Friday, 13 July 2012

First full day in Florence

Cattedrale Santa Maria dei Fiore (better known as the Duomo)
This church is so tall that you cannot actually see the dome from street level.  The best views are from the village of Fiesole above the city.

Basilica de San Lorenzo

Doors of the baptistery by Ghiberti (across from the Duomo) - each panel illustrates a Biblical theme.
One of the panels

The Last Judgement (fresco) by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari towers 376 feet above  the altar in  the Duomo, which took over 150 years to construct.

View of the Basilica di San Lorenzo

Tripe and other offal are for sale in Mercatto Centrale - Florence's largest indoor market

The gardens of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi
For the first time since we arrived in Italy, I wasn't drenched in sweat after fifteen minutes of walking. The temperature is about 30, but there are a few clouds and a cooling breeze. It's odd to be wasting time in a blog writing about the weather, but when it's actually bearable in July and August in Italy--that's newsworthy!
Our apartment has good facilities so we've stocked up on breakfast things--we even have cereal made by Kelloggs called "Nice Morning." We have wonderful fresh fruit, orange juice, yogurt (Activia, if you can believe it), wonderful pastry that's flaky and a bit sweet, and a  mild cheese (a bit like gouda).
We walked to the Santa Maria Novella station (less than 20 minutes) just so that we know our way for Sunday when we begin a one-day tour of Tuscany at a pick-up point near the station.
We were at the Cattedrale Santa Maria dei Fiore (better known as the Duomo) by 10:00 when it opened. With almost no crowds in sight, we enjoyed the stunning interior. It should be sensational--it was started in 1296 and not finished until 1436, with the new facade added in the 19th century. Italians take their time to get things right, at least most of the time. Like virtually everything of value or interest in Florence, Michelangelo had a hand in its construction. The dome which is a technological marvel towers above the city. It's astonishing that such a massive structure does not collapse under its own weight. There is a huge "Last Judgment" fresco by Vasari on the dome. Intrepid--or foolhardy--tourists pay 8 Euro to climb the 463 steps to the dome for, what I am told, is a spectacular view of the city. I'll take their word for it.
The famous bronze doors by Ghiberti that open into the Baptistry across the way from the Duomo are also a marvel. Unlike a large number of irreplaceable monuments and historic building that are not maintained very well by authorities, these magnificent doors are awe inspiring.
We made our way through a market which sells mainly leather goods on the way to the Mercatto Centrale. The stalls stretch for at least 200 metres, and each merchant implores you to examine their merchandise. The prices are cheaper than the boutiques selling leather goods that surround the area where we have the apartment and, I suspect, of lesser quality. We saw an interesting sign on one stall assuring customers that the leather good were high quality (as opposed, I suppose, to cheap knock-offs made in China).
The Mercatto Centrale is a marvellous place with dozens and dozens of indoor stalls selling meat (there must be 20 meat stalls alone; they sell almost every part of the animal), seafood, vegetables, pasta, spices, wine, olive oil and so on. Everything is attractively displayed--even to the extent that rabbits almost looked appetizing.
On the way home, we stopped at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi--you can't wander far in Florence without coming upon something associated with this incredibly rich and even more incredibly powerful family. From what I can infer, they used their wealth and power to get, by whatever means necessary, what they wanted. The palazzo is filled with opulent rooms and gardens. We passed by the much more modest Basilica di San Lorenzo (another Medici--I told you we can't get away from them) but didn't stop. There are only so many churches you can take in in one day, and we had plans to visit the Santa Croce church just down the street from our front door in the afternoon.
Santa Croce is fascinating. It contains the tombs of "who's who" from Italy's celebrity list from the 13th to late 17th century--with a few on either side of the time line: Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante, Rossini, a couple of Medici family members, etc. There is a very good museum that has some noteworthy art, including a fascinating, decorative 15 foot crucifix by Cimabue done in in the late 1200's. It was badly damaged, as were hundreds of other art works when a flood in the 1962 (I think) brought water 8 feet up the wall of the Santa Croce church. It has been restored and continues to draw art lovers.
We had dinner tonight in a small restaurant near the Central Market that Jane and Gerry, Cathy's sister and brother-in-law, recommended. They were there several years ago and had a great meal. We did too! The food here in Italy is so good. It relies on fresh ingredients (including only vegetables that are in season--spinach, peppers and zucchini are the key veggies now). The do such marvellously simple and creative things with vegetables. With everything, in fact.
Tomorrow is a "culture" day: first, the Accademia to see sculpture, especially Michelangelo's David; and then to the Uffizi to see some of the world's greatest masterpieces by Giotto, Leonardo, Raphael, Caravaggio, Rubens and Michelangelo.

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