We had a great few days in Florence. The pace was a bit slower and there were no hills, though sadly the climb to our flat was over 80 steps from the ground floor, with no elevator. Clearly that is a variable to be considered on future trips and I feel awful that Pat and Janet had to deal with it. We planned things so that we didn’t go out for dinner on the evenings we were there, opting instead for sightseeing and lunch out, then coming back to cook/eat what we threw together.
On the first full day we had reservations for the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze.. It didn’t seem that busy when we got there and we wondered of it had been worthwhile paying extra for an reservation and going early, but when we saw the long lines of people waiting for admission as we left, we knew it had been the right choice. Kudos to Angie for that. She’s been right about that stuff every time, including when we’ve gone to sights early in the day and beaten the crowds. The Galleria is home to Michelangelo’s David, which is pretty much the only reason for going there and one of the best pieces of art you will see anywhere in Italy. One could say anywhere period, though I still like the contrast with the Bernini David and there are so many pieces of art that I love I can’t rank them. But at the same time, this is an extraordinary and powerful piece of art. I enjoyed talking to Janet about it, and I had to go back and look at it again a few times. You can see why sculpting was Michalangelo’s first love. My friend Sheila Silverman Goldstein said: “The Sistine Chapel may have been Michaelangelo’s sketchbook for sculptures that he wanted to do later. It was his way of thumbing his nose at Pope Julius, who made his life miserable, and keeping his eye on the prize….his first love. ….sculpture.”
There are elements of the sculpture that look out of proportion to the rest of the figure because Michelangelo was originally asked to sculpt it to be placed on the roof of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, so it would be seen from below. However, it was never placed there. It sat for a while at the entrance to Palazzo Vecchio (and you can see the wear and tear from the elements in some places) but then it was moved inside the Galleria under its own purpose-built dome and a copy erected at the Palazzo.
The only other interesting stuff at the museum (to me) is some other work by Michelangelo, mainly unfinished, called the Prisoners by some academics. These four pieces give some insight to how he worked, which was apparently different from how many sculptors work. Apparently many sculptors would create a plaster model first and then mark out the piece on the marble before they start. Michelangelo believed he was just transmitting from G-d and that his job was just to reveal the forms that were hidden in the marble, and he basically worked freehand. Pretty scary and awe-inspiring. There are various theories about why Michelangelo never finished these pieces, including that the divine inspiration did not return or that the need for them went away.
Before going to lunch, we passed the Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) so we stopped in. This cathedral has the first Renaissance dome, which was almost as much a feat of engineering in that time as it was for the ancient Romans, so it was pretty spectacular. Akin to the amazing Duomo in Orvieto, the cathedral is covered in pink, white and green marble, all from Tuscany.
We also visited the area around Palazzo Vecchio. This was the Florence town hall, taken over for a time as a palace for the all-powerful Medicis that is now the town hall again. We only went into the entrance area because there’s an admission fee, plus we needed lunch. The high point for the non payer is the Piazza Della Signoria, which is home to the Loggia dei Lanzi. Built in the 14th century, it was for some time the site of public debates and assemblies. It’s mainly famous now for the collection of statues housed there, including Rape of the Sabine Women by the Flemish artist Jean de Boulogne and Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini.
Wikipedia says of the Boulogne piece: This impressive work was made from one imperfect block of white marble, the largest block ever transported to Florence. 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. The plaster version of this piece is in the Galleria dell’Accademia but the marble is even more impressive.
For lunch, we went to Ristorante Paoli. This is an old world style restaurant, supposedly in place since 1824. We got there near the end of the lunch session but were not rushed out. The food was ok but it was a lovely dining experience because we were able to eat at our leisure and just enjoy dining and chatting together.
After lunch, we finished our tourism day by checking out Ponte Vecchio. This is a famous bridge that used to house butcher shops but the government tried to clean it up (the butchers used to chuck their leavings into the River Arno) and the butcher shops were replaced by jewelry stores. Unless you want to spend huge amounts of cash, these aren’t particularly interesting but the frontages of the stores were cute. They were all tiny and most had wooden shutters that closed from the top and bottom.
We didn’t have gelato on Thursday since it was wet and chilly. We did have a nice dinner at the flat, some baked chicken breast with green beans and salad, chased by the last of the ouzo Angie and I had brought from Greece.
On Friday we only planned one tourist stop. We took a minibus though it only took us part of the way and we had to walk across the Arno again. Our destination was the Pitti Palace, which Angie selected because Janet and Pat had expressed interest in seeing some period rooms that were actually furnished, and Rick Steves contends that this is really the only one worth seeing. One has to buy a combined ticket to see the Palatine Galleries and royal apartments, and some modern art galleries (which is all Tuscan artists but we didn’t have time or energy for them).
When we went up to start looking at the galleries, we learned that a few times a day there is a guided tour into some of the royal apartment rooms that are only viewable part of the time (I’m guessing to help preserve them). We eagerly asked to participate and were basically treated to a personal tour. The guide was excellent and talked to us about some of the public rooms, providing some great details about them as well, before taking us into the chambers of King Victor Emmanuel II. He was the first king of unified Italy in the 19th century. The tour was really interesting and I have to admit that one of the favorite parts for me was being shown the royal bath tubs/bathrooms and the systems that were created to bring hot and cold water to them, which was a big breakthrough at the time. The whole tour gave us great added context, especially the explanation of the three different phases of control of the palace, since there are various remnants of the three but some more than others. The first were the powerful Medicis, followed by the Lorraines, and then the Savoys, which was the Italian royal family for its short tenure as a monarchy. The Savoys are not generally well-remembered in Italy becuase of the collaboration of the king at the time with Mussolini. There are only a few Medici decorations remaining but one room included murals recording some of the triumphs of the Medicis and a couple of the ceilings they had decorated also remain.
Lunch on Friday was to be our last meal out, since Pat and Janet were scheduled on an obscenely early flight the next morning. We picked out a place that offered pizza, since that was what they wanted. It was a restaurant in Piazza di Santo Spiriti, near the church of the same name. Borgo Antico is a popular and successful restaurant. We all ordered pizzas and soon realized that we were not going to be able to finish them. Therefore we decided to take them back to the flat and make them part of our dinner. The meal was ok but it seemed the staff (Janet and Pat thought they were two brothers) were mainly interested in flirting with the girls from the language school next door, the Machiavelli Center! Really.
I felt that our last day would not be complete without one more gelato stop. Angie identified a place called Carrozze, near Ponte Vecchio, which meant it was on our way back. It was still not as good as Giolitti in Rome, but it was not at all bad.
We finished our day with everyone packing. I threw together a dinner of leftovers: what was left of salad fixings, some green beans, and everybody’s leftover pizza. Angie and her mom added some olives to theirs that we’d picked up at a supermarket on the way back to the flat and I finished up the garlic and spring onions on mine. We also finished the Metaca Angie and I had brought from Greece and used the bottle to store the remaining balsamic vinegar from our stores so it will be easy to transport.
One final note on touring Florence. Though it’s high on the list, we did not visit the Uffizi Gallery. This gallery is home to some legendary art, including Botticelli’s Venus but you can only see so much art, and we didn’t want to run ourselves or our relatives too ragged.
Our time with Pat and Janet was coming to an end, and Angie and I were not looking forward to saying goodbye.