Standing within reach of perhaps the most famous statue in the world – five meters high David – is a great experience. Thinking that the ingenious artist Michelangelo Buonarroti had touched it five hundred years ago, sent chills down my spine…
If you like paintings, sculptures, and Renaissance architecture, you will find all these and many many more in Florence. There is even a diagnosis – Stendhal syndrome – from the amazement of many monuments and art. Named after the French writer, it is most often manifested by dizziness and palpitations. I think I overcame it too. Fortunately, the treatment is simple. Sit for a while in the cozy trattoria, have a pizza, ristretto, and a glass or two of well-chilled spumante. It is guaranteed that it will help.
Florence in december
I went to Florence – one of the places from my bucket list – in early December and it was a good decision. There were fewer tourists than usual. We got to the gallery, where during the tourist season you either have to stand through a long queue or make an online reservation in advance, without waiting. The main square, Piazza del Duomo, was easily passable with the magical Christmas atmosphere of the historic city center, as a bonus.
I was going to see the best of Florence, so the most advantageous choice was to buy a Firenzecard, where the price of €85 includes admission to about 70 museums and churches. The holder of this card also does not need to wait in queues at the cash registers but may enter straight away. Please note that during the high season, it is necessary to book entry for a specific day and hour in the Uffizzi Gallery and Della Academia, even if you have the Firenzecard.
Galleria degli Uffizi
First in line were Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus or Primavera, Michelangelo’s Holy Family, Da Vinci, Giotto, Lippi, Rembrandt, Brueghel, and dozens more at the Uffizi Gallery. It is a space with exceptional charm. When you walk its lit corridors with a beautiful wooden ceiling above you, rows of statues lining the walls, and rooms with paintings of ancient masters on your way, you find yourself with bated breath. By the way, you generally don’t see so many naked marble people anywhere. 🙂 If you want to see the arts in the Uffizzi in more detail, reserve at least half a day. At the end of the visit, I was no longer able to look at any more paintings.
The building of the gallery in the shape of a narrow letter “U” was built in 1560 by Cosimo I. de Medici. He needed offices for the Florentine municipality and the judicial authorities of the Tuscany. Uffizi in ancient Italian meant office – offices. The project was designed by the court artist of the Medici, Giorgio Vasari. It became a gallery full of masterpieces in 1769. Today it is one of the most famous in the world.
The most beautiful and most famous of the Florentine nudes is called David. Located in the Galleria dell´Academia it’s really impressive. It dominates the whole museum.
Michelangelo sculpted it at the age of 26. Originally, the statue was to be placed along of roofline of Florence Cathedral. The huge block of marble used for the sculpture lay in the opera courtyard for many years. Agostino di Duccio originally started sculpting it but gave up because of numerous defects of material. Michelangelo received this complicated order and sculpted the shepherd David at the moment when he accepted the challenge to fight the giant Goliath. A stone in one hand and a slingshot in the other. Vigilant eyes and expression of tension, humility, and love for God, whom Goliath cursed so much.
Michelangelo’s portrayal of David was unusual. Until then, all the artists captured him only after the fight, victoriously holding the Goliath’s cut-off head .
It is known from the archives that he was sculpting it for more than two years (1501-1503). During that time, no one was allowed to see the statue. He worked hard all days long, slept little, barely ate. After unveiling the work, the council decided that it would be a pity to place such beauty high on the wall of the cathedral and proposed to place it in the heart of Florence, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. The famous statue moved to the gallery in 1873.
In the gallery, you will also find a room called Gipsoteca Bartolini. It is full of plaster casts from the 19th century by Lorenzo Bartolini, one of the great sculptors and excellent professors of the academy.
In the next room, there is a collection of recently restored late Gothic Florentine paintings.
Dante Alighieri and Palazzo Vecchio
Famous writer Dante Alighieri, the author of the masterpiece of the Middle Ages – the Divine Comedy, grew up in Florence. His birthplace, Casa di Dante, where you will discover the original Divina Commedia illustrated by Sandro Botticelli, is worth a short visit. Dante’s posthumous mask is exhibited in the Palazzo Vecchio, the old town hall, dated back to 1499. And there is much to see here. Gorgeous halls with ornate ceilings got me to my knees. In the largest one, called Salone dei Cinquecento, the Grand City Council used to sit, holding as many as 500 members.
Duomo di Firenze
And, of course, the most beautiful cathedral I have ever seen – the Cattedrale Di Santa Maria del Fiore also called the Duomo di Firenze with the Baptistry. Robert Langdon and his Inferno – do you remember the scenes from the book by Dan Brown? 460 steps lead to the top of Brunelleschi’s dome, the icon of the Florence panorama. Nothing for people with heart disease, claustrophobia, or fear of height. The double-layered octagonal dome built-in 1434 is considered a miracle of construction technology. It was built from the outside in, using 4 million bricks laid in a herringbone pattern, without the use of scaffold! Brunelleschi, who is buried in the cathedral, took his know-how to the grave. He left no building plans and diagrams detailing the dome, carrying everything in his head out of fear that a competitor might steal his idea.
Just to give you a conception of what a giant cathedral means in this case – it’s the fourth largest cathedral in the world and inside you can fit an incredible number of 25,000 people. The Giotta bell tower is also worth mentioning. You need to take 414 steps to get to the top. The bell ringers had to be in a good physical condition!
The first mention of this exceptional bridge over the Arno River dates back to 996. It was built of wood and was swept away by floods several times over the centuries until it was built of stone in 1345. The identity of the author of the bridge has not been proven yet.
There are shops on both sides of the bridge. Butchers, tanners, and other craftsmen were replaced by goldsmiths and jewelers in 1593 because Cosimo I. used to go through the bridge to his palace, and the bad smell and dirt bothered him.
Even during the retreat of German troops in World War II, the bridge was not destroyed, directly on Hitler’s orders. Other bridges in Florence and the surrounding area were blown up by soldiers.
The oldest pharmacy
The oldest pharmacy in the city, Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, is worth a visit too. It has been working continuously for 400 years. A porter will take you to the beautiful old, frescoed areas of the pharmacy. Under their own brand, they mix custom perfumes, produce vitamin capsules, teas, ointments, and creams. And those scents! Inside there is an office, a tearoom, a room with an exhibition on old pharmacy methods, and an herb room.
The charm of the old town is completed by trattorias, cafes, and restaurants. I am not going to argue about the prices, but for example to give €5 for a single scoop of ice cream at Ponte Vecchio seemed a bit too much, even though it was yummy.
For a person who loves art in every form, Florence is almost a paradise on earth. It will draw you into the Renaissance and Gothic times, the days when Florence was ruled by the Medici family. Often you will barely breathe when you look at famous paintings, statues, or old books. Your neck will hurt from your eyes trying to take in all of the beautiful ceilings in the old town hall, you won’t feel your feet, because you will be constantly tempted to cross the old, narrow streets, shops, squares, churches, and markets. You will love the ubiquitous scent of treated leather and the sight of the huge dome of the Duomo. And you will humbly bow down before all the old masters who created this beauty.
All pictures from my 4-day trip to Florence: Fascinating Firenze
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