Tour Day 4
We are on the road to Florence, and the Italian Renaissance.
We hope to catch a nap on the four-hour trip, but Tuscany surrounds us! Look, a hilltop town, a row of cypress trees, a quaint farmhouse waiting to be lovingly restored and featured in a best-selling memoir! We drink in the view from the bus windows. Patricia uses the opportunity to educate us on Renaissance history, and to orient us to the city of Florence. The bus is spacious and comfortable. We stop to stretch our legs, and to sample snacks at the highway rest area. We arrive in Florence at midday.
The Hotel Silla is located in the Oltrarno district. Wine and appetizers wait for us on the patio. At first, we are unsure of being located across the Arno River, away from the center of town. We discover that the area is full of sidewalk cafes, colorful narrow streets, and artisans’ studios: a very good vibe and the perfect home base for exploring Florence.
Some of our group go looking for a quick lunch. We join another group, and climb the steep steps to the Piazzale Michelangelo, near our hotel. (A few of us need to catch our breath on the way up.) The view of Firenze from the square is spectacular.
The medieval walled city of tile roofs is dominated by the Duomo, Brunelleschi’s Dome. We can hardly pull away from the view to check out the Green David, a bronze cast of Michelangelo’s masterpiece that sits it the center of the square. Soon we will be seeing the real thing.
Later in the afternoon, Patricia leads our group to the historic city center. The streets and sidewalks are narrow. Car traffic is jarring after pedestrian-friendly Venice. The Duomo is our beacon. The Piazza del Duomo in front of the gigantic Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is jammed with tourists and school groups. The Gothic structure is an icon of the city. The façade is composed of complex decorative marble elements in pink, green, and white, topped with the largest brick dome in the world. The site includes the Baptistery, with Ghiberti’s famous bronze doors, and Giotto’s Campanile.
“Little darlings, little darlings.”
Patricia familiarizes us with the area. We note the Uffizi Gallery, which we will visit another day, the Galileo Science Museum, the Bargello Scupture Gallery, and the Medici Chapel, designed by Michelangelo.
Just as the winged lion, symbol of Venice, could be seen everywhere in that city, we begin to notice two symbols of Florence. First is the Fleur-de-Lis. Unlike the French version of the stylized lily, the Florentine Fleur-de-Lis features stamens or thin flowers between the petals. The second symbol is the Medici Coat of Arms. The rise of wealth and power of the House of Medici is intricately woven with the history of Florence. The Medici symbol consists of a shield covered with six balls, a reference to coins, from their role as financiers, or pills, as the Medici were once doctors and apothecaries. The Medici balls are easy to spot in Florence.
A crowd has gathered at the Palazzo Vecchio, a fortress-like building that serves as town hall. Police stand guard at cordoned off areas, surrounded by photographers. What is going on? A bystander informs us that Charles, Prince of Wales, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, are visiting Florence on official business. We watch for several minutes, but catch no glimpse of the royal couple.
We leave the crowd, and walk to the more manageable Piazza di Santa Croce. The square in front of the Basilica di Santa Croce features leather shops, religious artifacts, and sidewalk cafes. The Basilica is glorious, the largest Franciscan church in the world, with soaring ceilings and fresco masterpieces. A statue of Dante, author of The Inferno, stands next to the façade.
Michelangelo is the reason I have come to Florence; Florence is Michelangelo’s city. He is buried inside the Basilica di Santa Croce, and a grand tomb it is, adorned by painting, sculpture, and architecture, for the greatest artist in history. Yet, there he lies. Several putti top Michelangelo’s tomb. The artist rests in good company—Machiavelli, Galileo, Rossini, Ghiberti, and other notable Italians are also buried at Santa Croce.
Behind Santa Croce is the leather school, Scuola del Cuoio. The crafting of leather has a long history in Florence, with its location on the Arno River. Leather has been produced in this area since at least the 13th century. We walk through the shop, inhaling the rich scent of leather, and admiring the fine craftsmanship. We will seen tons more leather before we leave Florence.
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Our group gathers for a buddy check before departing for dinner—a very effective way to make sure no one is left behind. We share a lovely Tuscan meal of Ribollita, a hardy bread and vegetable soup, vegetarian or meat course, chocolate cake, and local red wine. With full stomachs, we return to the hotel. Patricia has posted tomorrow’s schedule in the hotel lobby. From our hotel room, we can see the Duomo across the river. More Renaissance Florence tomorrow.