“Magnanimous Florence! Her jewelry marts are filled with artists in mosaic. Florentine mosaics are the choicest in all the world. Florence loves to have that said. Florence is proud of it. Florence would foster this specialty of hers. She is grateful to the artists that bring to her this high credit and fill her coffers with foreign money…” – Mark Twain – ‘The Innocents Abroad’
With the benefit of a quiet room at last it was an excellent night and so was the weather when I woke up especially early and went out once more onto the terracotta-tiled roof garden to make the early morning meteorological inspection.
This cheered me up considerably because today the plan was to go to Florence, the political capital of Tuscany and the cultural capital of Italy, the city of the Medici and the Renaissance and a UNESCO World heritage site. The Medici were a powerful and influential Florentine family from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries who produced three Popes and a succession of rulers of Florence and the family was also a leading influence at the beginning of the Italian Renaissance.
This was a much better journey today because the sun was shining.
Arriving in Florence we went first to the Cathedral, or Duomo, which although completed as long ago as 1436 is still the tallest building in the City. Even though it was relatively early in the morning there was a huge queue of visitors waiting at the entrance and snaking in a seemingly endless human coil around the building so being naturally impatient decided we couldn’t afford the time to wait. Although the streets immediately surrounding it are all pedestrianised the Cathedral is closed in on all sides by other buildings so it was difficult to fully appreciate the scale of the building as we circled around it and were restricted to gazing skywards to the top of the impressive dome.
After the Piazza del Duomo we walked along Via dei Calzaiuoli to the Piazza della Signori, a spacious square and home to an array of impressive buildings and fine works of art. Here was Michelangelo’s David; well actually it’s a duplicate because the original has been sensibly removed to the Museum, although this copy was in its original position.
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet, engineer and all round clever-dick and probably most famous for painting the Sistene Chapel at the Vatican. The statue of David was completed in 1504 when Michelangelo was only twenty-nine; it is seventeen feet high and depicts the biblical hero David who slew Goliath, (although if he was seventeen feet tall he must have been a bit of a giant himself!) Also here we marvelled at the Neptune Fountain and the Loggia dei Lanzi, which is an open building lined with Roman statues as well as the Palazzo Vecchio, the traditional Town Hall of Florence.
Florence was very briefly between 1865 and 1871 the capital of the United State of Italy before, much to the relief of the taxpayers of the city, the privilege and the expense was transferred to Rome when it eventually became part of Italy in 1870. I was looking for the inevitable statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi but didn’t find it but but did instead come across the Statue of the Battle of Mentana of 1867 which depicts a Garibaldi freedom fighter during the Third Italian War of Independence when with the secret complicity of the Italian government Giuseppe led a private expedition into the Papal States but which ultimately failed when defeated by French troops protecting the Papacy. Florence had to wait another four years before transferring the capital status to Rome.
The freedom fighter stretches his body to the point of near contortion in order to take the ideal shot. In his left arm is a fallen comrade who struggles to prop the flagstaff with his final breaths.
The weather was in complete contrast to the previous two days and the sun was shining so we decided to find a pavement café for an early drink and identified a place in a sunny corner of the Piazza and after having confirmed with the owner that it was open for business competed with the cleaner for occupation of the bathroom and then sat down and enjoyed the sunshine (at last) and the beer. We were the first customers of the day in the café but there soon followed a steady trickle of others until the place was quite full and before we left the owner thanked us warmly for having given a kick-start to the day’s business.