on the Eurostar from Rome on Saturday, June 21, 2003. The train left
around 40 minutes late, however, the trip was very smooth. We got a
to enjoy the Italian countryside during the hour and half trip. We
in Florence, or as it's called in Italy, Firenze. After leaving the
Maria Novella Train Station, we walked along the Via dei Panzini toward
the Duomo. The Duomo is the most recognized landmark in Florence and
dome dominates the skyline. It's hard to get lost in Florence, all you
have to do is head for the dome.
Their were villages on this site during the Iron Age and later by
However, the foundation of Florence date back to the Roman Republic
it was founded in 59 BC as Florentia by Julius Caesar as a place for
The Duomo (which is Italian for 'dome') is the nickname for the large cathedral in Florence. It's official name is Santa Maria del Fiore (St. Mary of the Flowers). It is a Gothic building constructed in the Middle Ages by architects who left it unfinished. How was it unfinished you might ask? Well, they left a giant hole in the roof for a dome. Problem was that no one at the time knew how to construct domes. However, they figured that someday, someone would figure it out and build it, so they left a 130 foot diameter hole.
Construction began in 1296, under the design of architect Arnolfo di Cambio and would take 140 years to complete. Construction stopped in 1302, when di Cambio died. Work resumed in 1334, under a new architect, Giotto. However, Giotto, spent most of his time (he died only three years later) on the belltower next to the cathedral. Construction was halted in 1348, the year the Black Death decimated the population of Europe. Work continued until 1375, when it was for the most part finished. Except that is for the giant cupola on top.
In 1420, architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377 - 1446) won the contest to construct the dome. It would take only 14 years and was the largest since the Pantheon in Rome. Brunelleschi's dome became the model for domes to follow, like St. Peter's basilica in Rome. When Michelangelo set out to build the dome of St. Peter's, he used the Duomo as his inspiration. He stated, "I will make her sister...bigger, but not more beautiful."
The Duomo was consecrated by Pope Eugene IV on March 25th (the Florentine New Year) 1436. It is the third largest cathedral in the world after St. Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in London. The finished dome, with the lantern on top, is 375 feet high. You can climb to the top, it's only 463 steps (St. Paul's Cathedral in London is 627 steps to the top and Debbie and I made that one). We didn't climb this one, however, we did climb the bell tower next to it.
The exterior of the cathedral is in white Carrara, green Prato and red Siena marble giving it a very colorful appearance. Construction began on the facade of the cathedral much later in 1876 and took ten years to complete. Some people, including myself, think the colorful facade is spectacular. Others have been more derisive toward it, actually calling it a 'cathedral in pajamas'. There was a long line to get in when we arrived that morning, so we didn't go inside. When we returned later in the day to climb the Bell Tower, we went in to find a place for Mom to sit down. She wasn't doing any climbing.
Brunelleschi died in 1446 and was buried in the Duomo. However, the location of his tomb was lost and only re-discovered in 1972. Here we are at the top of the Bell Tower with the dome in the background.
The belltower of the Duomo, one of the most beautiful in Italy, was an (extremely costly) invention of genius by Giotto which was created more as a decorative monument than a functional one. It is not connected to the cathedral, but is a few feet from the right of the facade. Construction began in 1334 and was completed in 1359 (long after Giotto's death). It is 277 feet high and 47 feet wide at any of it's sides. There are large windows all the way up that light the tower and you get a view on the way up. On top, there is a terrace with incredible views of the city and the dome on the cathedral. For the price of €6, you can walk to the top. Debbie and I paid the fee and climbed to the top - all 414 steps!
We left Mom inside the Duomo, where she could sit in the cool air. Unfortunately, while we were climbing the Bell Tower, they were closing the cathedral. When we went down to the street, we found Mom relaxing on the front steps of the Duomo. The inside of the cathedral is not as impressive as the outside. The inside is still pretty empty since the flood of 1966 damaged much of the artwork. Since then, the artwork is kept in the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo (behind the cathedral). You can climb up into the dome, but since we already climbed the bell tower, we passed on this. If you want to go up the 463 steps (49 steps more then the tower), it will also cost you €6.
Across from the front of the cathedral, in the center of the square, is the Baptistry. It was built on the site of a Roman temple to the god of war, Mars (who else would a bunch of retired Roman soldiers dedicate their temple to). The foundations of the first Baptistery of San Giovanni (St. John the Baptist is the patron saint of Florence), dated from 4th-5th century circa, was certainly built on top of these ancient buildings. It has an octagonal shape. New doors were built in the early part of the 15th century. The famous "Doors of Paradise", designed by the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti (photo at left), were finished in 1424. In 1972, between the Baptistry and the Duomo, they have unearthed numerous Medieval tombs.
We were not able to get to the Santa Croce Church. Many famous people of the Renaissance are interred here. The most famous of all, Michelangelo is buried here along with fellow sculptor, Lorenzo Ghiberti (Baptistry bronze doors). Renaissance author, Niccolo Machiavelli (creator of hard-ball politics who wrote The Prince). Poet Vittorio Alfieri along with Physicist/Astronomer Galileo Galilei (who was allowed in many years after he died). There is also a memorial dedicated to Dante Alighieri. He's not here, he was banished from Florence in 1302, and died in exile in Ravenna, Italy 19 years later, a bitter and lonely man. (here is a site with a picture of all of the famous peoples tombs)
We had a 1:00 o'clock appointment at the Uffizi Gallery (pronounced: oo-FEEDZ-ee). I called the museum the day before from Rome and made the appointment. It only cost an extra €1,55, but you can avoid waiting in the long lines. So we decided to have lunch before we went in. We bought some sandwiches at a store in the Palazzo Vecchio and ate in front of the museum. The panini sandwiches were very good, and I was able to get some more Italian beer (I look like I enjoyed it).
we strolled over to the museum. We had a little trouble at first
the entrance. They are not much for informational signs here. However,
we did find it and went in. The cost is not much, €8 for the ticket
plus the extra €1,55. The Uffizi Gallery has the greatest collection
of Italian paintings anywhere. It features works by Giotto (builder of
the Bell Tower), Leonardo, Raphael, Rubens, Michelangelo and
They only let a certain amount of people in at a time, so it's a very
idea to call ahead and book an appointment.
Construction of Uffizi Palace began in 1560 by Duke Cosimo I dei Medici as an administrative center for Florence. It was for the 13 magistrates (thus the name 'Uffizi'). The palace, and now the museum, is situated between the Signoria Palace and the Arno River. Cosmo died 11 years later in 1571 and the building still wasn't done yet (they must of had the same contractor that Debbie and I had). Cosmo's son, Francesco I, kept at it and it was completed ten years later in 1581. Francesco, who was into science, set up laboratories on the second floor. Gradually, they started compiling works of art on the second floor for display making the Uffizi one of the world's first art museums..
The Uffizi Gallery is u-shaped and is only on one floor. You don't have to walk much, which is good on your feetzi (sorry). After climbing a lot of stairs, you come to the gallery on the top floor. You follow a tour that goes through the art in chronological order. I thought this was very interesting, seeing how art progressed through history.
Realism in paintings (three-dimensional) developed during the Renaissance. In the first room, you can see pre-Renaissance paintings and how the artists were struggling with the concept of 3-D. Pre-Renaissance art almost always featured religious themes and the artist Giotto was no different. There are a number of "Madonna" paintings in the first couple of rooms. Giotto is considered the first of the great artists (along with designing impressive bell towers). He made great strides toward realism. After his death from the plague in 1337, the world went back to 2-D paintings.
The next set of rooms take you into the Early Renaissance (around mid-15th century) with works by Uccello, Fra Filippo Lippi and Pollaiolo. Realism is much more evident and the Madonnas are disappearing. The latter part of the 15th century was when the Renaissance was at it's height in Florence. This is evident in the next room full of Botticelli's. Some of his more famous works are here, like the Allegory of Spring, Adoration of the Magi and the Birth of Venus. Created around 1485, Botticelli's Birth of Venus (Nascita di Venere in Italian), also known by it's nickname "Venus on the half-shell", is considered by many as the purest expression of Renaissance beauty.
After leaving the museum, we walked around the square next to the museum called the Piazza della Signoria (right). It is the largest square in the city and contains a lot of artwork. The south side is bordered by the Uffizi Museum and the west side by the Palazzo Vecchio. The Palazzo (or Palace) was once the home of the Medici family, it now houses Florentine art and history. Most guide books say it's really not worth going into. Though they recommend to step into the courtyard just inside the door to feel the essence of the Medici's. While we were there, the palace was covered in scaffolding while they do repairs to the exterior. While I am sure that is important to keep the building in the best of shape, it is annoying to photographers who are looking to take it's picture. There is a plaque on the ground in the piazza, in front of the Palazzo commererating the spot where the Dominican friar, Girolamo Savonarola, was burned at the stake. Next to the entrance of the Palazzo is a replica of the statue of "David" by Michelangelo. THE actual statue of "David" stood on this spot from 1873 to recentlty. Currently it is located in the Academia Museum which we didn't get into that day (after all, we were only in Florence for 10 hours).
From the Piazza della
Signoria, we walked down to the Arno River. About a block away from the
Uffizi Gallery is the Ponte Veccho (Old Bridge). This famous Florentine
bridge (pictured at left and below) is full of small shops which house
gold and jewelry shops on
sides of the span. The only time you know you are actually on a bridge
is in the middle of the span where you can look out onto the river or
from a back
in one of the shops. In 1944, the German
commander of Florence was
to blow up all of the bridges in Florence as they retreated north
the Allied armies. The commander blew
up all of the bridges except this
one. He did destroy the buildings on either side making it unpassable,
but he spared the bridge. In 1966, the bridge suffered heavy
a flood (pictures
of the damage).
The picture at right
was taken from the back of the Uffizi Museum.
The tile covered
passageway, called the Vasari Corridor, leading out of the museum and
across the Arno River is a fortified escape route that connects the
Palace Vecchio through the Uffizi over the river to the fortified Pitti
Palace. This way the Medici's could escape in times of attack (it
happened sometimes back in the day). The passageway is open by request
only and you have to pay €8. We didn't bother.
Dante Alighieri lived in Florence (here is a great website on Dante) from his birth in 1265 until he was exiled in 1303. He never returned to Florence. His real first name was Durante, Dante was kind of a nick-name. On a side street in Florence, you can visit his home. We walked and looked at the outside, but the interior museum was closed the day we were there.
Dante died in Ravenna, Italy in 1321 and was buried in San Pier Maggiore’s
Church (today called San Francisco or St. Francis). Shortly after his
the city of Florence, who had exiled him 18 years earlier, asked that
body be re-interred in Florence. The people of Ravenna rightfully
A 150 years later, they asked again. This time they had the support of
Pope Leo X (who by strange coincidence was from Florence). It was tough
to say no, when the pope wanted Dante moved. So the citizens of Ravenna
told the people of Florence to come and get him.
Florence Art Guide
Sunset on the Arno River