Tuesday was our last full day in Florence (or Firenze as the Italians call it). We had a pretty hefty checklist of things we wanted to see before we left. In the perfect world, we would have taken the morning to go to Pisa to see the famous leaning tower…but we had just taken a day trip and we really wanted to stay local and spend our last day IN Florence all day.
You have to start the day off right with a good breakfast. We’ve grown to like the Italian version of a croissant…called a cornetti. Most of them are a bit sweeter than a French croissant and they have powdered sugar on top and a custardy filling. But almost anything tastes good with a well-made cappuccino.
Our first stop of the day was….what else? A church! This time is was Santa Croce, built from 1300 to about 1385. The marble facade was added much later in the1870’s. This church holds the remains of Michelangelo and Galileo, amongst others.
Many of the frescoes that adorn the walls of the 16 side chapels were painted by Giotto and his pupils.
Santa Croce is a large complex comprised of several sets of cloisters, at one point in history there was a convent to the South of the Church, and it houses the famous Pazzi Chapel, whose dome was designed by Brunelleschi (designer of Florence’s famous Duomo dome). The Pazzi Chapel is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance design.
Santa Croce was beautiful…I think the frescoes on the walls were the most outstanding and the hardest to photograph. Most of the chapels have large iron gates closing them off and it’s hard to get a camera lens to photograph a wall that is perpendicular to the lens. We stopped in the Scuola del Cuoio (Leather School) and picked up a few little leather gifts for family & friends…and treated ourselves, as well.
I think I’ve mentioned before that in graduate school, I was a Professor’s Teaching Assistant for The History of Architecture course for Freshman students. So I could go on and on about some of these churches and chapels and monuments…but that isn’t the purpose of this blog and I don’t want to bore anyone. But I wanted to say that it has been an incredible experience to finally get to see these things in the flesh. It so different to see these things with your own eyes.
Next on the agenda was the Medici Chapels which are part of the Church of San Lorenzo. It’s a very complex story, but basically, in the early 1500’s, the Medici family decided to build some family mausoleums at the San Lorenzo church–the church the Medici family considered “their” church and close to their Palace. They hired Michelangelo to design the New Sacristy space and complete sculptures for the sarcophagi. He never actually completed what we was hired to do…but what he did complete was magnificent.
The figure of Madonna and child (above) was never completed…but when you see the rough, unfinished marble and compare it to what Michelangelo was able to achieve in the finished portions…you can appreciate his genius.
On our way out, we passed an exhibit of relics and treasures in the Medici family crypts. There were some beautiful jeweled crowns and paintings…and then there were the relics. Apparently, the Medici were mad about collecting relics of Saints. We’ve seen these all over Italy, and while interesting, they border on the macabre.
We always try to stop and take a few breaks during the day. I haven’t mentioned it lately but the temperatures are still hovering around 100 degrees…and in the intense sun it is even hotter. So you have to stop, drink some water, have a snack…and refuel with espresso!
Before we left the San Lorenzo complex, we had to see inside the church and visit the famous Laurentian Library. The design was conceived by Michaelangelo…but in the end, it was his pupils that had to carry out the construction…receiving verbal and written instructions from the temperamental genius who was back in Rome. The famous vestibule with its dramatic stairs are a highlight. But in the reading room…you see how the Medici family wanted to show that they were not only super wealthy…but part of intelligent society. The library contains over 11,000 manuscripts and 4500 early printed books.
And then, finally inside the actual church, which is attached to all of these chapels and libraries…the Church of San Lorenzo, started the 15th century was designed (n part) by Brunellschi. This is a true Renaissance church. You will notice the clean, ordered precise approach to the architecture…no gothic, arched windows or stained glass…rather a clarity and light-filled church with a pure, corinthian-columned nave.
We made a failed visit to the Palazzo Davanzati…a former private Palace that represents everyday life in a 14th century Florentian home. Unfortunately, we got the times wrong, and when we arrived they were closing in 30 minutes, and not all of the floors were open. However, we did a “drive by” visit and saw some charming things.
In the blazing sun, we decided to across the Arno river and visit the quaint neighborhood that we had seen the other day when we visited the Palazzo Pitti….but nothing is really all that quaint when it is 100 degrees under a relentless sun. But we did manage to pick up a few more gifts.
And the final stop for the day would be the Uffizi Gallery, arguably one of the greatest art museums on the planet. We knew it would be a lot of artwork in one place, and it was not easy to get a ticket…but we managed to secure a 6PM booking, and the crowds were not so bad. We were lucky to get to see some amazing works of art…notably a few da Vinci pieces, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Lippi, Titian,…it is really an overwhelming display of art history.
Views from the museum out across the Arno River.
This was obviously not Lena’s favorite place to visit…but I tried to make it fun and there lots of opportunities to laugh and enjoy our time. We found this gem which Lena thought was the funniest thing she had ever seen. We tried to keep some sense of decorum in this elegant museum, but it wasn’t easy.
Our day ended with another delicious meal…the food in Italy is obviously very delicious. We have not had a bad meal the entire time. We went to a little trattoria right around the corner from our apartment. Josette and I shared a Florentine steak (remember those cows we saw at the vineyard farm the other day?)…as well as a pasta with a ragu…and Lena enjoyed tortellini in a cream sauce and a flan with chocolate sauce.
Tomorrow we leave for Rome!