FLORENCE, THE FLOWERING CITY
Florence, Firenze in Italian, is a place where one can walk and walk, stopping at literally every corner, every building. Any winding narrow street may lead you to places of indescribable beauty; any church is a treasure trove inside and outside. We were very fortunate with the hotel: I went out on the first morning, and saw the main street market right around the corner. Moving slowly from stall to stall, I eventually came to the end – and saw Il Duomo, Santa Maria Dei Fiore Cathedral, built in the 13th century. There are signs all over the town showing how to get to this most beautiful huge building, so if you are staying nearby, you cannot get lost. Its impressive dome was designed by the architect Filippo Brunelleschi; it is said that all European architects eventually learned from him. In front of the cathedral there is a small Baptistery, which does not seem much to look at outside, at least not when it is next door to the majestic Duomo. But I saw the following curious sight: there was a line of people going into Baptistery. It seemed that they walked in, spent some minutes there, and came out, looking totally stunned. So I went, too. It happens this way: you walk in, look around, your jaw drops, and you just stand there, staring, slowly turning around. Imagine a large domed hall, with all the walls covered with golden tapestries, each of which is the most beautiful picture you have ever seen… While the cathedral is magnificent, the baptistery is poignantly lovely.
I followed the signs which said, Casa Di Dante, until I came to a small modest house, with a simple board on one of the walls, and the church where his muse Beatrice is buried. It was perhaps the only time in my life when I witnessed an amazing sight: a group of chattering Japanese tourists who were snapping lots of pictures suddenly fell silent and just stood there, gazing at the house reverently. One feels like Time itself stops there, to allow people to feel all those centuries which passed since Dante walked along this street. Dante’s heart is interred in Santa Croce, one of the most famous churches in Italy. In the Uffizi gallery, one can see the largest collection of masterpieces in the world. My personal favorites are Botticelli’s Primavera and Venus, hanging on adjacent walls. Simonetta Vespucci, who married a cousin of Amerigo Vespucci, was painted by many Florentine artists. Botticelli loved her so much that he left a will asking to be buried near her feet. Many people think that Simonetta was his model and muse.
Every painting, every statue in the gallery is a masterpiece which we know from art and history lessons. A young man looks at you from a portrait which you surely have known all your life, and it takes a second to realize that it is Raphael’s self-portrait. From Uffizi, one can walk across Ponte Vecchio, the Old Bridge on which medieval houses still stand and where jewelers still sell their wares, to Palazzo Pitti, the former palace of the Medici family which they donated to the city. It is full of art treasures, and is a marvelous example of medieval architecture too. By the way, in Florence, “old” may mean the 12-13 century, while “new” may belong to the 15-16th centuries.
One of the images that follows you around in Florence, and remains in your memory afterwards, is perhaps the statue of David by Michelangelo. You can see its copies in various places. Another image which one carries away is many young faces of the local boys and girls, which look exactly the same as those in paintings and statues.
It is better to learn a few phrases in Italian before you go to Florence. Not everybody speaks English, and not everyone wants to. But the Florentines are very friendly, and they are certainly used to hordes of tourists walking around. There is no “season” in Florence, it is always full of people who come to this lovely town to imbibe its unique atmosphere of Art and Beauty.