What a beautiful city Florence is! Florence is a true Tuscan city, a stunning blend of Tuscany and urban life. We noticed right away why it’s considered the birthplace of the Renaissance. The amazing architecture, art and culture in Florence are completely mesmerizing.
The facades of the buildings were so ornate and elaborate, with green marble trim, gold moldings, and statues staring at the passersby below. The paintings that we saw used brighter colors and caught the eye in ways that other pieces didn’t. The reds, yellows… even the black color that was used seemed richer. Each time we went to Florence, we would spend a lot of time gazing at these artistic pieces, reflecting on the different era that they came from.
The first time we visited, we were starting to feel more comfortable in our Italian surroundings. For one dinner, we stopped in a small restaurant that makes their own wine. After about three courses, the waiter came by and asked us where we were from. We answered, “Abitiamo a Napoli, ma siamo Americani.” We live in Naples, but we are American. He was so excited that he started talking very fast in Italian (no clue what he was saying) gave us the dessert menus, and came back with two big glasses of dessert wine on the house. Not too shabby!
To beat the crowds, we awoke very early the next day and went to the Accademia Museum. With no one to contend with, we almost had the place to ourselves. When we turned the corner and entered the room that housed the Statue of David, he took our breath away. Standing about 17 feet tall, no one can miss his massive size. He completely dominates the other sculptures in the room!
Aside from his towering stature, we were in awe of this sculpture’s attention to detail and lifelike presence. His head is facing to his left, so the appropriate muscles were sculpted into his neck, along with others throughout the rest of his body. Tendons, veins, and bones were all meticulously crafted to mirror a human.
It took Michelangelo three years to sculpt David out of marble, and we were impressed at the painstaking hours it must have taken him.
The Accademia halls are filled with artwork and sculptures that explain why Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance. We walked through a veritable maze of artistic talent, viewing immense paintings and sculptures of Michelangelo and his contemporaries.
During our visit, we saw an exhibit devoted to Lorenzo Bartolini. He is known as “The Sculptor of Natural Beauty” and played a role in the development of sculpture in the 19th century. We wandered through a room full of plaster casts and then saw the actual sculptures later on. Again, the detail in the sculptures was impressive. The ruffles in a dress, curly hair, and emotions on faces were all realistic and natural.
The Duomo and Giotto’s Bell Tower
The Giotto’s Bell Tower with the Duomo is a pretty dominant part of the Florence skyline. This is a must-do activity while in Florence! It’s 441 steps to the top of the bell tower, and the climb up can be pretty narrow. But once you get past that, a cool breeze welcomes you at the top as well as nice views of the city.
A subsequent visit with my parents had us entering the Duomo and climbing the 463 steps to the top of the cupola! The climb for this was narrow as well, but we were able to look down about 40 meters into the central part of the cathedral and outside into the sprawling city.
Basilica of Sante Croce
The Basilica of Santa Croce houses the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini, Foscolo, and Gentile. When looking at the outside of the building, there is a prominent Jewish star, which perplexed us a little bit. As it turns out, a Jewish architect named Niccholo Matas designed the church’s facade. He and his architect cohorts wanted him to be buried with them, but because he was Jewish he is buried under the porch and not within the walls.
Although there are many tourists passing through the church, it is still a very sacred place with people praying and lighting candles. We were surprised that pictures were allowed to be taken of the tombs.
Ponte Vecchio & Piazzale Michelangelo
The Ponte Vecchio, which literally means “Old Bridge,” crosses the Arno River in Florence. The bridge was destroyed a few times because of flooding, but was then rebuilt in 1345. It was also the only bridge in Florence that the Germans didn’t destroy in World War II.
Centuries ago small shops would display their goods on tables to be sold. The tradition still stands, with most of the shops selling jewelry or artwork. We strolled across the bridge and then would walk about a mile to Piazzale Michelangelo, which is a famous square and has magnificent panoramic views of Florence.
One time we visited, we came around sunset and sat on the steps with wine and cheese taking in the beautiful scenery.
The leather market at San Lorenzo is not to be missed! This is where you need to buy real Italian leather goods! But wow, do they try to make a sale! I’m a terrible bargainer and I’m sure someone else could get better deals than we did, but they were so tough! In the end though we were pretty successful buying four leather coats, two pairs of boots/shoes, three bags, three scarves, two wallets, and a whole bunch of souvenirs.
Reflections on Florence
It’s hard to capture Florence in one or two words. Exploring the art and culture in Florence could take you several days. But I’ll tell you what: I would gladly spend several days (or several weeks!) in this magical city.