Florence but no Zebedee!

Florence Travel Blog

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We leave Venice and head south by train to Florence.Florence's museums, palaces, and churches house some of the greatest artistic treasures in the world.Surprisingly small as it is, this riverside city is like no other. Cradle of the Renaissance and of tourist masses that flock here to feast on world-class art, Florence is magnetic, romantic and busy.

Fashion designers parade on Via de' Tornabuoni. Gucci was born here, as was Roberto Cavalli who, like many a smart Florentine these days, hangs out in wine-rich hills around Florence.

The foundation of Florence dates back to Roman times, despite evidence existing to show that Florence was already occupied in prehistoric times.

The oldest part of the city bears the imprint of these Roman origins as it originated as one of Caesar's colonies. For the sake of defense, the city was set at the confluence of two streams, the Arno and the Mugnone, where the oldest populations had previously been located.

Rectangular in plan, it was enclosed in a wall about 1800 meters long. The built-up area, like all the cities founded by the Romans, was characterized by straight roads which crossed at right angles. The two main roads led to four towered gates and converged on a central square, the forum urbis, now Piazza della Repubblica, where the Curia and the Temple dedicated to the Capitoline Triad ,Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva were later to rise.

The history of the city is long and complex and there is no need to explore it here.

 The capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area.

We walk down to the city centre from the hotel and begin with a guided visit to the Cathedral. Officially known as Cattedrale Santa Maria del Fiore but better known as the Duomo, was originally planned in 1296 as a Gothic cathedral by Arnolfo di Cambio. It replaced the church of Santa Reparata, a cathedral church with a history going back to the early Middle Ages.

The new cathedral symbolized Florence's growing importance and was to be significantly larger than its predecessor. Francesco Talenti, who lead the construction of the cathedral from 1351 on increased its size even more by expanding the apses and extending the nave.

Filippo Brunelleschi,the most important architect of the early Renaissance  designed the Duomo's most striking feature, the enormous dome.

Construction of the church would last until 1436 when it was consecrated by pope Eugene IV. The originally planned Gothic front facade however was unrealized. The marble cladding that we see today was only added much later, between 1871 and 1887, in a neo-Gothic style with colorful patterns. As a result the facade nicely complements the design of the cathedral's fourteenth-century bell tower. Some of the statues that were created for the originally planned facade are now on display at the Museo dell'Opera dell Duomo, a nearby museum dedicated to works of art from the cathedral.

The cathedral's interior is less colorful and decorations were kept to a minimum.

The exception is the fresco on the dome's interior, painted between 1572 and 1579 by Giorgio Vasari and Frederico Zuccari. The fresco depicts the Last Judgment.

The dome of the Duomo was the world's largest when it was completed in 1436 and still towers over the city. The lantern on top of the dome was added later, in 1461, by Michelozzi Michelozzo. The dome, a marvel of engineering, was designed by Brunelleschi, who submitted his plans after he went to Rome to study the Pantheon, which long had the world's largest dome. 

Brunelleschi managed to create the enormous dome without supports thanks to an ingenious design which consisted of an inner shell made of bricks with a herringbone pattern and a horizontal stone chain, which reduced stress and allowed the weight to be evenly distributed.

The outer, much smaller shell supports the roof and protects the inner shell from the elements. Between the two shells is a staircase, which leads visitors to the base of the lantern. There is a huge queue for the steps so we decline the climb to the top and move on. 

Here the Group splits and we go are separate ways. There is much to see in this city and we only have a couple of days. One of the most famous if not the most famous pieces of sculpture resideds here in Flornce in the Uffizi Gallery. That is of course Michael Angelos David. If you are in to your art in a big way a day on it's own would not be enough to see all the treaures in the museums 45 halls. Personally on such a beautiful day I prefer to walk the city and take in some of the other sites such as the Palazzo Vecchio,Ponte Vecchio and Dantes House.

The foundations of the palace designed by Arnolfo di Cambio were laid in February 1299. The main facade and the 94-metre tower had already been completed by 1302, but the rear of the building was constructed and amplified in various periods through to the final modifications made by Ammannati in 1588. It was originally conceived of as the residence and offices of the Priori and the Gonfaloniere di Giustizia, who were commonly called "Signori". They held office for two months during which time they were obliged to live prevalently in the palace following severe rules similar to those of a convent community.

The name of this palace has changed names a number of times Initially known as the "Palatium Populi" , it was later called the "Palazzo della Signoria".

In 1540 it was renamed "Palazzo Ducale" when Duke Cosimo I took power, and only later did it become known as "Palazzo Vecchio". When Florence was the capital of Italy from 1865 to 1871, it was the seat of the Parliament.

Next we walk down to the River Arno to have a look at one of the most famous Briges in the world. The Ponte Vecchio.There have been shops on the Ponte Vecchio since the 13th century. Initially, there were all types of shops, including butchers and fishmongers and later tanners, whose industrial waste caused a  rank stench. In 1593, Ferdinand I decreed that only goldsmiths and jewellers be allowed to have shops on the bridge.

Built very close to the Roman crossing, the 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 Nov 6th 1966, the bridge miraculously withstood the tremendous weight of water and silt when the Arno once again burst its banks.

Walking back into the city I stop at Dantes' House which in fact isn't his House at all. Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) was a minor politician and writer whose political career fizzled and died but whose poetry went on to become among the most famous works of all time

The small museum of memorabilia that fills a few rooms of this lovely 14th Century Townhouse is dedicated to the great medieval Florentine poet, but he never actually lived here  although there is evidence his brother might have owned the house .

Dante probably lived next-door to "Dante's House," or maybe just down the street.

Dante wrote the works for which he is most famous after he left Florence for good. The Divine comedy was written while Dante was living in exile for the last 21 years of his life. After backing the wrong political party Dante was convicted on trumped charges and told to pay a fine or live in exile.He chose the latter,never returning to Florence and died in Ravenna in 1321.

Looking for a late lunch I stop in one of the many beautiful squares and order a pizza and a beer. Watching the world go by in the late summer sunshine I have to say I have never seen so many beautiful women in one place. The chatty waiter who practices his english with me agrees. Lots of "ciao Bella" and sighs of admiration from him. Lots of the girls are art students it seems,from a nearby college. I can think of worse places to be right now.

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photo by: spocklogic