Take 200 years of art and history. Cram it in a city roughly the size of Rajamundry. That is Florence for you. Tucked away in the Tuscany region of northern Italy, this town grew into the cultural nerve center of Europe from 14th to 16thcentury. During those centuries, either by providence or by design, Florence birthed and nurtured towering figures of science and arts. This is the town Da vinci began his career as artist. This is the place Dante had a love-hate relationship with. These are the streets Michaelangelo walked through. And it is the final resting place of Galileo. Florence is a giant open air museum, with every street brimming with history, every square offering a story, if you are willing to listen.
Coming from a city as daunting as Paris, the quaint old world charm of Florence is refreshing. You can walk the length and breadth of entire town in one hour; that means no worrying about transport. Armed with a museum pass, I began my tour of the city on Monday morning. My first destination was the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. It is simply known as “The Duomo” or “the Dome”; the most iconic structure in Florence, and for a brief time in the distant past, in the entire Europe.
The red bricked dome of the cathedral is a modern engineering marvel. Nothing like it existed in
world at the time it was built, in the 15th century. Nothing except the Pantheon, built way back in 126AD at the peak of Roman empire. Taking inspiration from the golden age of Romans, architect Brunelleshi embarked on the mission of conceptualizing and constructing this impressive structure. He spent around 15 years giving shape to this structure. The Duomo symbolized the spirit of the times. It inspired awe in even the legends of the period. When Michelangelo was commissioned to build the Saint Peter’s church a century later, he looked up at the Duomo for inspiration and guidance. The duomo is the ultimate signal of end of the medieval times and dawn of Renaissance.
If you are willing to climb 450 narrow, spiral steps braving exhaustion and claustrophobia, you can reach the balcony atop the Dome. I had the additional pleasure of having to do it with one non functional leg, thanks to my walking shenanigans in Paris. Practically walking with one leg and dragging the other one along, I huffed and puffed my way to the top. The reward was the breath taking views of the Tuscany country side, and the red tiled roofs of Florence. Totally worth it!
After Duomo, I walked to the piazza della signoria, location of Palazzo Vecchio. It is a town hall of the city. Currently a museum, it used to be the seat of the first family of Florence, the Medicis. The history of Florence is intertwined with the history of this powerful mercantile family, who became so powerful that they controlled the city, their family members were elected as Popes, and probably most importantly for us – they patronized artists, collected and preserved priceless collections of art. There was no shortage of political intrigue in Florence. There were rival political families, assassination plots, marriages of conveniences planned to reduce hostilities. There were exiles, uprisings and murders. In short, all the elements one can expect from typical gult faction movie of the 2000’s (alas, there doesn’t seem to be many punch dialogues though).
By night, the whole town of Florence has a carnival-like atmosphere. After watching sun set over the Arno river from piazza Michelangelo, a small hillock offering panoramic views of the City, I spent the rest of the evening strolling the streets, playing peak-a-boo with the Duomo.
Next morning, my first destination was Academia Gallery, where people from all around the world flock to and stand in line for hours to see the most famous Sculpture in the world – David.
A 17 feet tall nude marble statue of the Biblical king, David deserves every bit of praise it gets. Glimpsing the statue from a distance, walking towards it, standing in front of it, I felt shivers in my body. It was the closest I ever came to having a religious experience.
Unlike the norm of those days, Michelangelo didn’t choose to represent David as a victorious Hero after conquering Goliath. There is no weapon in David’s hand. The fighting didn’t even start. Most critics agree that Michelangelo captured the brief moment of contemplation when David was sizing up the enemy, possibly formulating a strategy to conquer him. You can feel that he is thinking; his intense gaze making us imagine the non-existent Goliath.
Still dizzy from the visit to David, I walked to my next destination – the Uffizi gallery. A treasure trove of Renaissance art, it contains gems like Botticelli’s birth of Venus, Davinci’s Adoration of Magi. Touring the Uffizi is like a crash course on the significance of Renaissance. It stores the European art in chronological order, so the initial displayed are decisively medieval. You see how crude the drawings are, how bland the backgrounds are. Will gold platted background, with no sense of proportion of limbs, some even look like they have been drawn by children. The faces of people in the drawings were devoid of any kind of emotions. Then slowly, you see the changes creeping in. The golden backgrounds were slowly being replaced by actual landscapes. There is a semblance of finesse in depiction of emotions on the subjects of paintings. As the march of renaissance picks up pace, you see the art reclaiming it’s glory of the Hellenistic age again. All in front of your eyes, as you walk from one room to another.
Florence isn’t as famous as it’s neighbour Venice. But while Venice has it’s share of historical significance, it doesn’t even hold a candle to Florence in terms of arts and culture. I am so glad I got to visit this tiny town and explored its nooks and corners. The next day, I took the train to the final leg of my journey – The Eternal City.