Rainy Days in Firenze

Trip Start Mar 01, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Italy  , Tuscany,
Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Florence is a beautiful, beautiful city and two days is not nearly enough time to explore...but my 90 days in the EU end on Thursday and I'm not willing to risk a fine and/or refusal of re-entry.
I catch a bus from the Sette Santi Hostel into Piazza San Marco and wander towards Florence's cathedral, known as the Duomo, but  actually called Santa Maria del Fiore. Met Samantha, a volunteer docent from San Diego, that gave me a great speed-tour:
Leon Battista Alberti said of the Duomo, "...rising up to the skies, so large that it covered the entire Tuscan peoples with its shadow."
Construction on the Duomo (which just means dome) began in 1296, and it took 140 years to finish.  It is the 3rd largest church in Christendom, after London's Cathedral and the Vatican. The ornate facade for which it is known was actually not added until the 1800's; the Renaissance style was much more plain. The inside is less religious than most expect because it was designed to also be a civic center and the court. The cathedral was built on top of an old church, the Santa Reparata.  In fact, until final work on the dome was started, the church remained opened- there is still a staircase leading below to the remains of the old church and the tomb of the dome's architect, Brunelleschi (1377-1446).
The new construction was funded by tax payers, and the church knew that most of them wouldn't live to see its completion, so they focused on building the first wall to have something to show them for their investment.  On the wall is one of the oldest, intact mosaic's of the time, depicting the crowning of Mary and a really cool 24-hour clock. Time was kept according to the sun, with the 24th hour being sunset. Engineers have to adjust the clock every few weeks to be sure it is keeping time with the lessening hours of daylight.At hour 23 the loudest chime was sounded to warn workers outside of the city gates to return home.  At the time the country was feuding and Florence had built large walls to protect itself.
Donatello was commissioned to create 44 stained glass windows, at a time when the most had been only 15.  The glass was too heavy for the marble and they had to be reinforced with brick, so only a few of the windows are lit by the sun.
Brunelleschi was commissioned to build the dome.  He had wanted to built the neighboring Baptistry, but was not selected. He went to Rome to study the dome of the Pantheon and his design for the Duomo is a near duplicate.  It was used as a model for St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, which was built 100 years after the Duomo's completion but the exact design has never been replicated because it was not viewed to be structurally sound.  Although, after 700 years the only visible damage are a few cracks. It was to be the largest in the world, 53 meters across, over 1/2 a football field.  The brick was laid from the bottom up in a herringbone pattern to carry the weight because it was built without scaffolding- there was not enough timber in the region to build it.  
The church hired the man who had beat Brunelleschi in the bid for the Baptistry as his right-hand man and paid him the same salary. Brunelleschi was not pleased with this decision and called in sick for a month.  The other man was only a sculptor, and when he finally admitted that he didn't know what to do they fired him and Brunelleschi came back to work. He wanted it covered in mosaic, but he died before its completion and at the time frescoes were more popular.  He had left holes in the bricks for the artisans to hang from. The paintings were created in three layers, heaven, earth and hell.
The gold ball at the top was considered too simple a job for Florence's best metalworker, so he assigned it to his apprentice, Leonardo DaVinci.  It is visible from anywhere in the city.

Other highlights:
  • Climbing the last of the 450ish stairs to the top of the dome for breathtaking views of the city, just in time for sunset (shocking!) Only rivaled by St. Isaac's in St. Petersburg.
  • Resisting cashmere lined, leather gloves in the market (not conducive to UK farm work)
  • Walking down Via Roma to cross the Ponte Vecchio
  • Seeking refuge in museums and churches during a wild thunderstorm
  • Museo Nazionale Allinari Della Fotografia with the exhibition based on an Italo Calvino novel, Castle of Crossed Destinies. Some travelers become lost and for some unexplained reason can no longer speak. They use a tarot deck to communicate. Cool museum with the earliest daguerreotypes, cameras, photo albums and some modern photos by Man Ray, Diane Arbus and Ansel Adams.
  • The Tribuna in the Uffizi Gallery.  It's an octagonal room, covered in red velvet with a dome covered in shells and red varnish. But I have to say, I don't like a museum in which you are forbidden to take photographs.  What are they afraid of? The Gallery is known for its long halls, filled with busts and statues from the times when it was a home (I think) of the Medici's.  One of the most famous is a huge, black marble statue of Ares.  Among the collection there are also a few DaVinci paintings and several by Carvaggio.
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