I had been out really late the night before so I got a bit of a late start to my sightseeing that day. Before going anywhere I got a panini for lunch. The place I went to was randomly playing Hava Nagila inside. I have no idea why but I thought it was pretty funny.
After getting my sandwich I decided to start my sightseeing at the Bargello, which many say is the equivalent to Renaissance sculpture as the Uffizi is to Renaissance painting. The building was originally built to house the magistrate of Florence but it ended up serving as the home of the police chief, and eventually served as a prison before being turned into a museum. It houses an incredible collection of sculptures from some of the most famous artist including Donatello, Michelangelo and many more.
The two bronze David’s, one by Verrocchio and the other by Donatello are another highlight of the museum. These two statues along with Donatello’s earlier marble David are often analyzed to show the progression of sculpture at the time toward the High Renaissance return to Ancient Greek and Roman antiquity and the change in the emphasis of the artists in their works. This transition culminates in Michelangelo’s famous David which fully encapsulates the ideals of Renaissance art in its return to the Greek nude form and its praise of the human body.
Perhaps the most famous and important pieces housed in the Bargello are the panels from the competition for the Baptistery doors. The Guild of Merchants decided to commission a new set of doors for the Baptistery of the Duomo and held a competition to see which artist would receive it. Each entry needed to depict the scene of the Sacrifice of Isaac. The two remaining panels, by Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi, were deemed the co-winners, although Brunelleschi declined to share the commission for the doors and thus Ghiberti received the commission himself. This competition is often referred to as the start of the Renaissance and in fact Art History class in high school started by analyzing these two panels on the first day. There is a lot of history that followed due to this competition between these two men who ultimately worked together on the construction of the dome of the Duomo, although Brunelleschi had the last laugh on that occasion. These panels have such an important place in the history of art and it was really cool to see something up close that I have learned so much about.
The Mary Magdalene Chapel is also a cool part of the Bargello. It was originally designed to house people who were sentenced to death before they were executed. In the 16th century the frescoed walls of the chapel were plastered over when the Bargello was converted to a prison. In the 19th century they went searching for a famous rumored depiction of Dante by Giotto on the walls of the chapel and it was eventually uncovered. In the chapel is a painted wooden image of Jesus’ Crucifixion which was has no documentation but has been attributed to Michelangelo due to comparisons with his other works. Many art historians agree with this attribution but recently it has been brought into question and is now a debated topic in the art world.
After finishing up at the Bargello I went straight over to the Palazzo Vecchio to see inside as well as see the views from the battlements and tower. The first room I saw was the famous Salone dei Cinquecento or Hall of the 500. It got this name because it was designed to house the Grand Council of the Republic at the end of the 15th century, which consisted of 500 members. Giorgio Vasari was commissioned to enlarge the hall in the 16th century so that Grand Duke Cosimo I could use it to hold his court. Vasari raised the ceiling and covered it and the walls with large frescos. In doing so he actually painted over the remnants of frescos by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo!
Right off of the great hall is the Studiolo of Francesco I, a small room without windows where Francesco I de Medici spent time. It was designed by Vasari and has works of art by him, his students, Giambologna and others inside.
Next I walked through the apartments of Leo X of the Medici family.
Next I went upstairs to the Apartments of the Elements, which were built by Cosimo I as an extension of the Palazzo to house his private quarters. These apartments have the exact same floor plan as the ones below and each room in these apartments corresponds to a room dedicated to a member of the Medici family in the apartments below. Each room in the Apartments of the Elements is decorated with and dedicated to a god of classical antiquity which is meant to draw the comparison between these gods and the Medici family as “deities on earth”.
Next I walked through the Apartments of Eleonora. These were part of the original building and had housed the members of the medieval city’s government during the 14th and 15th centuries. When Cosimo I moved into the building he gave these apartments to his wife Eleonora. Vasari was commissioned to redo the apartments for her, which he completed in 1562, just before Eleonora died of malaria. All of the rooms are dedicated to important women and the Frescoes reflect their lives and virtues.
The next part of the Palazzo Vecchio was the Apartments of the Priors where members of governing body lived.
After exploring all of the interior of the Palazzo Vecchio I went up to see the views from the ramparts and the tower.
After seeing everything at the Palazzo Vecchio I decided to go across the river and have a little picnic in the rose garden right below the Piazzale Michelangelo. I stopped at this tiny panini shop which had a sampler of tuscan salumi that I got packed to go. I sat in the rose garden and ate for a while and then walked up to the Piazzale to read and take in the view for a bit.
After admiring the view I walked back across the river to my apartment.
That night I went back across the river for dinner by myself. I walked around for a while, trying to decide where to go and I ended up at Trattoria Pandemonio where I had minestrone soup and meatballs with white beans, both of which were very good!
The next day I had booked a spot on a Vespa tour through the hills of Tuscany. The guy who was leading our tour drove us from Florence to the Castello del Trebbio, an old castle which is now a family run winery and olive oil producer. Once there we got a tour of the castle and wine cellar before we left on our Vespa ride. On the tour the women who worked there told us the story of the castle which had originally been built in 1184 by the Pazzi family, one of the leading banking families in Florence, other than the Medici. In 1478, during the height of the Renaissance, the Pazzi family met in the castle to plan their plot to assassinate Lorenzo de Medici and his brother Giuliano, hoping to take control of Florence away from the Medici family. The assassination attempt occurred in the Duomo during services and while they were successful in killing Giuliano, Lorenzo survived. After the failed plot Lorenzo banished the Pazzi family from Florence and attempted to erase their family name from history. Almost every Pazzi family crest, made up of two dolphins on a shield, was destroyed throughout the city. One of the only remaining crests lies inside the Castello del Trebbio. Lorenzo spared it as he was a great patron of the Arts and the crest in the castle was made by the great artist Donatello. After learning about the castle’s unique history we were given a tour of the wine cellar and told a bit about the different wines they produce.
There were about 8 of us on the tour and I was the only guy. Before leaving on the ride our guide taught us how to use the Vespas and made sure we were all able to drive them well enough. I went first and although initially it was a little strange, it was pretty easy to pick up. Some of the girls had some issues learning but eventually we were able to get on the road. We rode through the hills for a while and eventually stopped to take some pictures at a beautiful lookout point. We kept on riding, going through a little town and down a beautiful windy road until eventually ending up back at the castle for lunch.
When we got back to the castle they served us a delicious lunch in a beautiful old room. The meal was cooked by an old Italian grandmother and it was great!
After lunch we had some sparkling wine which we opened using a sword! Then we had some time to browse the shop where I bought a couple of bottles of wine and a bottle of their olive oil. The Vespa tour was awesome and it was a great way to spend one of my final days in Italy!
Afterwards we headed back to Florence. As I was walking back to my apartment I came across a random parade of people dressed up in Renaissance era clothing. I have no idea what the parade was for but it was pretty cool.
That night I cooked for the last time in florence. I made pasta with homemade tomato sauce, as well as sausage, peppers and onions, with a side of roasted eggplant.
Sunday April 17th was my last full day in Florence. I started off the day by going to see Medici Chapel in San Lorenzo. The Medici Chapels are made up of two rooms, the Chapel of the Princes and the New Sacristy. The Chapel of the Princes was the idea of Cosimo I and was supposed to be a monumental family tomb. Its construction was started in the 17th century but wasn’t actually completed until 1962. There are six giant sarcophagi on the walls around the room but they are all empty as the Medici family is all buried in the crypt of the church. The chapel has been under restoration for a long time as a marble block fell off the facing in 1999.
After admiring the Chapel of the Princes I went in to the other portion of the Medici Chapels, The New Sacristy. Meant to hold funerary monuments to four members of the Medici family, only two were completed and they were of the relatively unimportant Lorenzo di Piero, Duke of Urbino and Giuliano di Lorenzo, Duke of Nemours. The monuments to Lorenzo the Magnificent and his brother Giuliano (yes, its confusing because they are different people from those with the same names above) were never finished and instead they are buried underneath an altar on one side of the room. The room and the monuments inside were designed by Michelangelo but some of the sculptures were left unfinished when he left for Rome.
After seeing everything at the Medici Chapels I tried to go see the Laurentian Library, also designed by Michelangelo in San Lorenzo, but I found out that it was only opened during the week. One more thing that I have on my list for my next trip to Florence!
From there I headed over to the Duomo to climb Giotto’s Bell Tower which I hadn’t done yet. I had to wait in line for a little while and then you have to climb your way up a very narrow spiral staircase before you can eventually take in the amazing view of the city and the dome of the Duomo. It was beautiful!
After descending from the Bell Tower I decided to go get lunch from the most popular panini place in Florence. On my way I stopped to check out the statues in the niches on the exterior of Orsanmichele, originally a grain store in the center of the city which was later turned into a church. The different guilds of the city each sponsored a niche and paid for a statue to be placed in it. They chose subjects that would show off their guild’s craft, for example, the Guild of Armourers chose St. George, as he is known for slaying a dragon, and thus could be shown with a sword and shield. The statues were done by a number of different, many of whom are very famous, including Donatello, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Filippo Brunelleschi, Nanni di Banco and Andrea del Verrocchio. All of the statues are now replicas with the originals now held inside or in other museums.
After a quick lunch I headed back over to the Duomo to explore the Duomo museum which houses many artifacts from the building’s history.
Michelangelo’s Pieta was his second to last sculpture and was originally meant to stand at the altar of the Roman Church where he thought he was going to be buried. He started in in 1546 but mutilated it in 1555 when he became frustrated by the flaws he was finding in the stone. It was pieced back together and acquired by Cosimo III de Medici who placed it in San Lorenzo where is stood until 1722 when it was moved to the Duomo. The standing figure is Nicodemus, one of men who removed Jesus from the cross, but his face is supposed to be a self portrait of Michelangelo.
After I finished going through the museum, which was amazing, I headed over to the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella which has some famous artwork inside. The facade is also famous and was completed by Leon Battista Alberti in 1470.
That night I went out to my last dinner in Florence with my roommate. We went to a place called Il Latini which I had heard about from a few different people. They had a set menu that included Salumi, cheese and crostini for antipasti, a few different pastas for primi and Bistecca Fiorentina with spinach soufflé and potatoes. It was a great last meal!
The next day I took a bus to the Pisa airport where I got on a flight to London.
My three and a half months living in Florence had come to an end. They were truly some of the best of my life! Thankfully I didn’t have to completely say goodbye yet as I had plans to travel around Europe for about another month and then I was returning to Florence with my parents for my last three days in Europe before heading back to the States. The next stop on my journey was a week exploring London!
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