Europe in January 2017 – The Seventh Day

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, dear reader, today was the day carved out for Florence, Firenze, to the city that is at the heart of the Italian Renaissance. And the city didn’t disappoint.

We were up early in order to be at Roma Termini early enough to catch the Freccisrossa high speed train to Firenze so as to give us a goodly amount of time in the fabulous city. The train journey was an hour and half, with speeds up to 250 km/h. Have I mentioned how much Australia could do with a high speed train service? Yes? Okay then, you already know my feelings on the lack of such back home.

Anyway, arriving in Firenze just before 10am, the first thing I noticed was how damn cold it was. Those who know me well know I prefer the cooler even colder weather, but believe me when I say “it was cold” I mean “it was COLD!!!”. Today was the first time I had to break out the jacket I purchased in preparation for the trip, and even then, with t-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, jumper, and jacket – not to mention the hand-knitted scarf – I was still cold. I suspect I would have adjusted eventually, but the difficulty of ‘central heating’ didn’t allow me the opportunity. I was constantly removing this or that piece of additional clothing when we went indoors, only to have to put it back on when we went back out. I suspect the biting wind might have contributed as well.

Leaving the weather aside, let’s return to the city of Firenze.

The first stop was the famous, and magnificent, Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Cathedral Church of St Mary of the Flowers, which houses the cathedra of the Archbishop of Florence. Popularly known simply as Il Duomo (“the Cathedral”), this is truly amazing building.

The facade of Il Duomo, Firenze

Like most of the major churches we’ve visited so far, this building is the work of artists whose names are well-known from art history lessons (the dome is the work of Brunelleschi), but these buildings are not simply works of art. They represent in their very construction and architecture a firm belief in the divine, and their construction naturally draws the eye of the individual up into the heights. I found it hard not to experience that same draw as I walked through Il Duomo, and I doubt I was alone today or, indeed, have been alone through the centuries.

My fellow intrepid travellers insisted that I should visit the Baptistery. Having been here two years ago, they suggested that I could go in alone and they would meet me back at the entrance in thirty minutes. I initially thought I probably wouldn’t need that long, but once I entered I was glad I had at least that long (more may have been better).

The ceiling of the baptistery is simply stunning, and I couldn’t help but try to imagine the place lit only by candles – hundreds of them perhaps – and the experience of new catechumens being brought into that space during the Vigil of Easter Night. It must surely have been mind-glowingly awesome, almost to the point of fear, to experience such an event.

The mosaic ceiling of the Firenze Baptistery

The photo doesn’t really do it justice, but the mosaic covered ceiling, set against a gold background, features the ‘heavenly city’ to which the catechumen is soon to be joined through baptism. There can be no escaping the significance of the ritual acts celebrated in this building – one only has to look up to be reminded of just how powerful they are.

As I exited the Baptistery and rejoined my fellow intrepid travellers, they had a knowing look on their faces. I was founding wanting for words to immediately describe the experience.

As any journey to Firenze requires we visiting two more places (or perhaps ‘institutions’ might be better). The first of these was the Ponte Vecchio, the old bridge of Firenze that pans the river Arno and is lined with shops. I have to confess that I had always pictured it in my mind’s eye as being something a little bigger – don’t ask me why, I just did – and so was a little surprised as just how ‘small’ it is. In reality, of course, the Arno isn’t that wide at this point, and the bridge has been around since medieval times. Given its history the bridge is the ‘right size’. Walking across the Ponte Vecchio, however, and peering longingly into the jewellery shops that now span it was certainly an eye opener.

The other ‘institution’ that we visited was the famous Firenze markets where if you wanted to purchase anything made of leather you would be overwhelmed by choices. The craftsmanship on display is truly amazing, and I made some small purchases along the way. I was sorely tempted to buy one of the many handmade briefcases…but just couldn’t justify owning one anymore. I did, however, find the famous Il Porcellino, the original, not the copy outside Sydney Hospital. Like all good visitors, I put a coin in the boar’s mouth for luck, and rubbed its snout in the hope of a return, one day, to Florence.

Il Porcellino in Firenze

After lunch we visited La Basilica di San Lorenzo, which apart from being one of Firenze’s basilicas is also famous for two other things: firstly, the connection of Firenze’s famous Medici family, including the burial place of many of them (including Casino de’ Medici, the father of the nation (of Firenze)), and secondly, the number of works executed by Donatello for the interior decoration and the church (which may be why he, too, is buried inside the church). It is another stunningly beautiful architectural work by Brunelleschi.

A return walk through the cobble-stoned streets of Firenze brought us back to the train station and our high speed Frecciarossa train back to Roma Termini, for some quick shopping and then a meal in our tiny apartment. A thoroughly enjoyable day visiting Firenze.

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Article by Andrew Doohan

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