One of the items on my bucket list is to spend my birthday in Italy’s Tuscany region, so a visit to what tour brochures describe as “romantic and irresistible Firenze” (Florence, as we know it) was a most anticipated part of our Italian holiday.
Florence is the capital of the Tuscany region and was where the Italian Renaissance began, the reason why it is home to the period’s masterpieces in architecture and in the arts. Our visit to the city was certainly a visual feast, as we immersed ourselves in the enchanting beauty of its iconic artistic masterpieces.
First stop was the Galleria dell’Accademia where Michaelangelo’s famous sculpture, “David,” is displayed. Founded by the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1784, the Galleria was a teaching facility for students of the Academy of Fine Arts located nearby. It now houses many works of art—drawings, paintings, sculptures, etc.—by many important and celebrated artists of that era.
“David” is the best example of Renaissance sculpture, which took Michaelangelo three years to make from one single slab of marble. This statue of the Biblical hero is 17 feet tall and was originally placed in the Piazza della Signoria, exposed to the elements. It was moved to the Galleria almost 370 years later, while a replica replaced it in its original location.
Just like the hero that it represents, the statue became the embodiment of the civil liberties of Florence, an independent city-state then, which was threatened by its neighboring rival and more powerful states. In fact, if you take a close look at the statue’s eyes, you will notice an evident warning glare fixated towards a certain direction which, our tour guide explained, was towards Rome.
There are other important masterpieces displayed in the Galleria. Botticelli’s “Madonna and Child,” along with “Our Lady of the Sea.” What I found interesting at the Galleria’s Department of Musical Instruments was the world’s oldest surviving upright piano, of course, made by the Italian maker, Bartolomeo Cristofori, who invented the piano.
A few steps away from the Galleria is the Museo Pinocchio which displays everything about the most popular marionette, including the book written by Carlo Lorenzini, better known by his pen name Carlo Collodi.
Collodi had very humble beginnings. He was the son of a cook and a housemaid but was educated in a seminary. However, he later abandoned his dream of becoming a priest and eventually led a bohemian life, and gambled whenever he could. In fact, it was his losses in his games that prompted him to accept an offer by two friends to write a story for their children’s book.
What is interesting to know is that The Adventures of Pinocchio evolved in consonance with Collodi’s luck in gambling. When he was on a losing streak, he would write several chapters of the Pinocchio’s adventures, to earn some money. But when he was winning, he would become lazy, making his young readers impatient, so they would write to him to ask for more stories.
Collodi, who was a native of Florence, never expected The Adventures of Pinocchio to become a worldwide hit. In fact, it has been translated to 240 languages and continues to enchant children from all over the world.
I couldn’t help buying for my grandsons the cute replicas of the marionette sold all over the city. By the way, a marionette is a kind of puppet with upward or downward strings used to make its limbs move.
Several blocks from the Museo is the Florence Cathedral or the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, a Gothic-Renaissance masterpiece which has three imposing structures—the cathedral itself, the baptistry, and the campanile, or the bell tower.
Taking 140 years to build, the very attractive cathedral has an exterior made of polychrome marble panels in different shades of pink and green, bordered by white. Its most impressive feature is its dome which can be seen from all over the city, and is made of terracotta tiles. Of course, tourists like us couldn’t get enough of the baptistry door which has solid gold plaques with carvings of the different stories in the Old Testament.
After feasting our eyes on these historical and world-class art masterpieces, it was time to feast on gourmet Tuscan cuisine. For that, we chose to drive all the way high above the city, to Florence’s oldest and biggest hilltop restaurant, La Loggia, which offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the city. Even at the height of summer, the place had cool breeze blowing nonstop from all directions, making our midday degustation a most pleasurable experience.
After our sumptuous meal, we decided to see more of the city but were too tired to walk around so we chose to go on the Hop-On-Hop-Off tour buses and stayed at the upper deck for a better view of the scenic spots we passed by.
Before heading back to our hotel, we made one more stop…at the magnificent Basilica di Santa Croce, with its beautiful façade practically glowing in the afternoon sun. This is where Michaelangelo, Galileo, Rossini, and Machiavelli are buried. It is a very beautiful church and, if I’m not mistaken, was a setting for one of the sequels to the Da Vinci Code movie.
We definitely fell in love with Florence and, being in the city that sparked the Renaissance, I also experienced my own “rebirth,” as this visit reawakened my love for the arts and for the subtle elegance that goes with it. The city has everything I want in a destination—meaningful history, impressive masterpieces, and gourmet cuisine.
And as the Italians are wont to say, “Questa e l’essenza della vita!” (Such is the essence of life!)
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