Travel post #6 | The wonders of Florence (Part 1)

Hey there my lovelies,

Welcome back to my Blog!

This is one of those posts wherein you’re gonna need a pretty huge cuppa of your favourite drink and some snacks as the post is going be rather long and ‘picture heavy’ too, so I’ll give you a minute or two to get yourself prepared 🙂

All ready? Right! Let’s go! As you already figured out from the post title, this post is all about my week long holiday in Florence – which, by the way, is now my favourite Italian city 🙂 Your first step into the city, will be back in time. Allow yourself to be swept away into the Renaissance as you are surrounded by beautiful architecturally perfect and historical buildings together with breathtaking art at every turn.

 

Every few steps you will be taken by the smells wafting from the trattorias, osterias, cafes and pizzerias! You will be surrounded by the sounds of the lively conversations in one of the most beautiful languages in the world! In the end, it is the culture of hospitality and the kindness of the Florentine people that will make you feel like you never want to leave.

First, you should know that we pre-bought the Firenze card which comes for the price of €72 per person for 72 hours (3 days).  The total number of museums in Florence are 72 and you can get in all of them if you wish by skipping the lines using the Firenze Card,  you can get the Bus Card as well for an additional €3.  As I said card will get you into all of the 72 museums without waiting in line, except for the visit in the Duomo di Firenze.  It is advisable, though that the first thing you do if you get the Firenze Card is to go and book the tour of the Duomo’s Cupola.  We did not manage to see that as the first availability being Easter time was on the day we were coming back home 😦

The Cupola, is Florence must see first stop and a spot that is impossible to miss, The Duomo is also known as Cattedrale de Santa Maria del Fiore. It is THE skyline of Florence, it peaks through everywhere you go. Building on the huge Gothic duomo began in 1296 and it was consecrated in 1436.  Inside Brunelleschi’s Dome you will find one of the most breathtaking pieces of art you will ever see. I saw a faint glimpse of it on Maudy Thursday however, the church was too dark to see it’s full glory or even take pictures. But do plan to go and see this as I am pretty sure it is well worth the stairs you will climb, to have the chance to walk around the inner walls of the Cupola to see the paintings.

 

So on our first full day we headed to the Bell Tower, Duomo Museum and Baptistry.  The ‘Campanile’ – Bell Tower, is in Piazza del Duomo. You will have to climb a swooping 414 stairs to get an incredible view (if like us, you miss out on La Cupola) this is the second best view. The Baptistery building is from the 11th century and one of the oldest buildings in Florence. Here you will find Ghiberti’s famous bronze doors, the “Gates of Paradise” (a reproduction; the originals is in the Duomo Museum). The Museo Dell’Opera Del Duomo is a great museum to learn more about the construction and history of the Duomo itself.  The Cathedral Museum has the largest concentration of monumental sculptures in the world and the new layout has provided ample space for showing several hundred restored pieces of art works, many of which have come from storage.  The interior of the old museum and the new properties were adapted to the works which allows the viewer to appreciate the sculptures and art just as they were intended by the artists (respecting heights and distances of the original location in the church).  Inside the museum, in the Hall of the Antique Façade (Sala dell’Antica Facciata), there is a life size reproduction of the old Duomo façade designed by Arnolfo di Cambio which was began in late 1200’s. The audience is greeted by a wall that is 36 meters long by 20 meters wide and 20 meters height.

 

A curious room is certainly the Gallery of Brunelleschi’s Dome, which shows wooden models from the fifteenth century, including one attributed exclusively to Brunelleschi. The perfect ending of the visit to the museum is the panoramic outdoor terrace with a breathtaking view of the Dome by Brunelleschi, called “Terrazza del Brunelleschi“.

 

 

The following day we made our way to the Uffizi Gallery. This is a must place to visit and is often very busy! We were there at 8.15am so we went in quite easily and avoided a lot of queuing with the help of the Firenze card.  It was one of the most popular galleries we visited.  It is absolutely stunning, after all, there’s nowhere else on earth that you can sit in the center of a room full of gigantic Botticelli paintings and just drift off into a world of colorful myths and legends.

 

So what is inside the Uffizi Gallery and why do you want to see it, anyway? Reasonable question. The truth is, if you’re really not a museum or art person, you may not feel any qualms about skipping the Uffizi Gallery. But even if you’re only marginally interested, it’s one of those experiences you should go for if you can. After all, this is Florence – the birthplace of the Renaissance – and so much of what’s important about the Renaissance hinges on the art.  It is almost counter-intuitive to visit Florence and not visit the Uffizi.  Once can find world-famous pieces amongst these are “The Birth of Venus” and “Primavera” by Sandro Botticelli; “The Annunciation” and “Adoration of the Magi” by Leonardo da Vinci; and “Bacchus” and “The Sacrifice of Isaac” by Caravaggio.

The Uffizi building is in a long U-shape form, with the entrance opening from the Piazza della Signoria and the closed end pointing toward the Arno River. The semi-enclosed courtyard between the two wings of the building look almost like a narrow street, and the niches on each side of the courtyard are filled by statue portraits of some of the great Florentines.

Just around the corner from Uffizi Gallery is Ponte Vecchio.  You’ve all seen the pictures of this famous bridge, and it really is quite a beauty.  Not too far from Ponte Vecchio is Piazza della Signoria. This is one of the central squares in Florence. There is an old palace across the square where one can find some Michelangelo copies and other famous sculptures. It is near impossible to explore through Florence and NOT come across Piazza della Signoria. We passed through it on numerous occasions and I loved it every time.

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In that same general area is Piazza della Repubblica (which while we were there was being re-decorated).   It’s also in the heart of ancient Florence. There is a lot of history in that square and it’s known for its quaint little carousel. It’s fun for the kids and adults alike to take a ride on the carousel – Bonus – there is some fun shopping nearby.

 

Third day saw us heading to Galleria dell’ Accademia. This was a bucket list place for me – home to several of Michelangelo’s sculptures and most notably – the famous “David”. Walking around the corner of that beautiful gallery and seeing David majestically calling out on the other end of the hall was one of the most memorable moments of my life.  It is hands-down something you must experience while in Florence.

It may be thronged with sightseers, stalls and buskers, but Piazzale Michelangelo – across the river in the district known as Oltrarno is the place to be and one of a few places where you can soak up the whole stunning sweep of Florence in one go. From the old city wall in the west to the Duomo, the Arnolfo Tower of the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi across the river, it’s an unforgettable panorama.

 

Another favourite stroll was over to a couple outdoor leather markets in Florence, and they’re within walking distance of one another so you can easily visit both – but I liked most, the one next to San Lorenzo Church because after a stroll through the gauntlet of leather stalls outside you can take a turn through the fabulous Mercato Centrale as well. This indoor market, in a building that dates from the late 19th century, is full of countless food vendors selling everything from the makings of the best picnic lunch you’ll ever have to the ingredients that will populate the menus in restaurants all over the city, as well as several places you can order a ready-made meal. And if you need a food souvenir to bring home (olive oil, dried pasta, or shrink-wrapped cheese, perhaps?) this is the place to go.

My favourite piazza to unwind was by far Piazza Santo Spirito.  Florence is full of stunning public squares, but what with all the sightseers, not many will give you a proper taste of the city’s real cosmopolitan life.  For that, cross the river to the bohemian Piazza Santo Spirito: home to a proper street market and bars and restaurants full of locals. Pop into the church for some peace and quiet, or sit on the steps and people-watch.

 

We also made it a point to visit Palazzo Pitti which is another amazing museum and I cannot understand why, not only it is a grand Renaissance palace, that is often overlooked by people visiting Florence, which means it doesn’t have long lines and is rarely crowded. The Palazzo Pitti is almost always overshadowed by its more famous counterparts – the Uffizi,  L’Accademia and the Palazzo Vecchio. But this isn’t because it’s less significant!

I am not really sure why it doesn’t receive the same recognition, since the museum boasts works by Botticelli, Caravaggio and Raphael to name a few. On top of its impressive collection of art, the building was the royal residence of the Medici Grand Dukes, their successors the Lorrianes, and even Napoleon stayed there for a bit. Fun historical information, the size and grandeur of the Palazzo Pitti and its formal gardens were one of the inspirations for Versailles.

Today Palazzo Pitti is actually 6 museums plus the gorgeous (and massive) Boboli Gardens – a modern art museum, a silver museum (and other precious objects), a porcelain museum, a historical costume museum, and a carriage museum. But the main collection of Renaissance and Baroque art, as well as the royal apartments, are in the Palatine Gallery (the largest of the Pitti’s museums).

A place you definitely should not miss out on is the terraced Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace, with wow-inducing Tuscan panoramas everywhere you look. Once a lavish back garden for the Medici’s, over the centuries it’s evolved into a public park full of Renaissance and classical sculptures. If you’re after peace and quiet, seek out one of the park’s hidden grottos.

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Being there over the Easter weekend we made it a point that on Easter Sunday we went to see what the “Scoppio del Carro” was all about.  This tradition dates back about 350 years ago. The decorated float, is called “Brindellone”, and it is pulled by a pair of oxen adorned by garlands around the streets of Florence, up to the Piazza del Duomo in the space between the Baptistery and the Cathedral.

The ceremony begins at 10 am, with a rubs three flints whose sparks light the Easter candle; this candle is used to light the coals that are located in a container on the float. The cart goes in a parade with drummers and flag bearers, all in historical clothing.  The Chariot is full of fireworks and when it arrives in front of the Cathedral the parade stops and waits for the start of the holy Mass.

Around 11 am from the altar of the Cathedral, the Archbishop lights a rocket shaped like a dove (Colombina) with the sacred fire. This Colombina rocket symbolises the Holy Ghost, that flies out of the church along a wire that goes to hit the Chariot in the square, creating spectacular fireworks!  History tell that if the ritual proceeds regularly and all the fireworks explode, the harvest will be rich and prosperous and all citizens and the whole city will have good luck 🙂

Ok … so I truly hope that by now you are still here reading!  This post turned out longer than I imagined, we covered a lot in 4 days!!! So the full day we had booked for The Best of Tuscany will be up in a different post.  Also would you be interested to read on what food is good to eat and where in Florence to go? I’d appreciate if you let me know.I really hope you enjoyed this post and I will catch you in the next one,

 

Until next time,

XOXO
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