Tuesday, July 20, 2010

On the Road (Europe 2010): Florence

Arrived in Florence last night after dark. Saw the Duomo, with its campanile and dome--all lighted and looking like a decorated cake--for the first time in many years. Much of it has been cleaned since I was last here. The campanile, the main facade, and much of one side of the Duomo have been cleaned. The white marble is white, the pink marble pink, the green marble green. In contrast, the rest (as well as the adjacent Baptistery) looks quite dirty—as if covered with a layer of ash.

Went up in the dome today then walked around the city some and saw the Basilica of San Croce, which I’d never visited before. The church itself isn’t that interesting, but this is where Michelangelo, Gallileo, Machiavelli, Danté, and Rossini are buried—along with about 250 others, mostly under marble panels set into the terra cotta tile floor. Some of the panels have simple inscriptions with coats of arms, others have full figures carved in marble, but these have mostly been worn away by hundreds of years of foot traffic.

I particularly enjoyed seeing Gallileo’s tomb. Why are the resting places of the illustrious fascinating? I don’t know. Visiting a grave like that of Gallileo gives a sense of being in the presence of greatness, even if nothing is there but bones hundreds of years old—if the bones really are there.

There are some good paintings inside the church, for example, a good Bronzino pietá and another large Bronzino that I rather liked. There is also a very simple but interesting chapel, the Pazzi Chapel, designed by Brunelleschi, that is decorated with roundels by Luca della Robbia. According to my guide book (Blue Guide Concise Italy, Somerset, 2009). This is an early Renaissance use of the central plan (which refers to a round, square, or octagonal space topped by a dome) that was common in Roman architecture. It became part of the Christian architectural repertoire in the form of baptisteries and pilgrimage chapels. Brunelleschi is credited with introducing it to Florence. The latin tradition had hitherto favored the rectangular basilica form.

Visiting the main dome was a bit of a disappointment. Since I was last here they have raised a thick plastic barrier above the railings on the interior walkways, which obscures all views downward, obscures about half of the views up into the inside of the dome (the paintings have been restored since I last visited, too), and removes all sense of freedom; the walk around the interior of the dome used to be quite scary as the railing is no more than waist high and the drop below is a very big one. Still, it was nice to see the panoramic view of Florence from the top of the dome, to see the interesting brickwork inside the dome, and to see some of the timbers in the chain of large oak trunks that helps to hold the dome together.

Later, took a walk down to the Uffizzi to get advance tickets for tomorrow, which will avoid a wait in line. Took a detour down to the Arno to look at the Ponte Vecchio. When I was last here, the approach from the Uffizi side was closed because there had just been a bombing at the Uffizi (when was that? 1994  or so?). I wanted to see it from the Uffizi side as my photographer grandfather shot it from this side in the late 1920s or early 1930s. I walked along the bridge, looking at all the gold and jewels for sale. Hot, tired tourists were everywhere,  taking pictures of themselves, the sights, and seeking out cold water, sodas, gelato—anything cool. Now I remember why I always used to come to Europe in late September or  early October….

Walking home at the end of the day, I came across a red Alfa Romeo Spider parked in the street. Owning a 1978 Spider myself, I stopped to have a look. In the three or four minutes I spent looking at the car, about six people stopped to take pictures of it. A small crowd formed at one point. This appears to have been an earlier seventies car than mine, but it had a few anachronistic modifications (newer seat belts, newer antenna, missing something around the headlights). Still a very snappy-looking design, after all these years. 

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