INFORMATION

Florence, Italy

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FLORENCE

Florence, Italy, located on the Arno River in Tuscany, is renown for its Renaissance art which lies in museums, churches, and palaces. In many of these venues, photography is not permitted, so all of the gallery content here misses this highpoint of Florence. Instead, the images are outside, concentrating on the architecture and natural beauty of Florence with the Arno and the surrounding Tuscan hills.

Since my time available in Florence was limited to only two days, with a full day devoted to the Uffizi, Bargello, and Accademia galleries, only selected locations are covered in central Florence north of the Arno and one location, Piazzale Michelangelo, to the south of the Arno. Notable among the missing outdoor locations are the Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens, and a number of historic churches.

The first gallery's focus is the magnificent Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore and the adjacent Campanile and Baptistery. The second gallery includes photos from miscellaneous locations in central Florence both north of the Duomo and between it and the buildings directly on the north bank of the Arno. The third gallery covers views of the Arno and structures on both the north and south banks. The final gallery features sunset views from the Piazzale MIchelangelo, a viewpoint located south of the Arno River and southeast of the center of Florence.

Il Duomo

Construction of Il Duomo, the grand Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, began in 1296 with the cupola decoration completed in 1469, spanning over 170 years. The exterior is clad in white, green, and red marble. With the initial facade never finished, the current facade is recent, completed in the middle of the last half of the 19th century. The bronze doors are even more recent, dating for a four-year period around 1900. A series of architects directed the original construction project. Among these, Filippo Brunelleschi, is most famous for the design and construction of the masonry dome, still the largest such dome in the world constructed of brick. Works of art are spread about the interior, but overall, except for the dome frescos and the stained glass windows, the interior appears starkly bare. The monumental work on dome's interior was done by Vasari and Zaccari from 1568 to 1579. Vasari's work is genuine fresco (watercolor on wet plaster), while Zaccari's is fresco-secco (watercolor on moistened dry plaster).

The Campanile, referred to as Giotto's Bell Tower, is faced with the same white, green, and red marble as Il Duomo. Giotto began construction in 1334, and two subsequent architects were involved, with completion in 1359. The spire from Giotto's design was omitted, shortening the tower, originally to be 400 feet tall, by about 122 feet. The artwork on the campanile consists of many panels and a number of statues with religious themes. All of these are copies, with the originals moved to the Museum of the Opera del Duomo as of the mid 1960s.

The Battistero of San Giovanni (Baptistery of St. John), believed to be the oldest building in Florence, was originally constructed in the 4th or 5th century and replaced in the 6th century. It was again reconstructed and changed to a Romanesque style between 1059 and 1128. The exterior is clad in white and green marble, setting the tone for the cladding of the later Duomo and Campanile. Between the 14th and 16th centuries, bronze doors were added, the most famous of which are the east doors by Ghiberti and two of his workers, done between 1425 and 1552. As with other objects of art, the original doors were removed, in this case in 1990, and replaced by copies. The interior walls are of black and white marble. The most spectacular feature of the Battistero is the majestic mosaic, dating from 1225 to the 14th century, covering the entire ceiling.

Central Florence

This gallery features a walk south from Hotel Albani near the train station to the Uffizi Gallery and then east to the Santa Croce Church. Il Duomo is bypassed along the way and a visit to the Bargello museum highlights the middle of the walk. Images numbered 11, 12, and 13 are taken from the windows of the Bargello. Images of the Palazzo Vecchio are taken from the loggia of the Uffizi Gallery.

The Bargello, meaning castle or fortified structure, was constructed in the 13th century to house the equivalent of a modern Chief of Police and, later, the head of the City Council. The Bargello is the oldest public building in Florence. It is interesting to note the similarity of the Palazzo Vecchio from the 16th century to the Bargello. In 1574, the Bargello was returned to the police chief of Florence until 1865 and was used as a prison and the site of executions until the late 18th century. As shown in the images, the Bargello is built around a courtyard with an open stairway and a well in its center. In 1865, it became a national museum for 14th to 17th century sculptures. Among the most famous of its sculptures is Donatello's David from around 1440. In bronze, David was the first freestanding nude male sculpture made since antiquity. During my visit, David was being restored, lying on his back and instrumented with high- powered magnifiers.

The concept of the fortified, castle-like town hall, currently named the Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace), originated in 1299 to give prestige and security to the heads of the Florence government. From the time of its construction to the time at which the Medici duke's residence was move to the Palazzo Pitti, and Palazzo Vecchio became its name, the structure had a number of additional names.

Along the Arno

The gallery features a short walk beginning on an upper floor of the Uffizi Gallery, exiting the Gallery to a walk along the Arno River, passing through the colonnades connected to the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) and crossing the Ponte Vecchio to the south shore of the Arno. Images that were obviously taken from a rooftop level were shot through Uffizi windows. Other images of the river and the fish image were taken from the center of the Ponte Vecchio.

The Uffizi Gallery ranks among the top few galleries in the world. In January 2008, it appeared on the Smithsonian Life List, a list of 28 places that everyone should see - the only other Museum listed was The Louvre in Paris. The Palazzo Uffizi was constructed between 1560 and 1581 as an office building for the Florentine government under Cosimo I de' Medici. Cosimo I planned for masterpieces from the Medici collections to be display on the primary floor of the Uffizi. The collection grew and became open by request in the 16th century and open to the public in 1765.

Time spent in the Uffizi is time well spent! For a look at the collection, see http://www.virtualuffizi.com/uffizi/index.htm

During the construction of the Uffizi, Cosimo I involved the architect of the Uffizi, Vasari, in another project called the Vasari Corridor. The Corridor is an enclosed, elevated walkway from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Pitti Palace south of the Arno. The Corridor passes through the top floor of the Uffizi (image 1), along the top of the colonnade (see rooftop, image 6 and colonnade, image 10), across the top of the east side of the Ponte Vecchio ( images 6, 7, 8 and 9), across the street on the south shore of the Arno (image 15), and over the loggiato of the church of Santa Felicita with a balcony for worship by the Medici, and on to the Pitti Palace.

The Ponte Vecchio is one of Florence's most famous sights. Its jewelry shops are among the most expensive in Florence. The selling of valuables on the Ponte Vecchio dates back to 1593 when Cosimo I banished the previous occupants, the butchers, who had monopolized the space since 1442. The gold merchants established a new monopoly that has evolved into the jewelry shops.

Piazzale Michelangelo Sunset

Piazzale Michelangelo, designed in 1869 by Poggi, at first glance, appears to be a parking lot. By moving among the cars, you can reach a copy of Michelangelo's David upon a base featuring copies of four Michelangelo statues from tombs in the Medici Chapels. The balustrades around the west and north edges of the parking lot and a terrace below provide lovely panoramic views of Florence, the Arno River and the surrounding hills. The steps down to the terrace, while minuscule by comparison, are reminiscent of the Spanish Steps in Rome, and provide convenient seating for viewing the sunset. Poggi's plan for a museum here containing all of the works of Michelangelo never got beyond a dream.