Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Travel Journal, Part V

Travel Journal, Part V


07/15 - Friday

Florence is Paradise. Well... tourist's paradise, but... whatever. There's just a few Italians here, Japanese, Americans, French crowd the streets. It's unbelievable.

I woke up very early, my hotel room was HUGE and I had a big bath tub and king sized bed so I slept like a baby! I was full of energy early in the morning so I gathered it all and went straight to the Duomo (Cathedral) Santa Maria del Fiore.

The story of this cathedral is magnificent, they started building it around 1296 because Siena and Pisa had new churches so they wanted to start some kind of competition between the kingdoms. It was just completed in 1418 after several talented artists worked on its structure like Giotto and Pisano. In 1419 a competition was held to design a new dome for the cathedral, Filippo Brunelleschi designed the new distinctive octagonal design of the double-walled dome.

The work started on the dome in 1420 and was completed in 1436. The dome is also known as "Florence's roof" because everywhere you look, no matter how far, you'll see the dome.

The cathedral is built as a basilica, with a nave and two aisles, forming a Roman cross. The nave and the aisles are divided by wide pointed arches with composite pilasters, dividing the nave into four square bays. Its dimensions are enormous: length 153 m (about 500 ft.), width 38 m (128 ft.), width at the crossing 90 m (almost 300 ft.). The height of the arches in the aisles is 23 m (75 ft.). The height from pavement to the opening of the lantern in the dome is also 90 m (300 ft). This is the fourth biggest church in Europe.

Florence is the Renaissance city. Many artists spend their days here: Maquiavel, Dante Alighieri (well, he was kicked out the city, but still...), Petrarca, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Donatello and many others. Many of the works inside the church honors these artists. For example, inside the church are a painting by Michelino with the title "Dante and the Devine Comedy" that illustrates the book.

Now, I am a curious girl so I asked if it was possible to climb up to the top of the dome and just found out that I could, as long as I paid a fee and waited for more ten people to go with me, because people aren't allowed there by themselves. I decided that climbing the old medieval stairs would be fun, but I climbed more than a thousand steps in circles, I was really dizzy when I reached the top... well, not quite... I reached the internal top; I was walking in the circular aisle around Vasari and Zuccari's painting. I could literally touch it. Little did I know I had some more stairs to climb.

Inside the church was a little freaky, looked like dungeons, the empty corridors were barely illuminated with small and yellow lamps (they were replacing the torches). As I walked I passed through dusty giant iron doors, which were locked with huge keys. I wondered what had in the other side of those doors, who knows which super cool mysteries they hid there (forbidden books? Bodies? Inquisition tools?). Well, finally I made it to the top through this small and scary staircase from which I almost fell. So, when I reached the outside I could see the whole Florence. I felt a bit emotional to tell you the truth; I was in the heart of the Sciences and Arts.

I wasn't allowed to stay there for more than fifteen minutes, the security guards quickly asked us to go down into the church again and on my way there... I got lost! Really! I took forever to climb down the small staircase to the outside of the dome and when I reached the corridors everybody was gone! I was kind of freaked out. I was alone inside a medieval church, all brown, dusty and barely illuminated, seriously, it looked like a horror movie.

I'm not very good with directions so I walked quietly through a corridor that I thought would lead me down, but when I noticed I was back where I started. Then I heard voices echoing through the walls and decided to follow them. Gladly I reached the circular aisle and found everybody in the other side of the dome, entering in a small door. I ran to them and decided to not get lost again.

Above you can see the inside part of the dome, if you look closely (click on the picture to enlarge it) you see the circular aisle there. By the way, the painting on the ceiling is the End of the Days.

Since I had stayed too long inside that church I decided to exit it and see the baptistery, the east gate which Michelangelo called The Heaven's Gate. I was very admired to see that wherever I wanted a saw a statue and when I looked closely it was made by some famous artist as Donatello, Da Vinci, Raffaello and so on.

My feet were killing me already, but I decided to not waste time and walked to the Galleria Dell'Academia, the museum where Michelangelo's David is. I had to wait more than an hour in line to see the masterpiece of the Renaissance sculptures. It's 17ft tall in marble. It took three years to be completed. At first it was placed in the Piazza della Signoria, unprotected from storms or high temperatures. Finally it was rescued from that place, restored and removed to the Galleria. In 1991, I bet nobody remembered this, David was attacked by a vandal an had its toes destroyed.

It surely is a masterpiece, I spent twenty minutes stopped there, staring at him and walking around to see every single detail. The hands are amazing; every single wrinkle is in the right place. I just remembered a Michelangelo's quote 'I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.' Indeed, that was what he did with David.

When I left the Galleria, it was already closing; I spent the whole day just in the church and the gallery. I'm lucky that I'm going to stay for the next three days, or else I wouldn't have the time to see everything. So, I returned to the hotel, exploring the streets and squares, eating an ice-cream (gellato!) of mint and chocolate sprinkles that were delicious! Even the ice cream here is better than Brazil's.

07/16 - Saturday

Today I walked to the other side of Florence, along the Arno River until I arrived at Ponte Vecchio, it's a medieval bridge, the only one that wasn't bombarded in the second world war. There's an interesting story about this bridge, they say that the economic concept of bankruptcy originated here: when a merchant could not pay his debts, the table on which he sold his wares (the "banco") was physically broken ("rotto") by soldiers, and this practice was called "bancorotto" (broken table; possibly it can come from "banca rotta" which means "broken bank"). Not having a table anymore, the merchant was not able to sell anything. Unfortunately the explanation only makes sense in English.

Along the bridge are several shops that sells fine jewelry, they're very expensive and beautiful, carved in gold and precious stones. I really wanted to buy a bracelet I saw there, it cost 50 euros and really, I thought it was cheap because I'd probably be able to sell it three times more expensive in Brazil. I didn't buy it, though; I decided to hurry to the Galleria degli Uffizi.

The Uffizi is a palace that has thousands of famous artworks. It started being built in 1560 by Vasari for the Medici Family (a powerful family that practically owned Florence in that time). Later it became a famous modern museum. It's huge: 64,000 ft² and I took more than five hours to see everything. In 1993 a bomb car exploded outside the museum damaging some sculptures in the Niobe room, people say it was the Mafia, but nobody knows for sure.

Anyway, from the picture above you can see that there are several columns and in which one of them (in both sides) are a sculpture of an artist. It's a nice way to wait in line to enter the museum, seeing all the Masters of Renaissance there, holding the museum walls up. It's very poetic.

There's Da Vinci:



When I entered the museum I was surprised with three floors and huge corridors with statues, which had several doors to each gallery. I walked for five hours and I didn't see everything.

Here's a corridor with statues:

And when I picked a door and entered I was overwhelmed by paintings everywhere.

The painting I wanted to see badly was The Birth of Venus, by Botticelli, I remember when I first saw a picture of that painting in Junior High... I remember I spent the whole class staring at the picture, completely seduced by Venus's eyes. Botticelli was inspired by the classical Greek art, painting a pagan goddess that was the symbol of beauty.

The painting tells the story of Venus, emerging from the water in a shell like a pearl and blowed to the shore by the Zephirs, the symbol of passion and covered by Ores, the goddess of the seasons. It was painted in 1483 and surprisingly wasn't burned along with several others pagan artworks.

Here's a list of the artworks in the museum and the links for a better explanation in Wikipedia:

Cimabue (Maestà)
Duccio (Maestà)
Giotto (The Ognissanti Madonna, Badia Polyptych)
Simone Martini (The Annunciation)
Paolo Uccello (The Battle of San Romano)
Piero della Francesca (Diptych of Duke Federico da Montefeltro and Duchess Battista Sforza of Urbino)
Fra Filippo Lippi (Madonna with Child and Two Angels)
Sandro Botticelli (Primavera, The Birth of Venus, The Adoration of the Magi and others)
Hugo van der Goes (The Portinari Triptych)
Leonardo da Vinci (The Annunciation, The Adoration of the Magi)
Piero di Cosimo (Perseus liberating Andromeda)
Albrecht Dürer (The Adoration of the Magi)
Michelangelo (The Doni Tondo)
Raphael (Madonna of the Goldfinch, Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de' Medici and Luigi de' Rossi)
Titian (Flora, Venus of Urbino)
Parmigianino (The Madonna of the Long Neck)
Caravaggio (Bacchus, The Sacrifice of Isaac, Medusa)
Andrea del Verrocchio (The Baptism of Christ)

My favorite, along with Botticelli's paintings was Venus of Urbino by Tiziano.

When I left the Uffizi I was so hungry (it was 5pm! and I hadn't eaten since breakfast) that I went straight to the other side of the street into a marvelous restaurant and had the best lasagna since Venice.

I returned to the Uffizi and crossed it so I reached the other side which was the Piazza della Signoria, a square that has famous statues and where Michelangelo's David was for centuries (now there's a replica in its place). It's an open-air museum.

There're many works around there, around David is Neptune's Fountain, Judith and Holofernes, by Donatello and so many others.On the other side is a beautiful collection with my favorites statues since David, Celline's Perseus With the Head of Medusa captured my attention for more than ten minutes.

And then there was The Rape of the Sabine Women, which also was magnificent.

Well, that's all about the piazza, I guess, it was a place that they used to hang and burn people five hundred years ago and today it's a beautiful place to visit. I wish I knew more about Art History, I'd surely have learned much more than I did today.

17/07 - Sunday

I think I took what remained of my strength to walk all the way across the Arno River to the Pallazzo Pitti, the former residence of the Medici Family. I didn't think that palace was so big, I should've imagined, but it's way bigger than the Doge Palace in Venice! Of course it's necessary to pay to get inside, so I bought tickets for Galleria Palatina (which had more famous paintings), Apartamenti Reali (Royal Rooms) and Giardino Boboli (Boboli's garden).

Here's a small movie in casa you got the QuickTime Software, so you can see a panoramic of the courtyard http://www.italyguides.it/us/florence/pitti_palace.htm.

The Galleria Palatina is in the first floor and has more than five hundred Renaissance painting, Caravaggio's, Rafaello's, Tiziano's, Veronese's and so many others. Inside the Royal Room I could see many historical artifacts; I entered the bedrooms, closets, ballrooms and even bathroom! The Throne Room shines with pure gold and red velvet. The decoration everywhere is too much to take in. I couldn't believe how rich in history and culture that place was.

This is the Venus Room, on of the ballrooms that became a gallery.

And this is the ceiling of the White Room, the biggest I've entered until now, with huge chandeliers.

Anyway, once I back to the courtyard I made my way to the Gardens... which I had no idea how big it really was. The garden is another place for art, like everywhere else in Florence, the lakes has fountain and statues by Bernando Buontalenti and designed by Ammanatti and Vasari himself.

I started seeing the fountains, climbing stairs, walking and walking... and when I realized I was lost. I wasn't scared because I knew I was near the palace so I continued walking and playing by myself (really, I felt like a child) until I found myself following long paths and I couldn't see the palace so I had no idea where I was going... and it was staring to get dark.

There was nobody there and I was lost for two hours already and my feet were killing me! I saw something moving very far away and thought it was an animal, so probably the owner was near. I ran and I found a lost kitty. I ran after him when he crossed the path to the other side I saw I was back in the palace. I was very glad and decided to return to the hotel, my feet were begging a hot bath and a massage.

Later, when I was in the bath tub, I was reading the maps for Florence and saw how big the garden actually was. It's no wonder I spent so long walking there.

07/18 - Monday

I'm dead. I can barely walk and still I decided to take a walk around Florence and see the last place I needed to see before leaving tomorrow morning, the Santa Croce Church. It took me twice the time to arrive there, since I was practically on all fours.

The square in front of the church has a big Dante Alighieri? statue. The reason I wanted to go into that Church was because the artists I most admire were buried there. The outside of the church resembles the duomo Santa Maria Dei Fiore, only smaller. Here's a comparison:

Santa Maria dei Fiori

Santa Croce

Anyway, the church is very big and almost empty, it seems there aren't enough artworks to fill the walls and the tourists completely neglect this place. It's a bit dark and there was somebody playing a song that reminded me of a old funeral march (I was delighted!). Then I started to walk around the paintings, statues and tombs, which are artworks as well! Donatello painted the Annunciation, in the south wall, Giotto painted frescoes in the capella Peruzzi, Henry Monroe did an awesome job with Primo Chiostro and Vasari carved beautiful sculptures.

Santa Croce is a church for those who wish to see tombs, here's a list with links for more information:

Leon Battista Alberti (15th century architect and artistic theorist)
Vittorio Alfieri (18th century poet and dramatist)
Eugenio Barsanti (co-inventor of the internal combustion engine)
Lorenzo Bartolini (19th century sculptor)
Charlotte Bonaparte (daughter of Joseph Bonaparte)
Leonardo Bruni (15th century chancellor of the Republic, scholar and historian)
Dante (actually buried in Ravenna)
Ugo Foscolo (19th century poet)
Giovanni Gentile (20th century philosopher)
Lorenzo Ghiberti
Vittorio Ghiberti
Niccolò Machiavelli
Carlo Marsuppini (15th century chancellor of the Republic)
Michelangelo Buonarroti
Raffaello Morgheni (19th century engraver)
Gioacchino Rossini
Louise of Stolberg-Gedern (wife of Charles Edward Stuart)

I stopped in front of all of them. The first was Michelangelo's tomb, made by Vasari who did a wonderful job. I never heard about this work before so I have no idea what Vasari wanted to show with those statues, but for me it was more like inspiration symbols crying the death of the master of all masters. I actually cried, standing there, I can't tell if it was because he was dead, that his body was right in front of me or because the pain expression in the statues eyes.

I also stopped to admire Galileu Galilei's tomb, Ugo Foscolo, Machiavelli, Rossini and Dante, who had a beautiful tomb even though his body isn't there; he died in Ravenna. In the end, Santa Croce is a wonderful place, wish his huge aisle with tombs in both sides, it's where the eternal resting place to the ingenious who changed the world with art and not war.


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