Bringing you the issues since 1986

View Online Print Edition


Florence: a city filled with treats for the eyes

click here to view a slide show of images from Florence

We had been in Italy for a week, but it wasn’t until we arrived in Florence, or “Firenze” in Italian, that I suddenly felt unfashionable and underdressed. The first thing I noticed was how chic and elegantly dressed Italian women were. My friends and I were backpacking around Europe, and coming from three weeks on the laissez-faire beaches of the Greek islands. We were not quite prepared to blend into the fashion-filled streets.

Florence is a classic Italian city – dainty cafés, narrow streets, glorious museums, medieval castles, a romantic river, gelato, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Gucci, Prada and Valentino. It has a population of about 367,000 and is the capital city of the northeast region of Tuscany.

The first sight we visited was the famous Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore. We made our way through a maze of unidentifiable narrow streets, stopping for pizza along the way and asking locals for directions. While nobody spoke English, they pointed us in the right direction. Suddenly, from what seemed like out of nowhere, the street opened up into a huge piazza with a massive and beautifully neo-gothic decorated Duomo. However I’m reluctant to admit that after witnessing the grandiose exterior, the blandness inside was somewhat disappointing, with the exception of the decorative 100-metre-high Brunel­leschi’s Dome, named after the architect who designed it. The interior of the dome is painted with a scene of the apocalypse. During its construction, Brunelleschi built kitchens, dorm rooms, and bathrooms between the two walls of the cupola so the builders would never have to descend. We climbed the seemingly endless old, claustrophobic staircase to reach the top with its beautiful 360-degree view of the city.

Across from the Duomo is the Baptistery, famous for its tremendous bronze doors depicting scenes from the Bible.

After an overpriced dinner in a mediocre tourist trap, we ended our first night watching the sun set from the Ponte Vecchio, the 14th-century bridge lined with shops on stilts over the Arno river. The bridge is filled with hundreds of locks placed there by lovers. After locking their love during the romantic sun set, they throw the keys into the river to show their commitment. Locking your love on the Ponte Vecchio is illegal, and if the police find you doing it you can be fined. City workers painstakingly cut the locks off one by one, but before long they are replaced by new ones.

If you are in Florence and only have time to visit one sight, make it the Accademia dell’Arte del Disegno to relish Michelangelo’s David. We waited in line for 20 minutes to enter this small museum filled with sculptures. The masterpiece of Renaissance marble depicting the biblical King David contemplating his upcoming battle with Goliath stands 5.17 metres high. David looked magnificent: strong, yet soft and angelic. We all appreciated the semi-circular bench placed around the back of the statue, where many women sit and enjoy the view of David’s perfectly sculpted derrière.

We then walked to the Piazza della Signoria to tour the Palazzo Vecchio, which from the outside looks like a castle straight out of a Disney movie. We waited in line for half an hour to tour the extravagantly decorated old rooms of this crenellated fortress. Michelangelo’s David once stood at the front entrance, before it was moved to the Accademia dell’Arte in 1873. A copy now stands in its place. The Palazzo now functions as a museum and the town hall of Florence.

The great Uffizi museum is right next to the Palazzo Vecchio. It is one of the oldest and most famous museums in Europe, displaying works by such artists as Botticelli, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Despite this, we were not inspired to stand in line for four hours to get in.

After my friends and I decided to venture off and explore on our own, I found the synagogue – Tempio Maggiore, built in 1874-1882. The synagogue, of Italian and Moorish design, is extravagantly beautiful. Unlike most of Italy’s Duomos, which you can simply walk into, I had to go through a thorough security check before entering. There is a small but vibrant Jewish community in Florence that maintains the temple, which was almost destroyed during the Second World War. The Italian resistance defused the explosives and saved it. I stopped at Ruth’s Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant for a quick bite before heading back to meet my friends.

I got lost, of course. But that is what you do when you travel in Europe – lose yourself to the city. It was getting dark. I stood in the middle of a piazza, opened my map and within seconds a nice young man who spoke no English approached me to offer his help. That trick works every time. Fillippo escorted me back to the Piazza della Signoria, passing several kiosks selling inappropriate postcards of David “parts” along the way, where I met my friends. I introduced them to Fillippo, and for the rest of the night they joked about my new Italian “boyfriend.”

Labels: ,


Post a Comment