Saturday, February 26, 2011



Nowhere have I ever been that it was such a thrill just being there. Even when waking up in the morning I could hardly believe I was living in Firenze! My daily routine began to be set. I would wake up with the sunrise, fix espresso then get dressed and have breakfast. As soon as the stores opened, I would go on my daily rounds, such as dropping off the laundry, food shopping and getting the mail.

Mid-mornings, you would find me touring. Firenze has so many unique places to see and special things to do, that one could spend years. My lunch break also included a nap. I soon found out that this convention really revived me for the rest of the day. Boy, do I wish we could do that in America! The afternoons were whatever came to mind: sightseeing, sometimes shopping, sometimes an adventure.

In the early evening, I would often take some reading and go to the Piazza della Signoria. I had found a delightful outdoor bar (bar) called the Rivoire, directly across the Piazza from the Palazzo Vecchio. It served drinks, small sandwiches and desserts. The Rivoire is not French, but the owner liked the name when he was traveling there. About 80 people could sit outside; another 30 inside. Being on the piano terra of an old palazzo, the Rivoire had large arched doorways opening into a high-ceilinged collection of grand rooms that had lots of mirrors and carved marble. The Rivoire always bustled, but evenings and nights were the most interesting for watching both the patrons and the crowds in the Piazza. Most evenings I would be sitting at a table and 'drinking' it all in. 

Even after morning sight-seeing, I would sometime stop at the Rivoire. I would usually sip an iced tea and dilute it with sparkling (con gas) mineral water to make it last longer. If I felt daring, I might have strawberries drenched in red wine (fragile con vino rosso). Every afternoon at around five, a woman would feed the pigeons on her roof garden on the north side of the Piazza. The birds would flock from miles around for this daily event.  Evenings found an assortment of entertainers on the Piazza. Sometimes there would be jugglers, musicians, tumblers, singers, pan-handlers and throngs of tourists in the square, maybe even all at the same time; all entertaining. This doesn't mean I wouldn't go to the other places, but the Rivoire was definitely my favorite watching-post in Firenze.

In addition to the crowds and live entertainment, the Piazza della Signoria has a treasure trove of notable buildings and statues. The Piazza has been the political center of the city since the Middle Ages. Festivals and pageants as well as hangings and bonfires have taken place there. The Piazza is dominated by the imposing Palazzo Vecchio. The tower is over 300 feet tall, an engineering feat even today, let alone in 1310! The Medici lived there during their time in power. (In fact, the reason it's called vecchio (old) is when the Medici moved to their new country Palazzo Pitti across the river, the Palazzo Vecchio got its moniker, 'old'.) The Palazzo Pitti - residence - and Vecchio--offices--were connected by a raised, enclosed corridor over the rooftops of the famous Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) in order to protect the Medici during unsettled times.

There are very fine paintings lining this half-mile long corridor. (Supposedly, tours are available twice a week. But, alas, it has been closed during all three of my visits to Firenze.)

During the time of the Medici family control, the Piazza underwent many architectural changes. The Palazzo deli Uffizi, the palace of the official offices (1560-1574), was ordered built by Cosimo I. This marvel, the Uffizi, was designed buy Vasari to further enlarge the Piazza by extending a 'U'-shaped plaza to the River Arno. Originally, the Uffizi housed the Medici government. Now it contains the most important art collection in Italy and ranks among the three best museums in the world, along with the Louvre and the Prado. There are so many masterpieces, one could stay for a week.

The Church was the major patron of the arts during the Middle Ages and on into the start of the Renaissance. Therefore, most art works depicted religious themes. I got interested in the paintings depicting the 'Annunciation' (the angel announcing to Mary she had been chosen to bear the Son of God). I decided to study them chronologically! I would go see one or two, studying the changing style; then leave and go back and see another one on another day. I became so acutely aware of 'Annunciations' that I began got see them everywhere; in other museums, on posters, in shop windows and even on the label of a packaged ham.

Next to the Uffizi on the Piazza is the Loggia della Signoria, a large three-arched ceremonial stage. It now contains an outstanding collection of monumental sculptures. Michelangelo's “David” (1501-1504) stood before the doors of the Palazzo Vecchio until the 19th Century when the original was moved inside for safe-keeping  and protection from the weather. A copy now stands in the Piazza.  
My copy.
(During a war between two competing government factions in the 16th Century, a desk was thrown out of the Palazzo and broke off one of David's arms!; luckily they were able to repair it.) Now the original can be viewed with the crowds in the Accademia. Also in the Piazza in front of the Palazzo, are Donatello's bronze “Judith and Holofernes” and his “Marzocco” (the famous, ubiquitous sitting lion with the shield of Firenze under a raised paw). 

Bandinelli sculpted the large “Hercules and Casus” as well as the colossal “Neptune Fountain”. A fine bronze equestrian statue of “Cosimo I” by Giambologna (1595) rounds out the array. This Piazza certainly is a


The Italians have several conventions that are quite different from ours. Stores and businesses are generally open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. with a lunch and rest break between 1 and 3 p.m.--although their rest usually consists of simply enjoying the largest meal of the day. Museums and most churches, however, do not re-open after lunch! Ed remarked while visiting, that they should be open in the afternoon so that the tourists can see more wonders in their usually short stay in Firenze, and so that they could take in more badly needed revenue. But I think it's so typically Italian, that it would be a shame to change their tradition. Ed's reaction is so practical and so American. It's a clash of the two cultures. (I like being in a foresight country and learning--and getting used to--the local customs.)

Another convention that I find charming is that there aren't supermarkets and shopping centers. Instead you go to a particular store for the article you're interested in, like a poultry store for eggs, a butcher for veal, a greengrocer for fruit, a linens store for towels. It was greet fun trying to figure out the riddle of what you would buy where. Although when in a bind for time, there was a small 'combined market' about three blocks away--creeping modernism!

Firenze, however, is generally very protective of its heritage. Both the city and national governments have laws governing its development or rather, its non-development. No skyscrapers can be built within view of the historic district, and now, no new buildings within the walls of the old city. Remodeling must be done in the strictest preservationist sense. This causes renovation to be very expensive and time-consuming. While I was there I watched the work being done on a palazzo four doors from my home and was amazed at the old, painstaking techniques being used. Every day there were workmen on the rickety scaffolding chipping away carefully at old plaster, followed by plasterers carefully replacing the exact form for a new surface, to be painted in the old manner.  Slow but precise!  Being in Firenze, is in some ways, like traveling back in time. Firenze is truly a




Ron said...

Belle immagini di un'avventura meravigliosa!

Don Voth said...

Had to get out the dog-earred, Italian dictionary! Thnaks.

Caliban said...

This makes FIrenze sound most enchanting. I hope it hasn't changed since you were there.

Don Voth said...

I do also!