Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The beauty of Florence

April 20, 2004: We had a reservation at the Galleria dell’Accademia, which contains sculptures by Michelangelo. The focal point of this gallery is the original [Michelangelo’s] David, moved here from Piazza della Signoria in 1873. The rest of the gallery is unimpressive, save for this lone sculpture. Words cannot describe how magnificent the sculpture is. Carved out of a block of discarded marble by Michelangelo at age 26, it shows excruciating details of David’s body. Every vein stands out as he flexes his hand in triumph of slaying Goliath. The price of the admission (about €11 with reservation fees) to the gallery is worth this one statue!

After touring the Accademia, we went to the Duomo (which is a cathedral called Cathedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore). It has some interesting structure – it was really too dim inside to see very well. So we went to the Companile which is a Gothic Bell Tower, a soaring structure of multi-colored marble. We had to climb 414 steps (no elevator here!) but were rewarded with a sweeping view of the city and some great views of the Duomo. The climb was invigorating and in retrospect gave me some perspective while reading Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ where Dr. Robert Langdon tumbles down the ‘Companile’!

We then headed to Piazza della Repubblica – this square marks the site of the ancient forum that was the core of the original Roman settlement that was to later become Florence. The travel book says this is a great spot to people-watch and that we did! Italians are a strange bunch – the weather was perfect, around 18-20°C and most of the Italians were seen sporting winter jackets! From here we walked to Piazza della Signoria. This is by far the most striking square in Florence. It was here in 1497, that the famous “bonfire of the vanities” took place, when the fanatical friar Savonarola induced his followers to hurl their possessions into the flames; it was also here, a year later, that he was hanged as a heretic and, ironically, burned! A bronze plaque in the pavement marks the exact spot of his execution. We saw some impressive sculptures: ‘Rape of the Sabine’, ‘Perseus holding the severed head of Medusa’, ‘Hercules and the Centaur’ etc. We saw Palazzo Vecchio from outside, walked through Galleria degli Uffizi to the Arno River. From there we went to Ponte Vecchio (meaning ‘Old Bridge’). This bridge is really unique since it has been housing jewelers and goldsmiths from the 16th century! So there are all these two-three stories of shops on top of the bridge! All the glitter across the bridge is remarkable. Crossing the bridge brought us to Palazzo Pitti. We went through the ‘Galleria d’Arte Moderna’ and the ‘Baboli gardens’ – these are part of the Pitti Palace estates. While the gardens were not that striking, the modern art gallery is. To me, modern sounded like something arcane and abstract. Apparently, modern in Florence means 18th and 19th century art. But of course! In a country that houses art from the 10th to the 20th century, modern would be 19th century. Galleria del Costume houses costumes from the past 300 years. We saw some beautiful dresses graced by Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn. Seemed a little out of place being housed in the same location as paintings from the 18th century but the costumes were pretty nevertheless.

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