Monday, April 09, 2007

March 2007 - Florence, Italy - Thrilled to be back!

After two months of traveling through northern Italy, Scotland and Switzerland (not staying in any one city for more than 3 weeks), we were exhausted and anxious to settle in one place for a while. So, rather than returning to Rome, we decided to rent an apartment in Florence for 2 months, hoping to experience La Dolce Vita, Florentine style. Aside from the obvious reasons (art, architecture, it's Tuscany!), we decided to spend our spring in Florence (Firenze, in Italian)because it's supposed to have the best weather this time of year, it's visited by only a fraction of the tourists who take over the town during the summer, and the people speak the most perfect Italian dialect. Oh, and it has the world's best gelato! We are so there!!
Florence truly is one of the most picturesque cities in Italy. It's situated in a valley, on the Arno river, almost completely surrounded by Tuscany's rolling green hills, with the Apennine Mountains in the horizon to the northeast. Here we are at Piazzale Michelangelo, with Florence in the background. This is probably the city's most photographed (and photogenic) perspective, with a view of the Arno, the many bridges that span it including the Ponte Vecchio, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Duomo, Santa Croce and their respective bell towers, and the Synagogue. The panoramic views of Florence and the Tuscan countryside from here are nothing short of breathtaking. Our first week, we did a lot of walking, mainly to get acquainted (or reacquainted) with the town that would be our new home for the next two months. We stopped at just about every major square but didn't go inside any church or museum, figuring we had plenty of time to explore the city and its countless treasures. Plus, the city has tons of replica's of many of its greatest masterpieces scattered throughout the city, in the exact spot where the originals were placed centuries earlier. Here's a full-size copy of Michelangelo's David, sitting where the original was placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria in 1504. Even though it doesn't have the high polish of the original, which sits in the Gallerie Accademie built to house (and protect) it, you can't take your eyes off this copy, which can't help but remind you that you're standing in the same square that was frequented by Renaissance greats like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and their benefactor (and the city's art-loving leader) Lorenzo "the Magnificent" di Medici.

Our apartment is just one block east of Signoria Square on Via Vinegia. Here's Casandra on our street with the Palazzo Vecchio's bell tower above. Only a few blocks north of Signoria Square (and our apartment) is Piazza di San Giovanni, where Florence's Duomo (or main Cathedral) and Baptistry are situated. Here we are in front of the Duomo's Neo-Gothic facade. We'll tell you more about the Duomo and it's important (and long) history in our next post after we've visited the interior.

Florence's Duomo is one of the few churches in the world that's completed covered in marble. Most churches, even those in Rome, only have marble covering the facade. But just about every inch of this one is encrusted in white, green and pink marble. It's shockingly colorful and ornate, yet true to its Gothic origin.

And here we are in Piazza della Repubblica, which, in its current form, was built to commemorate the Unification of Italy, with Florence as the capital of the new republic from 1865-1870 until the liberation of Rome. The grand Piazza sits over the site of the ancient Roman Forum. Florence was originally founded as the Roman city, Florentia, in 59 BC, and like all Roman cities, it needed a forum for its pagan temples and government basilicas.

A few blocks to the northeast of our apartment is Piazza Santa Croce, the 14th Century Franciscan church in which many Italian greats, including Michelangelo, Gallileo, Machiavelli, Marconi and Rossini, are entombed. Dante Alighieri is honored inside and outside this church, with a memorial inside (no body, because it rests in Ravenna, see previous post) and a huge statute outside (visible in this picture).
Here we are on a bridge over the Arno River with the Ponte Vecchio, which dates back to Roman times, in the background. The Ponte Vecchio once housed Florence's butcher shops and tanneries but in the 1500s, the Medicis booted out these "dirty" businesses and replaced them with the city's gold and silversmiths. Now the bridge contains is a slew of overpriced jewelry stores and a statute honoring Cellini, Florence's most famous goldsmith.

This is one of our favorite views of Florence, from Ponte delle Grazie which is just one bridge east of the Ponte Vecchio.

We better savour every minute we have in this amazing city.

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