A day in Firenze Posted by on Apr 28, 2009 in Culture

Last week here in Italy was Settimana della Cultura (Culture Week). Organized by the Italian Ministry of Arts, Settimana della Cultura offers free entry to all the national museums, so we decided to make the most of it and go to Firenze (Florence) for the first time in many years. On the Monday afternoon we went down to Lucca to visit my parents, and use their house as a base for our ‘expedition’. The following morning we caught the Lazzi bus from Piazzale Verdi in Lucca. Known as the direttissima per Firenze (the ‘very direct for Florence’!), the bus runs from Lucca to Firenze along the motorway without any stops, it’s comfortable and fast, and in just over an hour we had arrived in Piazza Adua, Firenze, right next to the main railway station which is called Santa Maria Novella.

Full of enthusiasm, we strolled down past the Chiesa di San Lorenzo and the Cappelle Medicee towards the Galleria dell’Accademia: I was in fact planning on visiting the Galleria because I love Michelangelo’s “unfinished” statues of the four prigioni (prisoners) and the Pieta’ di Palestrina, but I had completely forgotten that the Galleria is of course also famous for Michelangelo’s David. As we got near the Museum we saw a coda (cue, literally ‘tail’) of people, probably 200 meters long, all waiting with dogged patience to get into the Galleria dell’Accademia! Mamma mia, stavo per piangere! (I was ready to cry). Disappointed, but resigned to the situation I decided to go to the nearby Museo Archeologico where I used to work many years ago.

This is an excellent museum, but is not very popular with tourists due to the comparative lack of ‘famous’ works of art, and apart from a couple of school parties it was very quiet. Upon arriving, I sought out my former manager, now director of the Egyptian section, and caught up with all the latest gossip about my ex Egyptology colleagues. We then went on to have a fascinating tour of the Museum. Near the entrance there was a very interesting exhibition about counterfeit money, which began with counterfeit Roman coins, and included fake Bank of England banknotes produced by the Third Reich in Sachhausen concentration camp during WW2 in order to try and flood the British and U.S. economies with counterfeit money, fake post WW2 Italian Lire notes,  and contemporary forged credit cards. The exhibition ended with a large display of machinery which had been used in a counterfeit money factory discovered a year ago near Rome which produced fake US Dollars. It was all very fascinating and you couldn’t help but admire the ingenuity of the forgers.

At lunchtime, rimbambiti (stupified) after looking at innumerable Etruscan bronzes and Egyptian steles, we went out into Piazza Santissima Annunziata to eat our panini. The piazza was packed with parties of school children whose main occupation seemed to be feeding the pigeons with their panini. Luckily there is plenty of space for everybody to find a seat on the steps that lead up to the beautiful porticoes of the Spedale degli Innocenti by Brunelleschi. Feeling somewhat refreshed we continued our expedition with a walk down towards Santa Maria in Fiore, with its magnificent Campanile di Giotto (Giotto’s bell tower), finally arriving at il Bargello.

Il Bargello, also known as the Palazzo del Podesta’, houses the national museum of Tuscan Sculptures from the 14th to the 17th century. Here you can find many famous sculptures by Michelangelo, Giambologna, Benvenuto Cellini and Donatello, as well as a collection of exquisite ivory carvings, the intricate work of goldsmiths, beautiful tapestries, and armor. Displayed on a wall behind Donatello’s David (a delicate bronze sculpture depicting a young adolescent, so different from Michelangelo’s powerful marble sculpture of the same name), there are two very interesting bronze plaques, one by Lorenzo Ghiberti and the other by Filippo Brunelleschi. They were made in 1401 for a competition which was held in Firenze to choose the artist who would decorate the second door of the Baptistery (the first door had been decorated by Andrea Pisano in 1336). The artists entering the competition had to present a work based on the biblical story of the Sacrificio di Isacco (Isaac’s sacrifice) and many famous artists, including Jacopo Della Quercia, presented their interpretations of this theme in order to try and win this prestigious contract. In the end the judges awarded equal first place to both Ghiberti and Brunelleschi, but it seems that Brunelleschi artistic pride prevented him from sharing the job, and so the work of embellishing the huge doors of the Baptistery was carried out by Ghiberti. Even if it is full of wonders I have to say that what I like best about this museum is the building itself: il Bargello was built between 1255 and 1346; it has a beautiful inner courtyard surrounded by porticoes with a monumental staircase which takes you up to the first floor where the museum is located. We walked around with our mouths open looking at the imposing walls, the decorative ceilings, and the fantastic windows composed of hundreds of round glass ‘panes’ which looked rather like the bottoms of old wine bottles. This is probably my favorite building in the whole of Firenze: if only it could be mine!

After we left the Bargello we wandered through some of the narrow Medieval streets down near the river Arno, took one look at the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) which seemed about to collapse under the heaving mass of tourists, and then back up towards Piazza della Signoria, where we sat down to listen to a street musician whilst watching a ‘living sculpture’. Finally we escaped the mad hordes and strolled along some of the smaller interesting backstreets to find our way back to the bus station. 

E’ stata una bella giornata.

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  1. Frank:

    Granted, Firenze is a world of great art in itself, but how could you not stop to see Donotello’s Mary Magdalene in the Museo del Duomo. I am joined by many others who believe it is the single most impressive work to be seen.

  2. Ventura:

    Wonderful story about your adventure to Firenze. My wife and I are planning our own “adventure” to Firenze Sept 12. We can’t wait!
    I really enjoy your blog!!

  3. Melissa:

    Tanti anni fa, studiavo a Firenze nella via del Fiume vicino a Santa Maria Novella e abitavo con una famiglia nella zona dello stadio verso Fiesole. Camminavo spesso intorno la citta’ e la conosco bene! Con la descrizione della tua bella passeggiata attraversa Firenze, mi hai risvegliata una bella memoria! Grazie!

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