Friday, 30 September 2016

Florence, Florence, Fabulous Florence.  I have been here for two days and ...sorry, but,. I hate to stop doing things, in order to post !  This is the largest and busiest city that I have visited.  I love the activity. I had thought that the tourist season would be waning, but there are tons of tourists here.  I hear English (lots of Americans and Aussies), German and French, also many Asians, more often then I hear Italian. And, therefore, not surprisingly, it is fairly easy to get along in English.

I have confined myself to "Walk Abouts" to get to know the city before doing the big attractions like the Cathedral, Uffizi etc. I walked to The Cathedral yesterday and it was an hour long line up.  I went to the ticket office, and talked to a helpful young man who told me things usually are quieter in Oct.  So I think I will leave those big event sites for a couple of weeks.

My new studio apartment (reasonable large closet) , is really, really (!) Well located.  I am about 20 steps from the Palazzo /Church Santa Croce (1294) containing the tombs of Galileo and Michelangelo, less then a 10 min walk from the Uffzi, Palazzo Vecchio and the utterly charming Ponte Vecchio ( 1345) lined with shops and with living quarters above !

Today I visited Fort Belvedere (1590). The walk/climb to it reminded me of Bergamo (80 gradient).  REALLY....do fortresses HAVE to be built on very high hills?  Ok, ok  I know.. As I approached the entrance gate, with a steep flight of stairs I said sarcastically Oh, good, stairs!  A group of young women seated nearby began to laugh good naturedly, never assume that the other tourists can’t understand you!

Luckily, the effort was worth it...spectacular views of the city...( Anne, I think this is probably the vantage point for the new picture).

I love this city at night.  The streets/cafes are full of people enjoying themselves. Piazza della Signoria (13th century), is a magnate for (I think), tourists and locals. Its astounding to be able to wander around its incredible works of art...I could spend hours and pages talking about the Neptune Fountain by Ammannati.  My guidebook says ..not one of his best works...but I like it...a lot !  Outside the Palazzo Vecchio (1294), the entrance is flanked by ( sorry, a copy of) Michelangelo’s David ( as the original is in a the Academy Gallery), and Hercules and Cacus (1534) by Bandinelli.

Walking back last night I ran into a wonderful, boisterous, street party...free food, free wine, and really great, really loud music....I think they were celebrating Veronicas Birthday !!!

Tonight I wandered about and found a church that was founded in 903. I entered to find a service in progress, with lots ( I mean LOTS ) of incense being spread about.  A question popped into my mind....did they ever mix a little pot in there to keep the faithful happy...and faithful.  They have tours of the church, and cloisters on Mon evening...I have it marked in my calendar.

As I finish this post, I can hear the chatter from people at the cafe below me, and some very enthusiastic cheering from a nearby bar...might there be a soccer\football match?  Earlier tonight a street performer was singing Leonard Cohen songs, which were drifting ...( if Leonard Cohen’s complicated lyrics can drift) thru my window.

I wish the pictures I am about to post could possibly do justice to this city!

Photos: October 01

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Yesterday I had the truly great pleasure of visiting San Marco Monastery Museum.  Dating from the 13th century the monastery has over 40 cells, each with its own incredible frescoe. The frescoes are all believed to have been painted by Fra Angelico who spent most of his life here. His depiction of the Annunciation was done in 1445.  The unique fresoes in each cell also date from that period.  Most of the cells are roped off, but there are one or two which you can enter.  It is quite an experience to stand in this small room, look out the window at the cloisters, and wonder about the monks who inhabited the space for over so many centuries. I took a lot of pictures ..


The monastery also houses a library, a beautiful room with a stunning display of books from the early and mid 1400s.  Most have illuminated pictures, and there is a display explaining the process, and the materials and tools used, along with information regarding making the wonderful covers and the binding.  These books are huge.  Knowing Veronica would ask, I did a rough measure by laying my arm on the glass case, along the width of  one of the books...and the width is about three quarters of the length of my arm....that’s the closed book .  I feel very privileged to have seen them!  Hope the pictures convey at least some of their beauty!

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

In my continuing quest to see some of the less obvious of Florence’s sites, I have been to visit the Dante Museum, which is in his very old family home, and the Church of Santa Maria Assunta.

Dante was born in Florence in 1265, a poet of great fame and an active politician in the city. At age 9 he fell in love at first sight with Beatrice, who would be his lifelong muse...probably much to the chagrin of his wife with whom he had several children!

He was one of the first (and by many accounts THE first), to write in Italian instead of Latin, thus making his poetry more accessible to the general public.  To many he is regarded as the Father of the Italian language.  Politically, Florence was divided into many factions, and eventually he found himself on the wrong side and subsequently banished from the city. A few years later he was invited to return, if he paid a significant fine.  Since his money and property had been seized, and, because he felt he had done no wrong, he refused.  His sentence then became a death sentence and he was to be burned at the stake if he returned. During part of his years in exile he lived in Verona and was close to Lascala...hence his dining at the castle in Soave !  See how this all comes together? He died in Ravenna in 1321 and is buried there.  Years later the city of Florence tried to have his remains returned but were refused. There is an empty tomb with his name on it at Santa Croce.  In 2008 Florence city council rescinded his sentence!

The Church of Santa Maria Assunta and the abbey were founded in 978, although many changes and additions have altered it subsequently. The cloister was built in 1432 and the frescoes (1436-1439) show scenes from the life of St. Benedict.  Some of which include: When tempted/tested by a beautiful woman, he tore off his clothes and rolled around in a bramble bush.  When his own monks tried to poison him with a glass of wine, because he was too hard a task master, the glass broke violently before he could drink it.  He saved a man from drowning by becoming another person.  He moved a huge stone with prayer.  When someone else tried to poison him with a loaf of bread, a raven came and swept it away as he was blessing it.  I must say, for a saint he seems rather unpopular!  There are lots of pictures....see if YOU can match the picture to the life event!!!  (There are no prizes!)

Photos: October 04
Photos: October 06
Photos: October 06

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

In 1961, Irving Stone wrote The Agony and the Ecstasy, based on the life of Michelangelo. His research included, living for many years in Italy, working in a marble quarry, apprenticing to a marble sculptor, and reading all of Michelangelo's correspondence. He later had those 495 letters translated and published as   I, Michelangelo.  I remember very well, reading, and loving that book when I was about 16. I think it was, at least in part, responsible for my strong urge to travel and see some of the wonderful works of art the world has to offer.

Which brings me, of course to The Academy Gallery in Florence, which not only houses sculptures by Michelangelo ( including David), but many paintings of the 14th, 15th and 16th century.

Many of Michelangelo’s works are unfinished. There are numerous theories regarding this.  He was commissioned by Pope Julius II to carve works for his tomb, but the two of them had a very difficult relationship.  The Pope would often refuse to pay the artist, and work would stop, or they would have other disagreements, and the Pope would order the work to be discontinued. Michelangelo reportedly often cursed ever having taken on the assignment. So, the work may be unfinished due to a simple...if you are not paying, Im not working.

Another theory is that the works are known as: The Slaves, or alternatively, The Prisoners, and the fact that they seem to be struggling to free themselves from the blocks of marble in which they are imprisoned, is a deliberate device by the artist.

Whether in a fit of pique, or by artistic design, they are powerful and beautiful works.

The statue of David dominates the room. Carved from one block of marble in 1501, he stands 17 feet tall, and other than being a bit on the tall side, he is pretty much a perfect male model !  I saw him 40 some years ago,and he hasn't aged a bit !

Other works by Michelangelo can be found at the Church of San Lorenzo.  Being a multi talented guy, he also designed the library attached to the church, and the New Sacristy. It holds the tombs of prominent citizens (including Medici’s). They are adorned by statues by Michelangelo...Day and Night, and Dawn and Dusk.

Michelangelo’s tomb is at Santa Croce, about a 2 min. Walk from where I sit.  In fact I can hear the church bells tolling as I finish this post.  There are, of course pictures.  Hope you like them!

Photos: October 12

Thursday, 13 October 2016

As mentioned in my previous post, there are many other works of art in the Academy Gallery...I just got carried away with Michelangelo and forgot to include them.  So, I will put up pictures of a few, including,  Alessandro Filipepi's Virgin by the Sea, Botticelli's 1470 Virgin and Child,  The Annunciation 1475 by Lippi, and ( my favorite) a 1560 painting entitled Allegory of Fortitude, showing a female figure in a helmet, holding a mace, and with her foot on the head of a slain lion.  In the background we can see Hercules struggling (really struggling) with a lion, and in the more distant background Hercules practically bent double while carrying a column. I love a woman with Fortitude!!

On the upper floor there are many, many religious works, including a spectacular embroidered alter cloth dating from the 1300s, and an interesting Madonna and Child where both figures look unusually dark!  There is also quite a disturbing image of an angel collecting the blood that is spewing from Jesus on the cross, in what looks like a wine glass.  Seemed a tad ghoulish to me...

Hope you like the pictures...

Monday, 17 October 2016

Church of Santa Croce

The Church of Santa Croce, ( the Holy Cross), is just steps from my door.  It was built in the 13th century and houses many works of art along with the funeral monuments of some of Florence’s most famous and revered citizens.

The tomb of Michelangelo (1564) by Vasari has three grieving figures representing sculpture, architecture and art with a bust of Michelangelo at the top.

Galileo is also entombed here, and although there is a tomb like monument to Dante, he is not in there...despite Florence’s entreaties

The tomb of Giovanni Niccolini has a statue that many believe was the inspiration for the Statue of Liberty.

Many of the side chapels hold wonderful frescoes dating back to the 13th and 14th century.

The adjoining former convent holds more works of art, including the Cimabue Crucifix 1300, and some extraordinary stained glass.  There are photos....

Photos: October 13

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Church of Santa Maria Novella

I have been trying to avoid posting about two churches in a row. but sorry, just too many churches !

The Church of Santa Maria Novella was begun in 1279, but like most churches has had revisions over the years. The adjacent convent dates from the mid 1300s although The Cloister of the Dead ( such an evocative name !!)  pre-dates both the convent and the church.

One of the important works here is the Di Giotto Crucifix  - 1288.  The convent Chapter House has been known as The Spanish Chapel since 1539, when Eleanor of Toledo married into the di Medici family. The walls of the Chapter House are a wonder to behold with frescoes from 1366 - 68 depicting : The Triumph of Thomas Aquinas with the Virtues, Faith, Hope, Charity, Temperance, Prudence, Justice, and my personal favorite Fortitude ! The opposite wall has stories of Peter the Martyr, whose preaching against the Cathars was so popular the square in front of the church was enlarged to accommodate the crowds. He was assassinated by  * Heretics * at a young age...so maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all !

The wall around the altar has a series of frescoes depicting The Passion, and Resurrection, with some really great spooky characters in Hell\Limbo.

Frescoes from the early 1400s have been removed from the walls around the cloisters to protect them from the elements. I particularly liked, Adam and Eve being thrown out of Eden, and the animals heading for the Ark.  I have a bit of a thing for giraffes, and liked this picture a lot!  Hope you do too...

Coming soon...things that are not churches!

Photos: October 18

Friday, 21 October 2016

Palace Vecchio

The building of PalaceVecchio was begun in 1294.  The main entrance is flanked by a copy of Michelangelo’s  *David* (as the original is now in the Academy), and Bandinellis Hercules and Cacus.  To he left is the Neptune Fountain, and on the far right, if you look up, you will see a covered passageway that connects the palace to what is now the Uffizi Art Gallery.  Uffizi is actually the Italian word for office, and it was originally the government office buildings.  The passage was added to the palace to for ease of access...to avoid going up and down all those stairs!

The first courtyard is beautiful with its gilded columns and frescoes by Vasari, further along is a wonderful fountain with very ferocious looking lion statues.

The great hall, on the upper floor is decorated with enormous paintings of battle scenes, including the Wars Against Sienna, and the Conquest of Pisa. There are marble statues of the Six Labours of Hercules, and Michelangelo’s Victory...once again unfinished...I’m starting to think he had commitment issues!

Giovanni de Lorenzo de Medici, who would become Pope Leo X had his apartments on the next floor.  Known for his extravagance it is not surprising to see the opulence of his rooms.  He was a patron of the arts, who had depleted the church coffers within two years of his becoming the Pope. In order to raise funds to rebuild St. Peters he began the practice of selling * indulgences *, in essence selling Gods forgiveness for sins....provoking Martin Luther and leading to the Reformation.

Photos: October 19
Photos: October 20
Photos: October 21
Photos: October 22
Photos: October 22

Monday, 24 October 2016

The Uffizi

As mentioned earlier Uffizi is the Italian word for office, and was originally government offices.  Today, of course, it is world famous for its fabulous collection of art, spanning many centuries.  The art really speaks for itself, so I will post lots of pictures, Including some of my favorites :  Musician Angel by Rosso Florentino early 1500s.  I love everything about this, but especially the red headed angel. Leonardo's  Annunciation from 1475, Michelangelo’s 1507  The Holy Family...groundbreaking because Jesus is not on his mothers lap, aong with Raphael’s  Madonna of the Goldfinch.  I was lucky to see Bottecelli’s Birth of Venus, and  Spring  as apparently that room had been closed for a number of months.  There are some later paintings, such as Bacchus by Carravaggio from the late 1500s.  Another favorite for me was The Concert by Bartolomeo Manfredi...to the front right of the painting a man plays a wind instrument.  I have taken a close up of him, and I think it is Paul McCartney!  Not only is Paul not dead, but, Paul has never been dead, and never will be!!

The apartments of Eleanor of Toledo are on the same level, and although smaller, still quite nice.  They don’t call this a palace for nothing.  There are many wonderful and highly decorated audience/meeting/ballrooms.

The last room I saw was the Map Room.  While I was there a tour guide showed her group how a secret door could be accessed.  I guess every palace needs at least one of those!  If you have seen (or are likely to see) the movie Inferno with Tom Hanks, you will not only get a great tour of the Palace Vecchio, and the secret door, but pretty much all of the historical centre of Florence.  I saw it yesterday, and, quite frankly the movie is dreadful, but it was really fun to watch them dashing around all of the places I have visited in the past three weeks.  My pictures won’t compare to Ron Howard’s camera person...but there are pictures!

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Tower Houses

Most of the Tower Houses in Florence were built in the mid to late 1100s.  It was a city with a lot of strife, and many wealthy families built these homes as a defense against the other families with whom they had conflicts. Also, Florence, like most cities of the time, had narrow, crowded streets, and rather sketchy sanitation, so there was the added bonus of being above the stench!  There is a small statue on the side of one of the towers, of a woman holding her nose. as she is at the alley where the garbage was dumped! As some reached 70 meters in height, that may just been enough! They were built with retractable stairs for added security.

Legend holds, that two warring families decided to try to reconcile by marrying one families daughter to the others son.  Unfortunately, the son fell in love with someone else, and as he was on his way to meet her one night, he was ambushed by the other daughter’s family, and had his throat cut. a kind of Romeo & Juliet in reverse !

When Palazzo Vecchio was built, with its impressive bell tower, the ruling family wanted it to be the highest tower in the city...so they had any rival towers shortened! The resulting rubble was used to build the city walls.

There were about 150 tower houses in Florence at that time, and a few survive to this day.  Unsurprisingly, there are pictures...the one with all of the lovely greenery has an Airbnb apartment in it (at $300./night), and the round one is known as Torre Paglia.  Paglia is Italian for straw, and it is so named because it was the women’s prison, and, they slept on straw mats.

Photos: October 26

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Tower Houses cont..The Tower House Museum..

As I was doing some research for yesterdays post, I discovered there is a tower house museum, called Museum of the Old Florentine House.  I was there when it opened at nine this morning. The ground floor courtyard is very impressive, especially when you know this is where they brought in the donkeys loaded with food, wine, and household goods.  Here to you can see indications of the system to collect rainwater, which was stored in a cistern, and then hoisted by buckets to each of the upper floors.  I was astounded to see that every floor had at least two bathrooms. In the lower courtyard, were also the openings, thru which boiling water/oil could be dispensed onto enemies, should they break thru the outer defenses!

A stone staircase leads up to the second floor, consisting of, a sizable room which runs the width of the house, with five large windows. This room would have been used for entertaining, or large meetings. The other rooms would likely have been a dining room, study/small bedroom, and a large bedroom.  The walls are frescoed in intricate patterns, and the furniture, although not as old as the house, is antique and suits the rooms.  There are many wonderful works of art...tapestries, paintings and some 14th and 15th century dishes.

The layout of the third floor replicates the one below. At one time one of the rooms was used as a waiting room for merchants waiting to see the city tax collector.  This room is not frescoed and there is some very old *graffiti* on the walls.  This is apparently how people whiled away the time in the waiting room !

The bedroom on this floor has a series of frescoes running along the top of the room.  They tell a tragic and rather violent tale of a man who was unfaithful to his wife.  Things did not end well!!

Unfortunately the two upper floors are not open to the public.  I understand they were originally the servant quarters.

Veronica has seen some of these pictures and would really like to live here.  Any and all donations would be gratefully accepted !  Hope you find this as breathtaking as I did...

Photos: October 27

Friday, 28 October 2016

Arrivederci Florence.  Here are some of my favorite pics...

Ciao Rome!!

Photos: October 01: Florence
Photos: October 04: Florence
Photos: October 06: Florence
Photos: October 06: Florence
Photos: October 12: Florence
Photos: October 13: Florence
Photos: October 18: Florence
Photos: October 19: Florence
Photos: October 20: Florence
Photos: October 21: Florence
Photos: October 22: Florence
Photos: October 22: Florence
Photos: October 26: Florence
Photos: October 27: Florence
Photos: October 29: Florence