On Friday, October 4th, we had a mid-morning appointment with David. Or I should probably say “THE” David, as in Michelangelo’s statue of the shepherd king. We woke up in plenty of time for breakfast at our hotel, which consisted of a really nice rooftop buffet. The seating was indoors, but they had large windows with views over the city. It was a great way to start the day.
The weather was a bit threatening, but so far it hadn’t rained, which was good news because we were obviously going to be on foot for the next couple of days, learning what we could about Florence.
Since the David statue is so popular, we had arranged tickets through our travel agency. And it’s a good thing – when we approached the museum, the Galleria Accademia, the line for people with pre-paid tickets was already out the door and down the block. The line for the general public was even longer. It really pays to plan these things in advance.
We wound our way through the museum until we were face to face with David. It’s hard to describe in words the beauty and majesty of this sculpture. My first surprise was the sheer size of the piece – I had no idea that he was so big (David stands 17 feet tall). I was also struck by the amazing sense of anatomy that Michelangelo possessed; each of David’s muscles and sinews seemed to meld exquisitely into the next, leaving one with the impression of a perfect human form. There are benches placed in a circle around the statue, and we circled around him and sat and stared at him from various angles for about an hour. The generally accepted view is that this is a depiction of David after he’s decided to battle Goliath, but before the fight has actually taken place. There is not exactly fear in his eyes, but more of a determination. I Samuel 17 records David’s words to Goliath:
“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
We eventually said farewell to David and took our time moving through the rest of the museum. I’m not a student of art, but there were many beautiful paintings there, most of them with a Renaissance religious motif. I enjoyed looking through the bookshop at the end of the tour, but didn’t actually buy anything.
Leaving the museum, we headed for the beautiful and iconic cathedral of Florence, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, or “Basilica of St. Mary of the Flower” in English, or simply “Il Duomo”, if you are in Florence. This is a truly glorious structure. It was begun in 1296, and completed in 1436. It’s so large that I really couldn’t get any great photos of it in its entirety. (You can see the tips of people’s heads in the photo below, to get a sense of the scale.)
When we were there, they were working on cleaning the exterior; centuries of smog buildup has give the beautiful white, red, and green marble a very dark and dirty appearance. The photo below shows the cleaned marble vs the area that has yet to be scrubbed. You can definitely see the contrast. It’s a never ending job, given the scope of the building.
The photos below show the baptistry, a separate structure. The baptistry is one of the oldest buildings in the city of Florence, constructed between 1059 and 1128. Of special interest are the bronze doors depicting various biblical themes. The east doors were named “The Gates of Paradise” by Michelangelo. As beautiful as these are to look at, they are not the original bronze doors. The story that we heard from Angela, our tour guide, was that at some point in Florence’s history, there was a major flood in the city, which actually washed away some of the priceless panels on the doors. The originals are now safely preserved within the Duomo museum.
The history of the structure is actually pretty interesting, especially the construction of the dome itself. You can read all about it here, if you like that kind of thing. We didn’t take a tour of the inside, because the line to go inside was very long. I rather regret that now; if it’s so beautiful from the outside, what must the interior look like?
We meandered aimlessly but enjoyably through the streets, trying to roughly steer for the San Lorenzo market, the largest and most popular of the street markets in Florence. We had heard from Angela the day before that there were great bargains to be had there, and that it was okay to haggle with the street vendors. We were anxious to try some haggling.
Eventually we found the market and had a great time wandering around, although it was really crowded and I was constantly on the alert for pickpockets. There was quite an assortment of items there, including food, clothing, stationary, handbags, shoes, and whatever else you could think of. We tried to haggle, but found that we really weren’t very good at it. Our score for the day was a beautiful siena colored leather coat for me, (the price of which Glenn actually did succeed in knocking quite a bit off of), and a black leather cap for himself. The cap was somewhat of an impulse buy; he wore it for about 2 hours and then decided that it looked silly, and I have not seen it since.
All of that shopping had made us hungry by late afternoon. Our travel agents had recommended a restaurant called “Trattoria 13 Gobbi”, which roughly translates into “Restaurant 13 Hunchbacks”. As usual, the agency was spot on, and we really enjoyed the experience there. Not only was the food great, but the atmosphere was a lot of fun.
We strolled around in the Florentine twilight for a while, until we came back to the neighborhood of our hotel. We may or may not have had a gelato. We most likely did have some wine at the rooftop bar. Day Six had exhausted us, but in the best possible sense of the word. Florence is a lovely place.
Our hotel: Random street scenes:
Palazzo Vecchio, overlooking Piazza della Signoria, with its copy of Michelangelo’s David: We saw quite of few of these metal ornaments throughout Tuscany. I learned later that they were actually used as torch holders, prior to electric street lights: “Our” piazza, Piazza di Santa Trinita: