As we wander through the cobbled streets of Florence, the wind tangles my long hair. I brush it back and look up at the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen.
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore looks like it popped out of a storybook. Panels of pink, green, and white marble decorate the gothic cathedral. A huge dome protrudes from the back of the building. This is Filippo Brunelleschi’s Duomo.
To reach the top of the dome, my husband and I climb many narrow staircases, totaling 463 steps. Feeling a bit claustrophobic, I’m grateful for the occasional narrow window at the top of a spiral staircase or at the end of a dark hallway.
During the trek, we get a close-up view of the ceiling of the dome. Vibrant scenes from “The Last Judgment” loom above our heads, several stories high. The angels look lovely, but I can’t take my eyes off the horrifying demons. The image of a huge dragon-like Satan devouring a life-size Judas reminds me of Dante’s Inferno.
We eventually reach the top of the Duomo, and are rewarded with a picturesque view of Florence. The dome casts a magnificent shadow on the red-roofed buildings below. The beautiful city scene before us makes the climb worth every step. Tourists wave at us from the top of the neighboring Giotto’s Bell Tower.
Next to the cathedral, the Baptistery shows “the Gates of Paradise,” dubbed so by Michelangelo. These large bronze doors include 10 panels of scenes from the Old Testament, created by Lorenzo Ghiberti at the beginning of the Renaissance. The doors offer an impressive amount of detail.
As the day wears on, we walk across the Ponte Vecchio, a stone bridge lined with dazzling jewelry shops occupying 17th century buildings. I’ve never seen so much fine jewelry in my life. The shop windows glitter with gold.
The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) has survived since 1345. It’s the only bridge spanning the Arno River that was spared from German bombing during World War II. Now it’s a popular destination for tourists, souvenir shoppers, and hungry pigeons.
At sunset, my husband and I stand on the Ponte Vecchio, soaking up the romantic view of the Arno River and the city of Florence.
A short walk from the Ponte Vecchio leads to the Pitti Palace. We are tempted to tour the Renaissance palace and the Boboli Gardens behind it, but decide to save our money for food.
Across the street from the Pitti Palace, we find a gelato shop selling homemade gelato for a reasonable price. Another gelato shop in Florence charged us 20 euros for two scoops of gelato each. Ouch. Naples had spoiled us with gelato at one euro per scoop!
For dinner, we dine at an outdoor café in the Piazza della Signoria. We sample two of Florence’s specialty dishes: Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a T-bone steak cooked in an open wood-fired oven, and Ribolitta, a soup of white cannellini beans, tomato, kale, cabbage, and bread. Both dishes are flavorful and delicious.
The following day we visit the Uffizi Gallery, a U-shaped museum with marble corridors and 45 rooms of awe-inspiring artwork. Built in the 16th century, the museum boasts one of the world’s best art collections, with paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, Rembrandt, Botticelli, Caravaggio, and many others.
I don’t know much about art, but I appreciate the time, the thought, and the skill that goes into creating it. In the Uffizi, I feel humbled standing before so many masterpieces. Da Vinci’s Annunciation and Boticelli’s Primavera and Birth of Venus are a few of my favorites.
Next we explore the Accademia Gallery, which houses Michelangelo’s David and many other Renaissance works. The 16-foot-tall marble statue of David stands on a 6-foot pedestal at the end of a long gallery. Seeing this huge masterpiece up close is amazing. The detail of the feet, the hands, and the face captivates me.
In addition to the David, we examine Michelangelo’s unfinished Prisoners statues. The sculptures appear to be struggling to escape from the stone. Seeing these works in progress is fascinating.
Hundreds of years’ worth of students’ replica carvings fill an expansive room in the back of the Accademia. Classical-style white statues of people and animals line the shelves and cover the tables and much of the floor.
As we leave the gallery, I think of art spanning the ages of history, and how Florence has preserved it so well. The city breathes beauty. I am fortunate to feel its breath in my hair.
My next column will describe our adventures in Venice. In the meantime, feel free to browse through my photo gallery of Florence.
Journalist Lauren Brooks lives in Bellevue, Washington. She is a CSU, Chico alumna who graduated with a B.A. in journalism in spring 2006. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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