Day 7: Saturday, May 25. It is a beautiful sunny morning and we have a great day of adventure planned. We’re going to use our Rail passes for the first time, and Florence is our destination. My first experience using the Rail pass was very pleasurable. Imagine! No crowds! No lines! No check-in! It was a traveler’s dream.
We picked up a city map in the train station and walked outside into the beautiful city of Firenze or Florence. We walked down the Via De’Panzanii to the Via De’Cerretani it was several blocks, going toward the Piazza Duomo.
The Duomo (Italian for Cathedral) has one of the most beautiful exteriors I have ever seen; colored tiles and stones are assembled into a gorgeous mosaic. It looks like the designer had sat with a pad in his hand and spent years performing geometric doodles until the plans were completed. This use of colored tiles is indigenous to Florence; the octagonal dome built without the aid of scaffolding is unique to the Duomo and was considered an engineering marvel.
The Duomo is dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore, Our Lady of the Flower. It was built on the site of a Christian church; construction of the cathedral began in 1294 and continued until 1436. Some of the most famous Italian artisans cooperated in the completion of the church, Giotto (better known as a painter of frescoes), Arnolfo di Cambio, Andrea Orcagna, and, most notably, Filippo Brunelleschi, who was responsible for designing and building the dome, which dominates the Florentine roofline
Facing the cathedral and campanile is a smaller, octagonal structure, the Baptistery of San Giovanni (6th-9th centuries), noted for its gilt-bronze doors, elaborately worked in high relief by Andrea Pisano and Lorenzo Ghiberti. These beautiful bronze panels named The Gates of Paradise depict various scenes from the Bible. In a few weeks I’ll be able to compare them to Rodin’s Gates of Hell. I was stunned at the level of detail that Ghiberti had breathed into this magnificent work. The midmorning sun granted a golden highlight to the figures, providing many of them with halos. It was difficult to imagine that these doors had survived all these years, later I read that the original doors are kept indoors to protect them from the weather.
Unfortunately, at the time we were there both the Duomo and the Baptistery were closed and being short of time we pressed onward. Our next target was the Bargello.
The Bargello is located near the Piazza della Signoria. A crenellated 94M (308-ft) bell tower tops the building.
The Bargello houses a large collection of sculptures by Italian masters. Among its treasures are Donatello’s David, Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini, and the Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna. In the Upper Loggia is the Donatello Room and his David and St. George, and St. John, also works by Ghiberti and Brunelleschi. The lower hall houses a collection of 14th century sculpture including several by Michelangelo.
In Search of the Uffizi
Mark and I set out in search of the Uffizi. I had never heard of the Uffizi but it was purported to have the largest collection of Italian Renaissance paintings in the world. We soon found ourselves at a river. This was the famous River Arno, how often had I found that word in crossword puzzles? I looked to the right and further down the river saw a bridge. At this time my mind was concentrating on one objective, finding the Uffizi. Too bad, it would have been nice if I had recognized and crossed the legendary Ponte Vecchio built in 1345. I still regret some of the things we missed because of our time limitations.
We continued to walk around the area and eventually came upon the Piazza de Uffizi where the entrance to the museum is located. We had to wait for perhaps 15 minutes to gain admittance to the museum. I have talked to others that informed me we were fortunate to gain admittance. If I haven’t already said this, “We were very wise to pick the dates for our fantasy trip”. We wandered through the museum; I had never seen such a fantastic collection of Old Masters in one place.
There were paintings by Giotto and others dating from the 13th century; Giotto’s beautiful altarpiece; The Annunciation and Saints, by Simone Martini dated 1333; Filippo Lippi’s hauntingly beautiful, The Coronation of the Virgin dated c:1441-1447; then there was Botticelli, The Adoration of the Magi, the two paintings of Judith and the Discovery of the Corpse of Holofernes, perhaps his most famous works Primavera and the Birth of Venus, Michelangelo’s The Holy Family; Raphael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch and St. John in the Wilderness; Titian’s beautiful Venus of Urbino and Leda and the Swan; another painting that became etched in my mind was Judith and Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi.
You may think I have a thing about Judith. The story is fascinating and may be read in the Book of Judith in the Old Testament of The Bible. The Israelis were under siege by Holofernes (a general sent by Nebuchadnezzar), they were quickly running out of food and water. Judith, an attractive widow, volunteers to save them. She dons her finest clothing, perfume, and makeup, and wanders into the enemy camp posing as a traitor. She proposes that she will show the enemy how to take the Israeli town with no casualties on their part. Holofernes becomes enamored of her. Judith gets him drunk. While he is sleeping she cuts off his head and sneaks out of camp with his head as a trophy. When her treachery is discovered in the morning, the enemy is so unnerved that they depart.
The return trip was uneventful, I don’t remember but I imagine we both slept most of the trip. Still tired from our exciting and strenuous day we returned to the hotel to pack. We were leaving tomorrow for that magical, mysterious, place Venice.
This is an excerpt from my book “Fulfillment is a Place”, a trip taken by my son and I to fulfill my desire to travel Europe. The book is available through Amazon Books