardens are not worth the extra charge except maybe for the views out over Florence but then you can experience the same panorama from the Piazzale Michaelangelo at no cost at all.

The rather steep climb to the Piazzale Michaelangelo is completely forgotten when you reach the summit and a truly exquisite vista spreads out before you as far as the eye can see. We made the climb towards evening and were lucky enough to be at the top to see the sun set over this lovely compact city.

A Florence sunset - click to enlargeIt is a sight that will continue to live in my memory, a fitting and treasured image as the setting sun cast a warm mellow glow over the rooftops of this remarkably picturesque city.

This testament to a truly golden era of greatness. This wonderful monument to genius. This symphony of excellence that is Florence.

Strange. lots of sites mention Florence, but we cannot find many we would recommend. One looked good but seriously crashed out our computer! Try this one, though:

Comprehensive information, but few pictures — although the site features great maps!



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