As I sit on the Balcony of my hotel room sipping a cool drink, my gaze transfixed on the burnt orange sunset that kisses the city “Buona sera” from behind the silhouetted Ponte Vecchio, I realise how fortunate I am to have spent the day in FLORENCE.
This Renaissance jewel in the crown began life as a roman colony around 59BC. While little remains of the roman period, the cities life comes from the Renaissance, a period of unparalleled artistic and literary blossoming given life by the Medici family, a wealthy merchant family who ruled Florence for over 3 centuries. This era gave us some of the greatest names in history. Writers such as Dante, Petrarch and Machiavelli and artists of the calibre of Michelangelo, Botticelli and Donatello left a legacy not just for the city but for the whole world to enjoy.
I began my day’s journey at the Pitti Palace, built by the banker Lucca Pitti and later used by all of the cities rulers. The palace is filled with countless artistic and architectural treasures and the Boboli Gardens situated behind the palace provide a perfect example of Renaissance garden design.
I cross the River Arno via the Ponte Vecchio, The oldest bridge in Florence and the only bridge in Florence left intact after World War II. Today, the bridge is lined with gold and silver shops, but it was originally used by butchers and blacksmiths until 1593 when Duke Ferdinando I decided to clean up the bridge and evicted them. The bridge is one of the symbols of Florence and is a must see.
Passing by the Uffizi (which I will return to later) I headed for the Piazza Della Signoria, the cities political centre and home to the Palazzo Vecchio, the cities Town hall since it was built in 1332. The interior with contributions by Vasari and Michelangelo is truly worth viewing. The Square is filled with statues including an incredible replica of Michelangelo’s David (the originalis located in the Galleria dell’ Accademia). It’s also a great place to grab a coffee or Gelato while you take a break.
Continuing my journey north, I come to the most recognisable symbol of Florence. The Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore. Europe’s fourth largest church, its distinctive white, green and pink marble facade jumps out at you from behind the shops of Via Dei Calzaiuoli. With Brunelleschi’s dome, still one of the most amazing feats of engineering ever achieved by man, the Baptistry with Ghiberti’s famous Bronze doors (dubbed the gates of paradise by Michelangelo because of their beauty) and the bell tower, I spent a couple of hours trying to take in what is a truly amazing sight. The views from the top of the dome, (providing you don’t mind the 463 steps) are certainly worth it.
This part of the city has a more medieval flavour to it, so take a short wander around the nearby streets and get a feel for what Florence pre renaissance looked like.
Directly behind the Duomo is Via Del Proconsolo, which heads south back towards the river. Passing The Bargello , famous for its sculptures, (particular the Michelangelo room) I reached Borgo Dei Greci and turned East till I was standing in front of Santa Croce, one of the few Gothic churches in Florence and the final resting place of Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli among others. Their tombs are the highlight of this beautiful church.
Strolling back along Borgo Dei Greci, I stop for a bite to eat at one of the many small cafes, serving some wonderful Panini and, of course, great coffee. This is a much more pleasant, not to mention cheaper, way to satisfy your hunger.
I continue on till I reach Piazza Della Signoria and turn left to The Uffizi, Italy’s greatest art gallery. Once used to house offices for the Medici, it now contains the world’s greatest collection of renaissance paintings as well as many other European masters. The collection is a tribute to the Medici family’s eye for beautiful art. Botticelli’s “la Primavera” and “The birth of Venus” along with masterpieces by Giotto, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo and Rembrandt make The Uffizi collection of paintings unrivalled in Italy and possibly the world.
So tonight, I can sleep well having spent an amazing day in this breathtaking open air monument to the renaissance. Sound in the knowledge I have just as many things to explore in Florence tomorrow!