Posted by: rkurzweil | 12/05/2009

Florence, Italy

Florence from Boboli Gardens

Florence from Boboli Gardens

My first time in Florence was in June of 1997. My partner and I were in Rome for a couple of weeks and decided to take the train up to Florence and “check it out.” We got to Florence about 10:15 am. We left in the late afternoon to go back to Rome. In that time, we were able to see an awful lot. However, it did leave us wanting more. So on our recent trip to Italy, we decided to spend a few nights in Florence so that we could see more of the city.

Florence is very different from either Venice or Rome. Rome is gigantic and it takes a while to take it in. Venice is unlike any other place in the world. Florence is a compact city. This makes it easy to see the whole city in a few days. You can take longer if you want, but you don’t have to.

Florence is one of the major centers of art for the world. The Renaissance more or less started in Florence. Because of that, the amount of world-class art from the 16th through the 18th centuries is astounding. We visited the Uffizi Gallery on this latest trip. It was our first time there. Let me tell you that it was worth the wait. This is one of the most impressive museums that I have ever visited. The building itself is a masterpiece. But the paintings and sculptures housed inside are truly breathtaking. We spent about 3 hours there, but you could easily spend the entire day. Be warned – the place is extremely busy. A good tip for visitors – contact the museum ahead of time (or your concierge at your hotel) and get tickets in advance. You pay a few extra Euros for this, but it allows you to basically walk right in at your appointed time, bypassing the long lines.

Duomo

One of the real treats in Florence is the Duomo (also known as the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore) and its Baptistery. The Duomo is free to enter. It is a large, domed (thus “Duomo”) basilica that you can’t miss when you are walking around the Old Town. The outside design is absolutely gorgeous, with carved wood doors and marble statuary everywhere. The inside is not as over-the-top, but it is still quite beautiful. Across the square from the Duomo is the Baptistery. This has 3 sets of gorgeous bronze doors. The building dates back to the 11th Century. But the real treat is when you walk inside. The massive mosaics depicting various Biblical themes are beyond description. My partner and I basically sat down and just gawked at the mosaics for about 15 or 20 minutes. This is something that is not to be missed.

The Baptistery Ceiling

Next to the Duomo is the Campanile (bell tower). You can walk to the top – we didn’t. It is about 500 steps and we were already exhausted. There is no elevator, so walking up is the only option. It is a shame as I would have loved to see the city from this vantage point. But it was not meant to be. You can also walk up into the Dome of the Duomo. It is also some 500 steps and has no elevator. Again, it is supposed to be an incredible view from up there.

On the other side of the Duomo is a museum called the Opera del Duomo (literally “works of the Duomo”). It is filled with statuary and other items from the Duomo. They are kept in the museum for safe keeping. It is some of the most breathtaking marble sculpture I have ever seen. There are two full sized marble pulpits on display as well as numerous other statues. I know that this is a lot of superlatives, but it is warranted. When we went to the museum, despite the crowds around the Duomo, there was almost no one there. That is a shame. It should be on the must-see list for any visitor.

Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio (or “Old Bridge”) is one of the few remaining medieval bridges left in the world. It is lined on both sides with shops (mostly jewelers). The current bridge was built in 1345 and the shop stalls date back to that time period. It is interesting, though hardly one of the most impressive things in Florence. Fortunately, though, it is not filled with t-shirt and postcard shops. The shops are real businesses.

Just on the other side of the Ponte Vecchio is an old Medici palace called the Pitti Palace. This very large building houses a number of interesting museums, including a silver museum, a porcelain museum and a costume gallery. But for us, the draw was the Boboli Gardens. This is a huge (11 acre) garden area behind the palace. You could spend hours walking around the gardens enjoying the awesome views of the city of Florence, the statues and the fountains. We really enjoyed it. It is a quiet, serene and refreshing break from the hustle of the more popular attractions of the city.

Synagogue

Another treat in Florence was visiting the Jewish Synagogue and Museum. The Great Synagogue was built in the 19th century and nearly destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. First they used the building as a warehouse and stable. Then they actually laced the whole building with explosives. Due to the heroic efforts of the local partisans, the majority of the bombs were diffused. Only one section actually got detonated. Most of the building survived.

I know that a lot of people give very little time to Florence. They go for a day or two at the most and then move on to the next city. It deserves more attention than that. It is a wonderful place and the art and architecture are truly inspiring.

To see some of my pictures from Florence, click here.

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