Take in the rolling hills, the sunsets and the bountiful gardens, and you know why this city has inspired artists throughout the ages
Watching Venus rise from her shell, was for me, the defining moment. Botticelli has always been my favourite painter, and seeing his ‘The Birth of Venus' a long-cherished dream. Florence, the heart of the Renaissance, is packed with art and architecture — there's just so much to see. We decide to savour the city, and allow ourselves the time to wander and follow our whims.
Our first port of call is the Uffizi (meaning office), fronting the river Arno, the one-time office of the ruling Medicis, and ornately decorated and stuffed with paintings, sculptures and busts. Today, it is one of the most important art galleries of the world. It's easy to navigate the Uffizi, as it's laid out in a chronological order of art history, starting from Gothic to early Renaissance and late Renaissance art. We have our fill of all the great masters such as Raphael, Lippi, Paolo Uccello, Titian (with his red-haired beauties) and Michelangelo. Besides the art that it houses, the building is itself a stunner, with murals, frescoed ceilings and a view of the Arno river from the windows. The Uffizi needs breaks, and we do that at the open–air cafeteria facing its square — The Piazza del Signoria. This square has been the political hub of Florence since 1296. Every major event in Florentine history happened here — be it book-burnings, executions, protests or celebrations! Scattered around this L-shaped piazza are statues, fountains and monuments. We see the ‘Rape of the Sabine Women' by Giambologna and a copy of the famous ‘David'.
There's a long line outside the Accademia (the Academy of fine arts), but we are complacent in the knowledge that we've booked our tickets in advance. Carved out of a single block of Carrara marble by Michelangelo when he was just 26, the giant statue of David is at the end of an alley. The alley is lined with some intriguing sculptures — a series of partly-finished ‘Slaves' by Michelangelo, who seem to be struggling out of the rock. Though memerised by David's poise and grace, we try not to ignore the vast treasure-house of paintings and sculptures by master artists here.
Much of the historic centre of Florence is closed to traffic, but we still have to contend with camera-wielding tour groups, cyclists and scooters. We visit the centerpiece of Florence , the Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore (Fiore means Lily, which is the symbol of Florence) better known as the Duomo, the result of work spanning six centuries. Brunelleschi's dome, an engineering marvel, is as breathtaking inside as it is outside. There is a vast fresco of the ‘Last Judgment' covering the dome's interior and some fantastic stained glass by Ghiberti. Climbing the 463 steps to the top is for the brave, but the rewards are the eye-popping views of this russet city. We visit the octagonal baptistery decorated with Ghiberti's famed gilded bronze doors that Michelangelo thought were fit to be the Gates of Paradise. The original doors were removed to protect them, but the copies are enchanting too — thanks to the perspective, the details, and the Biblical stories depicted.
The Santa Croce Church has the remains of gifted Renaissance celebrities such as Machiavelli the politician, the genius Ghiberti, the composer Rossini and, most interestingly, the tomb of Galileo Galilei. Galilei was not given a Christian burial till until 100 years after his death because of his revolutionary views! The square in front of the church, once home to jousts and burning of heretics, is today an endless line of tacky souvenir stalls. A little plagued by the Renaissance overload and wary of catching Stendhalismo (being overwhelmed by endless history, art, culture and beauty), we take a break in the touristy San Lorenzo Market outside the San Lorenzo Church. This is flooded with leather bags, belts and souvenirs, and gets top marks for local colour. Hundreds of canvas-topped stalls fill the streets, where bargaining is a way of life. We reward ourselves with a tiramisu gelato at one of the wayside cafes and continue walking to the famous Ponte Vecchio. This bridge used to house butchers, blacksmiths and other merchants until the Medici Grand Duke, who had to cross the bridge to enter his palace, replaced them with the more genteel jewellers. Apparently, the bridge's fame saved it during World War II!
We cross the Ponte Vecchio and arrive at the Oltrano, home to the Palazzo Pitti, a 16th Century palace, which now houses several museums. We take a stroll through the Boboli Gardens, built in the 1500s for the Medicis, and now an oasis to relax between museum-hopping. We see many Italian families with their exuberant children here, and looking at the children, you know where the Renaissance painters got the inspiration for their cherubs from! We catch the Florentine sunset at Piazza Michelangelo, on the hilltop from where the classic postcard views of Florence originate. At the centre of the square is a bronze replica of Michelangelo's David. We look beyond the souvenir shops and carts at the spectacular cityscape that looks like a gargantuan Impressionist painting. The rolling hills of Fiesole, the terracotta rooftops of homes, the Duomo, a burnished, ethereal, gold in the dying Sun, and the Ponte Vecchio packed with people, sipping wine, watching the sunset glow… — it's easy to understand why this city has inspired artists through the ages.
PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU METRO PLUS,2010