Monday, August 20, 2007


We were only in Florence for four days and nights, and managed to cram a lot of things in during that time. I think we covered the highlights pretty well, considering the limited time we had. Still, here are a few things that didn't warrant their own blog entry:

The interior of the Baptistery of St. Giovanni is is believed to be the oldest building in Florence. It was rather small considering some of the other massive structures we encountered in city and the lighting wasn't good so I couldn't get any decent pictures in there.

On the east side of the Baptistery are the famed Gates of Paradise, a set of bronze doors featuring reliefs that depict scenes from the Old Testament sculpted by Lorenzo Ghiberti. The pictures seen here are actually copies of the original doors (which now hang in the Museum Opera del Duomo). It took Ghiberti 21 years to sculpt the doors.

Florence itself is a quaint city with a lot of activity, old buildings, and winding streets. It has a good deal of charm despite the fact that it also has an overly commercial feel to it with many of the buildings housing jewelry shops, leather stores and dealers hawking souvenirs and trinkets.

In addition to all the touristy traps, there's a lot of churches in Florence. I don't know what the significance is of this one, but I just felt like taking a picture of it.

Ponte Vecchio is the city's oldest bridge, dating back to 1345. It extends over the Arno River and has always been home to shops and merchants (mainly butchers). These days the stores are occupied by jewelers and vendors specializing in touristy knick knacks (surprise).

Across from Ponte Vecchio is the Ponte Santa Trinita. It was designed by Bartolomeo Ammannati (with a little help from Michelangelo).

The Oltrarno means "Beyond the Arno" and is the best place to view of all Florence in its glorious splendor. To totally take advantage of this, you have to hike up a steep mountain to the Piazzale Michelangelo. It was quite a climb, but as the pictures indicate, well worth it.


It would be criminal to even think about going to Florence without spending some quality time with the most famous statue in the world: "David" by Michelangelo.

Once again, we had the foresight to book our tickets in advance and were able cut way ahead of the poor saps who chose to spend hours in the rain waiting outside the Galleria dell'Accademia for the chance to see this bona fide masterpiece.

Once inside we were again greeted with a sign whose message was growing all too familiar:

I'm not sure why the museum wants to discourage photos of this fantastic work of art. I can understand not wanting to use flash in front of a painting that's hundreds of years old, but this is a sculpture and one that survived the elements outside for over three hundred years! It can't be for commercial reasons either, because there have to be millions of pictures of "David" in the world (they even sell underwear on the Florence streets with Dave's privates emblazoned on the front). I just don't get it. People come here to see this statue and they want their own personal picture of it. It's very simple. I personally had waited most of my conscious life for this moment and was not going to let it slip away unrecorded.

So I was determined to take some shots and it was really very easy. Since EVERYONE else wanted to do the same thing, I just waited for them to start snapping away and when they got yelled at by the limited security staff I would proceed to take my own pictures.

Despite how familiar you think you may be with this statue, you really haven't experienced it until you see it in person. The copies I've seen in Japan and at the Piazza just don't do it justice. It truly is a breathtaking experience and we spent over 45 minutes looking at it over and over.

For me, the magic of this statue is how one extraordinarily talented creative genius was able to take one huge, cold, solid piece of marble and transform it into something that seems so alive.

No matter what angle you are looking at it, "David" (all 17 feet of him) seems alive and ready to jump off of his pedestal. You can almost see the blood coursing through his veins. I am not being over-dramatic about this either. It is truly incredible.

Even more amazing when you consider it is that this statue is over 500 years old! What kind of tools did Michelangelo have at his disposal way back then to create the ultimate testament to strength and human beauty? I'm sure I can read about that somewhere, but just to consider that question boggles the mind. The world has seen many creative geniuses over history, but Michelangelo has to rank up there with the best of them.

There were many other amazing works of art at the Galleria (including more statues by Michelangelo, several of them unfinished) and they were all worthwhile to see, but nothing measured up to the experience of seeing "David" in person.


When it comes to art museums, there are many great ones in the world but a few that rise to the top of the pantheon because of the sheer number of legendary works that can be found under their collective roofs. I'm talking about places like the Louvre, MOMA and Florence's own Uffizi.

Probably the most famous painting in the Uffizi is "The Birth of Venus" by Botticelli. How many times have you seen this one in an art history book or a parody of it somewhere? For me, that number is in the high thousands, so to finally stand face to face with this masterpiece was a particular thrill.

Photos are not allowed in the Uffizi (which is a real drag for someone trying to write a travel blog), but I managed to sneak a few and only got yelled at a few times.

We also saw another Botticelli classic: "Primavera" (or "Spring")...

"Venus of Urbino" by Titian...

"The Annunciation" by Leonardo da Vinci...

And Caravaggio's "Bacchus."

Works by Michelangelo, Raphael, Fiorentino and countless others were also on display, but I was just not quick enough with my trigger finger to snap shots of those.

One note if you are planning a visit to the Uffizi: make sure you book your tickets online in advance! This will allow you to jump way ahead of the queue of people that gather early in the morning to get in and save you hours of wasted time standing in line.


One could probably spend a week in Florence just visiting churches and come to find that they've only scratched the surface how many there are to see once that week is up. So with a limited time in the city, we had to be selective about just how many churches we could make time to visit. Constructed in the 13th Century, the Basilica di Santa Croce (or Church of the Holy Cross) is notable for several reasons including its neo-Gothic facade (added in 19th Century).

The Church is also known as Pantheon of the Italian Glories because it is the final resting spot for many famous Italians, most notably Michelangelo.

Photos were allowed in the Church, but flash was not so that explains the poor quality of some of these pics (sorry about that).

Others illustrious names buried here include Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini (I forget whose tomb this one is though).

Many of the tombs are located right on the floor of the Church (which was ravaged by floods in 1966 causing much damage to the buildings and artwork).

The Church also home to a museum to showcase its fantastic art collection and the building's beautiful interiors. This is another must see Florence Attraction (in this man's opinion)!


Dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries, the Piazza Della Signoria is one of Italy's largest and most beautiful public squares. It is also a nice central hub for downtown Florence, right next to the Uffizi Gallery, down the street from the Cathedral and within earshot of just about everything else.

Overlooking the Piazza is the towering Palazzo Vecchio (constructed during the 13th and 16th Centuries) which has been used over the years by the local government. Although most of the space is a museum now, it is now Florence's Town Hall and the workspace of the Mayor and the City Council.

Directly outside the entrance to Palazzo Vecchio are several large statues including a copy of Michelangelo's "David" (the original used to reside here from 1504 to 1873 before being moved to the Galleria dell'Accademia).

"Hercules and Cacus" by Baccio Bandinelli.

And the "Fountain of Neptune" by Bartolomeo Ammannati.

Like I said, the interior of Palazzo Vecchio is mainly a museum, home to many beautiful paintings, sculptures and other works of art. There is even a "Hercules" room dedicated to the exploits of the legendary hero.

Back outside in the Piazza, you'll see the Loggia dei Lanzi which is home to even more statues based on stories from mythology and the Bible. The most famous one is probably the bronze "Perseus" by Benvenuto Cellini, but all of the others are equally impressive.

A trip to the Piazza is not only an essential part of any visit to Florence, but also an inevitable one. It's a good place to decompress after being stuck inside various museums, galleries and churches all day long because you can do so while still taking in loads of culture and history.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


The Florence Cathedral (aka Basilica di Santa Maria de Fiore) is quite possibly the city's most famous building. Dating back to the 13th Century, it can hold up to 30,000 people and at the time of its completion it was the largest cathedral in the world.

The structure's main feature is the large dome (Duomo) designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and built between 1420 and 1436. As you can see, it is currently under renovation.

The major draw here is the chance to climb over 450 steps to view the dome's interior up close and personal. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but after the first few hundred steps, you kind of wonder if you'll ever reach the top.

Eventually, you get to the dome's first level and can see a depiction of the Last Judgment painted by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari between 1568 and 1579.

At this point, you're not all the way to the top yet, but it's still a long way down.

Another set of stairs follows, this one leading to the dome's roof where you can take in some amazing views of the city.

On the way down, you are able to access the top level of the dome's interior. At this point, you are very close to the actual paintings.

One thing you can't help notice about the Cathedral is that it's covered with graffiti inside and out. You have to wonder what possesses some people to deface a 600 year-old church.

Once you're all the way down, you can see how the dome looks from below. At any angle, it's pretty impressive.