During the four months that I was living in Italy, I visited the city of Florence three different times. Once in February with my program, once in March with friends, and once in April with my mother, and Auntie Maureen and Cousin Megan (yes, another shout-out to this traveling trio). After the second visit, I felt something like an expert of the city even though I was not living in it. And three visits is almost worthy of tour-guide status.
To give you a little background on Florence, let me begin my saying that Florence is MUCH smaller than Rome. The city’s population is roughly equal to 500,000 people (about the size of Boston) whereas Rome’s metro population is nearly 4 million. Florence is located in the central/northern Italian region of Toscana (“Tuscany”) a region that produces perhaps the best olives and wine in the entire world and is simply a beauty to behold. Millions of women have fantasies of re-living author Francis Mayes’ memoir Under the Tuscan Sun and subsequent 2003 film of the same name starring Diane Lane. Millions of tourists flock to the region each year to stroll through the hilltop Tuscan towns of Siena and San Gimingano and sample some of the best wine in the world, including the “vino noble.” Florence is historically known as the birthplace of the Renaissance, aka a revival of the arts in Europe following the Middle Ages. Artists, writers, and sculptors such as Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, and Dante all called Florence home.
I called Florence home for three separate weekends, which is still strange to me. I did not set out in January with the goal of visiting Florence three times, it just happened that way. While I studied abroad in Rome, which is located about 3 hours south of Florence in the region of Lazio, I am also familiar with the sights that make Firenze (“Florence” in Italian) one of the top-visited cities in the world. Michelangelo’s David, the iconic sculpture that is the artists interpretation of David from the biblical story of David and Goliath, is a must-see even if the line seems like it is hours long.
The David is located inside the Gallaria Academia in the city center of Florence, and has resided there for the past century (before that David was outside and exposed to the weather, which is why he was moved inside). The statue is just over 600 years old, and if you look closely you can see the cracks beginning to form from this elderly artwork. A machine is even hooked-up to David to monitor the expansion of the cracks and to monitor how much the cracks might grow during an earthquake, which occasionally occur in Italy. Even though the museum that it is located in is somewhat bland, seeing one of the most recognizable works of art in the world, and seeing a work of Michelangelo, is well-worth the time and money. But sadly, pictures are not allowed of David, and if you try to sneak one, you will receive frantic screams of “No Foto!” from security and be asked to delete the images from your camera.
The other famous attraction in Florence is what most people know as “the Duomo,” whose formal name is Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (“Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower”). Its origins date back to the 13th century and at the time it was built it was the largest dome in the world, and it still remains the largest brick dome ever constructed. I climbed to the top of the dome, one of the hardest climbs I’ve ever done, during my second visit to the city in March. But each of the 496 steps to the top are worth the sweat and panting; even seasoned athletes find this to be an ambitious climb, and you can bet I was counting. The staircase and passageways leading up to the top are so narrow that, like many places in Italy, a claustrophobic person would not bode well during this climb. Prior to reaching the top of the dome, I arrived at the interior top of the dome (just as I had in St. Peter’s in Rome). Once on top of the dome and outside looking over the entire city and surrounding countryside, I began to see the true beauty of Florence. It is definitely a climb, like St. Peter’s, that is a must if you are visiting Italy.
One of the things I was able to see each time I visited Florence was the tourism picking up more and more. In February when I first visited it was relatively quiet, but when I went in April, the start of the Italian tourism season, things were really getting busy. On my second visit, I toured the galleries of the Uffizi, which is the largest collection of art in Europe outside the Louvre in Paris. I also saw more and more each time I visited, although some things were seen multiple times which I am INCREDIBLY thankful for and if I could I would go back immediately to see these sites a fourth time. There is something about staring up at the Duomo wondering how it was ever built before modern technology and how it is still standing. And, like I did on so many other occasions this past semester, I found myself wondering if something like Brunelleschi’s dome could actually be built today WITH all of our modern technology. Also, being able to get to know the city that essentially breathed new life into western civilization following the dark ages is something that I will never take for granted and it is no wonder that the entire city center of Florence is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Be on the lookout for a separate post of pictures I took during my three visits to the Renaissance city. Also, below you will also see a short poll about Pope Francis, the new Catholic pontiff who took office back in March. So far, Francis has been energizing Catholics worldwide with his simple lifestyle yet clear messages on how to help one another and he is seen as a humble man by many. But he is far from being free from controversy, and in his first 100 days he has already made his negative stance of gay marriage known by asking French parliamentarians to repeal the gay marriage law passed a few months ago which legalized gay marriage in France and he has said that Atheists and children born out-of-wedlock also deserve God’s blessing. Given what you have heard about Pope Francis and what you think of his job so far, I ask that you provide an answer to this poll as it will help me with a future blog post I am working on and it will also be based on data that YOU the readers helped to create. Until next time, mi amici!