Florence – (June 2015)
An easy, quiet, and peaceful train ride from Milan.
Florence, the capital city of the Tuscany region, is one of the most visited cities in the world. It is also dubbed as the “cradle of the Renaissance” due to all the monuments, churches, and buildings.
After a two hour train ride, I arrived at the railway station “Firenze Santa Maria Novella“. I really enjoyed the railways in Europe. From the station it was a quick taxi ride to my Airbnb rental, which was is in a great location.
Strolling through the narrow streets I came across a celebration.
At the time, I had no idea what was going on.
As you can see, they were dressed up for the 16th Century time period.
I ran into the same celebration the following day.
I researched the celebration that evening, only to find out that I missed the main event each night. Each one of the parades were just the start up for that evening. They march throughout the city, ending up over at the plaza in front of Santa Croce.
A temporary stadium was set up in the plaza for the Calcio Storico Fiorentino, a sporting event that looks like a combination of soccer, rugby, and a wrestling match consisting of four teams from the historical neighborhoods. It is part of the celebration for the patron saint, St. John the Baptist. The game originates from the 16th century. The four teams were the Santa Croce (blue), Santo Spirito (white), Santa Maria Novella (red), and the San Giovanni (green). I am sorry I missed seeing this contest. Something tells me it was quite physical.
Teams train for eight or nine months, with teams training several times a week over the course of the last months leading up to the tournament. These were the semi-final parades, with the championship to be played on June 24th.
One might ask, what does the victor win? In the old days, the winning team/district received a Palio and a Chianina ox. So where’s the beef? Well in this case, here is the beef, as the ox was the menu for neighborhood parties celebrating the victory.
The “Arno” River flows through Florence. The photo below is the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge full of jewelry and art stores.
On a historic note, this was the only bridge that wasn’t destroyed by the Germans towards the end of World War II.
I walked around that evening getting my barrings, locating the train station from my flat, purchasing a ticket to go to Pisa in a few days. As it turned out, it was a Regional train to Pisa, and all I had to do was show my Eurail Pass. The hard part was getting someone to explain that to me. The train station ticket representative didn’t speak a word of English except NO, and had no patience for me.
I decided to head out to the Piazzale Michelangelo. Passing through the Porta San Miniato, one of the many gates of Florence.
It was a nice trek of approximately 4.5 miles to the plaza.
There where great views along the way to the plaza.
Looking away from the city – Arno River.
Part of the ancient city outer wall
Continuing on, I worked my way up to the Basilica San Miniato al Monte, said to be one of the finest Romanesque structures in Tuscany.
The build of the Basalica started around 1018 and continued for two centuries. As you can see, there is a choir platform sitting above the large crypt, which has changed very little over the years. Above that, a mosaic of Christ, between the Virgin and St Minias, which was made around 1297. The pattern flooring dates back to 1207.
The ceiling was quite different as well. Great pattern and design with each compartment providing a kind of firebreak.
Coming down a different route I came upon the Tower “Porta San Niccolo”. It didn’t appear to be opened to the public.
After my walk in the hills, I walked around town setting the plans for the upcoming days: The Florence Cathedral, Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Bell Tower, Palazzo Vecchio, and the Uffizi Gallery were a few of my stops planned.
The Cathedral of Florence, formally know as Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, is one of the main attractions of Florence.
The build started in 1296, with the first stone being laid by Cardinal Valeriana on 9 September 1296. Arnolfo di Cambio was the designer. The build completion was in 1436, going through many architects over the course of of 140 years.
I chose to climb Giotto’s Campanile (Bell Tower) first.
Giotto di Bondone designed the Bell Tower with the 1st stone being laid on 19 July 1334. The tower was completed in 1359.
Climbing to the top of the Bell Tower, you will encounter 414 steps.
Next I headed into the Cathedral of Florence (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore).
Looking up the inside of the dome from the church floor was a good view of the Last Judgement Fresco Cycle by Giorgio Vasari. After Vasari passed away in 1574, the projects was completed by Federico Zuccaro.
The Dome was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. It was built over the period of time from 1420 to 1436. At the time it was the largest dome in the world. This in itself created design problems, preventing the traditional method of construction due to its size. The open space in the cathedral measured 42 meters wide. They could not build the dome with “centring” (framing used to support an arch or dome while it is under construction.). Its structure is a double shell, reinforced by 24 vertical arched ribs connecting the inner and outer dome. For the build Brunelleschi created a three-speed hoist powered by a one yoke of oxen, and a 65 foot crane that allowed loads to move from side to side once they were at the height desired.
Off to the top of Brunelleschi’s Dome!
There was a line for going up to the top of the Dome. They control the number of people going up and down, which is good as the stairwells are not very big! In the line I hit up a conversation with a couple from the UK that were taking a 2-3 week drive around Europe in a small RV, camping as they went along. They were enjoying themselves! The man in front of me was from Turkey, very nice, and he joined in on the conversation. Everyone was truly enjoying the sites.
Once in, the trek began.
These last two pictures were taken from the base of the drum where there is a little walkway just below the fresco.
Made it to the top! Views from the top of Brunelleschi’s Dome.
FYI – encountered 463 steps on the way up.
Once I was back on the ground, I let my feet do the talking. I ended up over at the Piazza della Repubblica. Once the Piazza del Mercato Vecchio. In the mid-18th century, this area had tightly packed streets, buildings (churches, shrines), and a ghetto, in addition to the marketplace. The current square looks nothing like that. Florence became the capital of Italy for 5 years (1865-1871), and during that time the city planning announced the changes to come. Towards the end of the 1800’s, the square was expanded destroying medieval towers, churches, palaces, craftsmen’s shops and residences. The city presented to the people of Florence that the demolition of the area was necessary due to the area’s unsanitary conditions.
The Colonna dell’Abbondanza (Column of Abundance) marked the center of Roman Florence. It was located at the intersection of the Cardo (North-South) and
Decumanus Maximus (East-West) Roman roads. The monument was erected in the 15th century. At that time, the area was a market. The statue had two chains, one used to ring a bell for the opening and closing of the market. The second chain was used to chain up debtors, thieves, etc. for public shaming.
This is the Antique 20 horse Carousel of the Picci Family. I believe the Picci family has brought the carousel to the Piazza della Repubblica for over 100 years. My understanding is that it runs November through May, although when I was there, it was running in June (2015).
Shortly after arriving in the square, a small storm was rolling in. I was lucky to find a cafe near by, one that I could sit out on the patio, enjoy my meal, and watch the rain. The Cafe is no longer there, but it was located where the La Bistecca – Osteria Fiorentina currently is. I recognized the patio.
Next I was off to the Piazza della Signoria. There you will find the Fountain of Neptune, the Loggia dei Lanzi, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Uffizi Gallery.
Florence decided to build a palace that would be worthy of the city’s importance. The Palazzo Vecchio was completed in 1314, but it wasn’t named this until Cosimo I de Medici moved his residence to the Pitti Palace.
The architect for the Palazzo Vexcchio was Arnolfo di Cambio, who was also the architect of the Cathedral of Florence (Duomo) and the Santa Croce church.
The current statue of “David”, standing (on the left) in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, is a replica. Michelangelo’s David was unveiled in 1504. It was originally to be positioned on the roofline of the east end of the Cathedral of Florence. Michelangelo’s David stood in front of the Palazzo Vecchio until 1873. It is now at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence.
In the First Courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio, you can see the statue Putto with Dolphin, by Verrocchio, in the center of the room. The walls are frescoes of Austrian cities by Vasari.
Other pictures of the interior of Palazzo Vecchio:
On the second floor you will find The Stanza del Guardaroba, also known as the Hall of Geographical Maps. All four walls are covered with maps, 53 to be exact, painted on the cabinet doors. In the center of the room is the “Mappi Mundi” built in 1581.
While at the Palazzo Vecchio, I found there was an archaeological dig underneath the Palazzo Vecchio. The excavation uncovered the Roman Theater of Florence dating back to 1st century AD. The first excavation remains were found in 1876, with another dig in 1935. Excavations started back up in 2006-2007. This amphitheater was in a semicircular shape estimated to of held up to 15,000 spectators. Research indicates it was in use into the 5th century.
Excavations have revealed wall foundations,
and 10-meter deep well shafts,
Back outside in the Piazza della Signoria, I stepped over to the Loggia dei Lanzi, also called the Loggia della Signoria.
Here you will find many masterful sculptures.
The Loggia della Signoria is adjoined to the Uffizi Gallery.
The Uffizi Gallery has been open for visits since the 16th century. In 1865 it formally became a museum. It is considered one of the most important Italian museums, and probably the most visited.
The next day I went to the Basilica Santa Maria Novella. A beautiful church.
While the Tornabuoni Chapel is the main chapel, there are 8 other chapels.
Other sites I ran across walking around Florence, dodging the rain.
The church was closed. To the right,you can see the edge of the seating for the Calcio Storico Fiorentino, the sporting event noted in the start of the blog.
Florence was very interesting. A lot to see, and once again, I didn’t come close to seeing everything, but I enjoyed myself. Next stop, Pisa!