Today is the first day I’ve really felt like myself since this cold started. I still have the cough and the runny nose, but at least I feel like I’m thinking straight. It sure is nice to be back!
We started our day by walking past one of the oldest pharmacies in the world, it was founded by Dominican monks in the year 1221. Today it offers many of the same medicines that you’d find in any corner pharmacy, only in a building that is older and way cooler than any Walgreens ever. I understand they still offer some of the remedies from back in the monks’ day. That’d make the recipes like almost 800 years old! I had planned to go back in the evening to check it out (and get some more cold medicine), but when the time came for that my ankle was all stove-up, so I decided to skip it and save some walking. We also walked by the Dominican church that was connect to the pharmacy, which is truly beautiful (and can be seen in this picture).
From there we met up with our local guide Ricardo who was going to take on a walking tour. The first stop was the Gallerie dell’Accademia to see some works of Michelangelo, including the David. It was kind of sad that we were only there for the one thing, I would have loved to take some time and explore it further.
Ricardo presented some very interesting information about Michelangelo. Michelangelo was short, had a badly healed broken nose, close set eyes, and a hunchback. There is a feeling that he suffered greatly in his time of growing up, and that it made him a rather reclusive person. He liked to do all the work on a sculpture himself; from choosing the piece of marble to polishing it at the end. This in a time where apprentices did most of the work for the artist. He never married, and lived to the age of 89 in a time when the average life expectancy was only about 45 years. He was also a quirky guy; some think that today he’d be diagnosed as bipolar. What I thought was neat was that although he seems to have lived a rather rough life, he was still able to find the beauty in things, capture it and share it with the world.
We first looked at some of the unfinished pieces they have on display, four of these are known as “The Prisoners” because it looks as though they have been trapped in the stone and are trying to get out. These had been commissioned by Pope Julius II for his tomb, but he changed his mind partway through so they were never finished. Can you guess what the new project was? (We’ll be talking about it in a few days.) Anyway… what makes these so cool is that you can see the sculpting process in different stages, and see the chisel marks that get smaller as they reach areas close to the emerging figure.
Next, we were on to the main attraction… David. You know, the David (or a replica at least) is one of the first large scale statues I ever saw. It was on display at the Portland Art Museum, along with a Rodin (he made the Thinking Man statue) exhibition when I was in junior high. I never forgot the moment of seeing the David that first time, so it felt really familiar to see him again. And it is still as impressive as I remember. Michelangelo was not the first person to work on this statue; it was actually started by Agostino in 1464 but he abandoned the work. Many years later Michelangelo took over the project at the age of only 26, and took about three years to complete it. (Now, David didn’t have his fig leaf on today, so if you’re easily offended by stone nudity you may not want to look at the next pictures.)
From there we walked to Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (aka The Duomo). According to our guide the church is made with three colors of stone because they are to represent the three pillars of Christianity: faith, hope and charity. The church was built starting in 1296, after a hundred years of building the dome still wasn’t done because they couldn’t build scaffolding high enough to work on it. Fillippo Brunelleschi solved the problem. He built an inner dome, and an outer dome with a staircase built between the two; they built the staircase as they built the domes so they never had to worry about scaffolding. You can still take the stairs to the top if you’d like.
Across from the doors of the church is the baptistery. The reason the baptistery has its own building is because you weren’t allowed to enter the church until you had been cleansed of your sins, so they put the baptistery outside the walls of the church. This baptistery is known for its doors, called the Gates of Paradise. These gilded bronze doors were made by Lorenzo Ghiberti and took 21 years to complete. What makes them so amazing is the relief sculptures, meaning that they are totally 3D! Well, I mean of course they are, they’re in the real world, but this is different!
The final building to complete this complex is the bell tower. The bell tower used to be the heartbeat of the city. It rang on the hour and half hour to let people know what time it was. And you would be able to tell from the bells if there was a wedding, funeral or emergency.
We left the religious center of the town and headed to the political center called Piazza della Signoria. The centerpiece of this areas is the Palazzo Vecchio, which was built in 1314 and housed the magistrate. Today it is still Florence’s town hall. Michelangelo’s David stood for nearly 350 years in front of this building; there is a now a replica in its place.
We spent out time under the Loggia dei Lanzi, which is basically an open-air sculpture garden. We hung out in there because it was raining and we needed the roof! There is a bronze statue of by Benvenuto Cellini called Perseus Holding the Head of Medusa, yeah… the name kind of tells you exactly what it is. What’s super cool about it is that the Cellini hid a self-portrait in the sculpture! The best place to see it is through a hole in the statue behind it. Can you see it?
The final stop in our tour was in front of Santa Croce. But that was just to take us to a leather and gold shop. Tours do this… they have deals with different stores and they get a kickback on anything that is purchased by their group. I don’t love it. But, usually there is some sort of demonstration involved, so at least it’s fun. I did buy a small set of earrings as a remembrance of my trip.
From there our group split up, and I was getting hungry. I started to the waterfront, and ended up eating lunch a little café with a view of the Ponte Vecchio. It’s a bridge over the Arno River which is famous for still having shops on it, which used to be common. It is believed that there has been a bridge at this point in the river since the time of the Romans. They know that the bridge has been washed out at least twice, but this newest version has been standing since 1345. At this point its gonna be there forever, or it’ll get washed out, like, next week. Could go either way. Interestingly, butchers have been banned from the bridge because it was once overrun by them. It might be time now to use that same rule for jewelry stores.
As I finished my lunch one of the girls from my tour came into the café to use the bathroom. We decided to make our way back to the hotel together. We started by checking out the bridge, and then walking to the Piazza della Repubblica. This piazza was once home to the city’s forum and then its ghetto, currently its home to an Apple store and a carousel.
When we got back to the hotel, I took some time to warm up after being in the rain for so long, as well as do some laundry in the sink and repack my bags. Many from our group were going out to a Tuscan dinner, which cost $77 dollars to add to your tour. I didn’t sign up for it, so I decided to get myself a fancy dinner. How fancy you ask? Fancy enough they gave me a wine glass for my Coke Zero!
I had one of the local specialties, gnocchi. Mine came in a gorgonzola cheese sauce, I also had duck breast with mashed potatoes and spinach, and a salad. All that, and it was still way less than the tour add-on dinner. I wandered around the neighborhood a while, picked up some water for tomorrow, and finally headed back to my hotel.
Tomorrow morning we leave Florence; every time we leave a town I feel like I just didn’t get enough time there. I would love to come back and have a whole day just for the Uffizi Gallery. Guess I’ll just have to plan another trip!