Mellowing in Italy - Siena, Tuesday 2007 May 15

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May 15th 2007
Published: June 17th 2018
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Pitti PalacePitti PalacePitti Palace

15th Century, probably by Brunelleschi for the banking family
On to Florence. We left early at 7:45 to avoid some of the rush hour, and things went smoothly until the last slow 15-20 minutes. We were deposited about a 15 minute walk from the Pitti Palace, at one time the palace of the king of Italy. Sylvia met us there and toured us through some of the main rooms.

Outside, it is not an attractive building – a hollow block with very long sides to the street and on the other side to the Boboli Gardens. I wanted to come back to walk in the Gardens during our free time, but that didn’t happen. Maybe next week. Princess Paulina, the sister of Napoleon, married to a Florentine, bought the palace because the gardens were so beautiful. From one of the rooms we had a view over the quadrangle to the staircases of the garden, decorated by marble fences and statues. Sylvia told us that there used to be special doors to close off the arches of the quadrangle, which were then sealed with wax. Water was poured in to make an enormous pool for swimming or mock naval battles. (How the rich spend “their” money!)

The rooms are literally full of paintings
Tower of Santa Maria del FioreTower of Santa Maria del FioreTower of Santa Maria del Fiore

Raises our eyes to heaven
and exquisite inlaid marble tables, the same décor as they were when inhabited. Each room leads to the next (no hallway), so that when you stand at one end you can see an ever-receding succession of doorways. The rooms seem rather small, but aren’t really – the effect of so much decoration.

As with the Borghese Gallery in Rome, the ceilings are all frescoed in trompe l’oeil style. We were told that behind all the rooms are a series of internal narrow corridors and stairs for the servants to use as they worked without being seen. The doors into the room are more or less hidden in the décor of the walls.

Sylvia took us to see the Botticellis, of which there were about ten (forgot to count). She showed us how his portraits were true to the real facial features of the sitter, but how he carefully posed and set the person to their best advantage. She also drew our attention to how the Mona Lisa influenced the poses. (The Italians resent the French for stealing the Mona Lisa and much else on behalf of Napoleon.) Botticelli even painted a pregnant woman in that pose, which was very unusual. (Pregnancy was
 Ghiberti's less ornate doors Ghiberti's less ornate doors Ghiberti's less ornate doors

Battistero di San Giovanni
associated with death!). Of course, as with all great Renaissance painters, his skin tones were beautifully fine. He also had meaningful landscapes as the backgrounds, although Sylvia showed us a couple where these had been painted black in later years by someone else when the style changed!

Following our quick hour’s tour of the Palace, we walked to the fabulous and fabled Duomo, Santa Maria dei Fiore. It is so large, you literally cannot see its entirety. The façade was shining white and gold in the sun. The famed double dome (one built inside the other to facilitate the construction) is red brick and set back from the magnificent façade, so that it looks majestic and restrained, which it is not once you have heard its story. The architect, Filippo Brunelleschi proposed such a large dome that the church officials quaked at the cost and refused the design, claiming they didn’t want the scaffolding up for 3-4 years. The architect reduced the price by stating that he could make it without scaffolding – which he did by making two domes and a walkway, with the workers standing on the walkway as they progressively made it and the internal and external domes at the
Arno RiverArno RiverArno River

Life line of Florence
same time. The church officials gave in, and we have an incredible architectural masterpiece.

Across the square in front of the Duomo is the baptistery , which was subject of a great artistic battle between two Renaissance sculptors who designed doors for it. In a way in our times, the “loser” is the “winner”. Both sets of doors were used, with the winning design facing the Duomo. In 1966 there was a terrible flood of the Arno River. (A worker opened the gates of a flood control point after heavy rain and couldn’t contain the results.) The Baptistery was submerged up to the flat roof, a depth of about 15 metres. (The Duomo square is lower than the Arno). Aside from the dreadful damage inside to the frescoes and the books, the doors suffered great damage from floating cars and other large debris in the water. The “losing” doors were stripped of their gilding but were otherwise relatively intact. They are intricate and look fine to the ignorant eye.

Another block or so on, we came to the Piazza de la repubblica. It is wide and almost free of structures, bordered on one side by a great wall and gate. The cardinal roads of Florence come to here. On a non-monumental scale was a merry-go-round, reminding some of us of the faux-Italian merry-go-rounds of our youth, complete with baroque canopy, prancing horses and twinkling lights.

A short walk brought us to the good-luck boar of the “straw market”. Like everyone on every tour, we pushed through to have our pictures taken patting the bronze boar’s snout – gleaming with all the touristy polishing. Having read about the straw market in several novels, I stepped inside the covered, open-air, pillared square structure. The aroma of leather was both heavenly and almost overpowering. Other souvenirs were there too, but my eyes were only for the leather bags. Barbara has a cloth bag on a long string, about twice the size of a passport. She wears it under her jacket. They make these of leather in Tuscany. As soon as I spotted a deep red one, I was lost. When I finished fingering the others and chose the red, the vendor opened a drawer with others of better quality (like butter, so soft and smooth) for the same 19 Euro price.

From here we were taken to our restaurant to show us where to meet,
Il Porcellino 1634Il Porcellino 1634Il Porcellino 1634

Another tourist wishes to return to Florence.
and we were set free for half an hour. Barbara and Harvey were looking for driving gloves for him, so I trailed along, enjoying the hectic environment around and on the Ponte Vecchio - so strange to be shopping on such an historic site.

For that matter, the restaurant was only about 300 metres from the copy of the David that iconically stands on the original site of Michelangelo’s David , outside the City Hall. In the nineteenth century it was moved indoors for protection from the weather. We didn’t go see it close up – myself because I hope to see it next week.

Lunch was in a 700 year old building, as we were told by the owner or manager, who came around to ask us how we enjoyed the lunch. We enjoyed it very much; penne in tomato sauce, grilled veal scaloppini (thin and still pink inside) with a pile of spinach, and fruit salad with frizzante wine as sauce.

After lunch we were free, and although I had planned to walk to the Boboli Gardens, I went to the Bargello museum with some others. The national museums are free this week for Tuscan culture week. There
David David David

Fine replica in the Piazza della Signoria
was the Donatello David, which I loved. I’ve often seen it in photos, but as with all great works, the real thing stirs the emotions. The David is so lithe you expect him to move. I enjoyed seeing many other sculptures, but there is only so much the mind can take in. We also enjoyed a room full of ceramics, some small, but mostly the large, ornate quasi-serving dishes of the late nineteenth century. (Did anyone actually use these?)

The others were going to the Santa Croce, yet another well known Florentine church. Since we may go next week, I did not go in (directly). Michele wanted me to see the leather workshop, built in the former dormitory of the monks. Again, the aroma is beautifully overpowering. These are true artisans and their students (mostly foreign), both making high quality, stylish bags. The display room also shows high fashion men’s and women’s jackets and belts. The prices are very high (500 – 2000 Euros). Even little items in the gift shop are mostly twenty Euros and higher. I bought a change purse for five Euros for Peggy, because the dark green stamped in gold is her elegant style. After this, I
Courtyard of the Bargello Museum 1256Courtyard of the Bargello Museum 1256Courtyard of the Bargello Museum 1256

Once a family home of a Florentine power broker
was pooped, so I sat on the steps of the church and wrote notes.

Writing notes on such a busy tour has been a challenge. I am now writing on the bus to Assisi, and a previous portion was written yesterday at the Laundromat. Often we have very little time between the end of the day’s tour and dinner at 7:30. And I am usually too tired to write after dinner. (Fresh air, wine, exercise – early to sleep!).

The clouds today are just like in a Renaissance painting – I keep expecting cherubs or God to appear from behind the fluff.

Additional photos below
Photos: 15, Displayed: 15


David replica in front of Palazzo VecchioDavid replica in front of Palazzo Vecchio
David replica in front of Palazzo Vecchio

Architecture overwhelms sculpture
Piazza della SignoriaPiazza della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria

Historic site of all Florentine politics
Santa Maria del FioreSanta Maria del Fiore
Santa Maria del Fiore

People-sized street-scape
Santa Maria del FioreSanta Maria del Fiore
Santa Maria del Fiore

Story-telling carved reliefs

1337 grain market, 1380 church
Street sceneStreet scene
Street scene

A long history of commerce

17th June 2018
Santa Maria del Fiore

Siena, italy
A beautiful city
18th June 2018

What a day!
Boy, it's almost too much to take in, just reading about it. I can only imagine that it might have been overwhelming in the moment. And more great pictures, especially (:-)) of the bridge over the Arno River.
24th June 2018

And more to come!

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