As part of our Italy trip this summer, we spent a long weekend in the Tuscan city of Florence. About an hour north of Rome, Florence sits in the middle of the Italian wine country, its picturesque landscape the inspiration for artists that flock to the birthplace of the renaissance.
Where Rome was a barely controlled chaos, Florence felt calm and romantic. The city is compact, a maze of narrow cobbled streets that open into piazzas with marbled basilicas. Cafe tables overflow onto the streets, and market stalls send up the scent of fresh focaccia, leather, and ham. Everything is within walking distance, from the bustling Ponte Vecchio that straddles the Arno river, to the Piazza del Duomo and museums.
A Rich History
The architecture transports visitors to Florence’s rich past with grand palazzos taking up city blocks, detailed sculptures lining the tops of churches, and elaborate bell towers climbing into the sky. The buildings show a history of wealth, status, and religious devotion, with work by Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, and Pitti just out in the streets for everyone to see. People sketched at cafe tables or on the church steps, the city still a draw for artists.
The Artist’s Paradise
Florence has an incredibly large collection of (mainly) renaissance art, courtesy of the Medici family. The Medicis unofficially ruled the city and used their incredible wealth and influence to turn Florence into a cultural hotspot. Their legacy can still be seen in the city today, with the Uffizi museum, which houses artwork that once belonged to the family and has since been given to the city.
I was most excited about visiting the Uffizi to see The Birth of Venus by Botticelli. This painting is one that I remember from my art history courses, and I was looking forward to seeing it in person. Instead, I was blown away by La Primavera.
The bold colors, abundant flowers, and the movement in the fabrics had the figures breathing in the painting. It seems almost wrong that the painting was originally a wedding gift and hung over a daybed in some rich man’s extra bedroom.
The Foodie’s Paradise
After a day of filling our eyes with pretty things, we had to fill our bellies. The food in Florence was excellent; the region is well known for its wines (chianti) and meats, which we took full advantage of. We stuck to the basics: Sandwiches, Antipasto, and of course, Gelato.
We also went to the Galleria Dell’ Academia, which has sculptures by Michelangelo, including the statue of David. I feel like seeing this statue in real life is one of those things that you have to do. It’s so widely recognized in popular culture, but seeing it in person adds another depth to it. I am so used to seeing it in two dimensions, flat and unmoving. But standing there, next to the foot, under the gaze, within reach of the wrist, you feel the power in David’s pose, and the uncertainty in his eyes.
The detail is amazing; veins running down his arms and practically pulsing under the flesh of his hand, muscles of marble, the sling like fabric slung over the shoulder. I guess it makes sense that so many people swoon when they see it.
This isn’t supposed to be an art blog, but I think anyone visiting Florence leaves with a little bit of artist in them.