Falling in Like with Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy, An Equal And Opposite Reaction

Usually, when I arrive in a new city I am very excited by it. I see all the good things about it and think, this would be a great place to live. Then I spend a few days walking around and start to see its blemishes. By the time I have seen all the major sites I am ready to leave – glad I have come but knowing this is not a place I could ever live. Fighting the incessant, unruly crowds to see the sites in Venice and Rome I was thoroughly wore me out. So the thought of going to yet another culture and art-filled Italian Renaissance town was enough to gag me. But I stuck to my plan to visit Florence, knowing I would kick myself later if I scratched it off the list.

The Eurostar express train traveled through the Tuscan countryside, with its tiny hilltop towns, arriving in Florence less than two hours after departing Rome. I dragged my suitcase and backpack the four blocks to the hotel I had booked and, after getting a bite to eat at a restaurant down the block, fell into bed and slept like a dead person. The next morning, with very little enthusiasm, I set out to discover Florence.

Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral in Florence Italy

Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral (Il Duomo)

Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral in Florence Italy

Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral (Il Duomo)

Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral in Florence Italy

Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral (Il Duomo)

I started with the church that everyone wants to see in Florence, Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral, more commonly referred to as Il Duomo because of its giant dome. This cathedral is breathtaking in both size and design. In front is the circular Baptistry of John the Baptist, with its enormous carved brass doors. Beyond the Baptistry sits the Cathedral, a white, pink and green marble monolith backed by a giant dome, and its matching Campanile (bell tower).

Inside Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral in Florence Italy

Inside Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral (Il Duomo)

Looking over Florence from atop Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral in Florence Italy

Looking over Florence from atop Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral (Il Duomo)

I groaned when I saw that the dome could be climbed, knowing I am obsessive enough that I would not let this opportunity pass me by. Up I went on worn marble steps that end in a narrow spiral staircase barely wide enough for one person, yet it is the only way up or down, so I was constantly caught in a crush of people who had to press together in some niche and wait for the descending people to push past. When I finally got to the top, I was less than enthralled – I was looking down at yet another sea of red tile-roofed houses and churches that could have been any of the other Italian towns I have visited. So far, I was not impressed.

But then I began to wander Florence’s streets and piazzas. I began with¬† and the only one in town that was not destroyed in World War II. Over the years, shops were built on the bridge span, cantilevering out over the water to gain more selling space. The result is a hodge-podge of construction, each shop painted a slightly different warm Tuscan color, with three ancient arches in the very center of the bridge that still allow views of the Arno River.

Ponte Vecchio, Florence's famous bridge

Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s famous bridge

Ponte Vecchio, Florence's famous bridge

Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s famous bridge

Gold shops on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Florence Italy

Gold shops on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge

Crowds leading to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence Italy

Crowds leading to the Ponte Vecchio

In past years these shops were blacksmiths, dry goods stores, and others that served the community, but over the years they have morphed into tourist trade. Today the Ponte Vecchio is famous for its jewelry stores that specialize in gold and deep blue lapis lazuli. The crowds on the street leading up to the Ponte Vecchio were massive, as were the crowds on the bridge itself, but just a few steps down the riverbank they dissipated. I found the real delight of the bridge to be in viewing it from slightly afar during the daytime and up close at night, when it becomes a venue for musicians and the crowds are not so bad.

Ponte Vecchio reflects in River Arno at night in Florence Italy

Ponte Vecchio reflects in River Arno at night

Musicians entertain on the Ponte Vecchio at night in Florence Italy

Musicians entertain on the Ponte Vecchio at night

Around the corner from the Ponte Vecchio lies the Piazza de la Signoria, the large square that is the heart and soul of Florence. Piazza de la Signoria is the home of Palazzo Vecchio. This palace was the private home of the Medici family until they were ousted from Florence, at which point it became the seat of the Italian Parliament at a time when Florence was the capitol of Italy. At the hands of the Medici, the square was decorated with sculpture, including Michelangelo’s famous state of David, which initially stood at the entrance to the palace.

Although David has been moved to a museum, the Piazza is still a veritable open air sculpture garden, with a large fountain of Neptune and Tritons at its center and numerous other free-standing sculptures, including one of Bacchus, God of wine and feasts, and another of Perseus holding aloft the severed head of Medusa.

David reproduction in front of Palazzo Vecchio at Piazza de la Signoria in Florence Italy

“David” reproduction in front of Palazzo Vecchio at Piazza de la Signoria

Palazzo Vecchio in Florence Italy

Palazzo Vecchio

Perseus with Medusa head in the Uffizi outdoor gallery in Florence, Italy

Perseus with Medusa head in the Uffizi outdoor gallery in Florence, Italy

Behind the palace is a U-shaped building, originally constructed by the Medici to house their administrators and subsequently used as government offices. Today, in keeping with the art tradition at Piazza de la Signoria, this building houses the famous Uffizi Art Gallery.

I was so enthralled with this Piazza that I returned on my second day to tour the interior of Palazzo Vecchio. The entrance fee of 8 Euros (about $10 US) was money well spent. Entering through the giant foyer, the self-guiding tour begins in the massive Great Hall, with its giant oil murals depicting the history of Florence, its intricately painted ceiling, and its collection of marble sculptures by Michelangelo and Di Rossi. Computer stations are scattered around this hall, providing virtual tours that explain the history of the Florence and the part that the palace and the square played in it. Placards throughout the palace explain the history and design of each room. Every room was astonishing – every inch of the walls, floors and ceilings were covered in mind-boggling designs or artwork.

Inside Palazzo Vecchio in Florence Italy

Inside Palazzo Vecchio

Inside Palazzo Vecchio in Florence Italy

Inside Palazzo Vecchio

Ornate ceiling inside Palazzo Vecchio in Florence Italy

Ornate ceiling inside Palazzo Vecchio

Inside Palazzo Vecchio in Florence Italy

Inside Palazzo Vecchio

Inside Palazzo Vecchio in Florence Italy

Inside Palazzo Vecchio

Late in the afternoon I left the palace and spent another few hours loitering in the square, enjoying a coffee and caramel Gelato on the steps of the Uffizi as I listened to a classical guitarist and watched the antics of a pantomime artist.

Entertainers in front of the Uffizi Museum n Florence Italy

Entertainers in front of the Uffizi Museum

As you might expect, Florence is all about history, Baroque and Renaissance art, and culture. But, as evidenced by the following photos, it’s about so much more…

Lovers in Florence Italy

Lovers (these two definitely needed a hotel room – they were still locked in the same embrace when I looked back from a block away)

Happy street musician in Florence Italy

Happy street musician

Gelato stores, displaying their delicious ice cream in multicolored heaps in Florence Italy

Gelato stores, displaying their delicious ice cream in multicolored heaps

Street artists, selling their works from easel displays in Florence Italy

Street artists, selling their works from easel displays

Street artists, painting ON the street in chalk for donations in Florence Italy

Street artists, painting ON the street in chalk for donations

Shopping at the piazza surrounding San Lorenzo Basilica in Florence Italy

Shopping at one of the many the open-air markets (shown here at the piazza surrounding San Lorenzo Basilica)

Shopping in the many designer stores that line the streets of Florence Italy

Shopping in the many designer stores that line the streets of Florence

Buildings of Florence reflected in the Arno River at night

Buildings of Florence reflected in the Arno River at night

At the end of my second day in Florence I strolled back to the hotel along the banks of the Arno River at 11:30 PM, having just enjoyed a concert at the Ponte Vecchio. It is said that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and that is what has happened to me in Florence. Unlike other cities, which fade in their attraction, Florence has grown on me and I find I really like this city. This is some place I could easily live.

2 Comments on “Florence, Italy, An Equal And Opposite Reaction

  1. Beautiful Firenze! I’m happy that you like it. Just to let you know I am still having coffee with your blog. Great photos. I think I like the lovers best! Seems like that is what Florence is all about. And now? Lisboa? I think you’ll love that also. Happy Trails as the end is near. Or rather the beginning of a new adventure for you. Ellie

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