The Historic Center revisited:
Florence, the symbol of the Renaissance, is such a wonderful city to just walk around and explore. Much of the city center is closed to car traffic, but watch out for bicycles and mopeds and people looking elsewhere! On our first trip to Florence, we loved staying on Via dei Calzaiuoli right in the center of the historic area especially in the evening for the passeggiata (evening stroll). This street connects the Piazza del Duomo with Piazza della Signoria. Florence rose to pre-eminence under the Medicis in the 15th and 16th centuries. Their contribution to the arts cannot be understated.
The Centro Storico allows you many options for exploring from the Piazza del Duomo with the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo), the Campanile, The Baptistry of Saint John, all located in the heart of the historic center. Piazza della Signoria has The Uffizi Gallery, one of Europe’s oldest galleries of Renaissance art and Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s town hall, are right down the street from the Duomo and the Piazza della Repubblica with its triumphal arch. Continue on to the Galleria dell’Accademia, home to The David, Basilica of San Lorenzo, and Santa Maria Novella. This area is a World Heritage Site. Oh wait….did I forget to mention the food? The delizioso food! Recognize this place from Searching for Italy?
Not to be outdone; there is the Duomo! This is Florence’s greatest masterpiece. It is the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore but we know it simply as the Duomo originally begun in 1296. The facade was not completed until 1887! The dome can be seen from everywhere in Florence and is one of the world’s great engineering masterpieces by Filippo Brunelleschi. It was constructed without the use of scaffolding and one of the world’s largest brick built domes as well as one of the largest Duomo’s. Did you know it had no roof for 120 years when Brunelleschi figured out how to close it in.
The octagonal Baptistry is one of the most impressive monuments of the Italian Romanesque style of architecture having distinctive bands of pink, green and white marble and is one of the oldest buildings in the city dating back possibly as far as the 1st century AD. The round Romanesque arches on the outside of the building date from the 11th century.
The famous bronze Renaissance doors are decorated with panels that employ perspective and were a complete change of style from the 1st doors done by Lorenzo Ghiberti. The original doors were removed to a museum to protect them from pollution etc. The doors facing the Duomo depict ten scenes from the Old Testament – the Battle of Jericho, Joseph and the Coat, Adam & Eve, Jacob & Esau, Noah and the Ark, Cain & able, Abraham & Isaac, David & Goliath, Queen of Sheba, the 10 commandments. The lower panels are “from the viewers perspective” looking down or looking up. His use of perspective creates a sense of depth and a realism that had not been seen since the fall of the Roman Empire. Michelangelo thought they were so beautiful they could be The Gates of Paradise. On one of the doors Ghiberti placed a self-portrait of himself.
There are many Piazzas in this area ringed with restaurants, bars and shopping. The Piazza del Duomo is always crowded with tourists and one of the most visited places anywhere in Italy. As mentioned previously, the star is the Duomo with Brunelleschi’s dome, Giotto’s Campanile and the octagonal Baptistry of Saint John. The Cathedral is the one of the largest in Europe, the adjacent bell tower showcases Gothic architecture with its colored marble striping and the Baptistry dates back to 1059. Tired of walking or climbing the stairs to the top of the Duomo or Campanile you can check out the view and the people from restaurants right in this Piazza. If you decide to wait on line to go into the Cathedral you will see the relics of the past they are excavating below in the crypt.
Piazza della Signoria just down from the Piazza del Duomo houses the Palazzo Vecchio with its crenellated tower, the Uffizi Gallery and the Loggia dei Lanzi with its distinctive sculptures. Long the center of politics in Florence, Palazzo Vecchio is still the town hall today. Out front is a copy of Michelangelo’s David but really you need to see the real one! This is a very popular Piazza and the cafe Rivoire is the spot for people watching and enjoying public events and celebrations. The Loggia dei Lanzi is basically an open air gallery showcasing works from the Renaissance.
Make sure to check out the bridges that cross the Arno. Besides the Ponte Vecchio the Ponte Santa Trinità dates back to 1252. This is the spot to view the Ponte Vecchio and is not as crowded!
We will explore more Piazzas, churches and art in upcoming blogs or this one will go on forever! Follow along! I will also be revisiting my blogs on the rest of Tuscany in coming weeks.
Need some help with your Italian? Some useful words or phases are:
Do. you speak English? -Parla inglese? (Par-lah een-gleh-zay); OK – Va bene (van beh-nay); Your welcome – Prego (preh-goh); My name is ______ – Mi chiamo _______ (mee kee-ah-moh); and the all important – Were is the toilet? – Dov’è la toilette (doh-veh lah twah-leh-tay) – If you find this helpful let me know and I will continue to add Italian words and phrases to the blogs.