Sunday, July 8, 2007

Architectural Florence

The Palazzo Pitti, is where the de Medici and later the Austrian House of Lorraine, when the de Medici line became extinct, ruled from for more than 2 centuries. For a short period Napoleon Bonaparte used it, before it was passed to the House of Savoy and later the King of Italy during the different waves of invasions of Florence. The palace is enormous and very opulent. None of the British castles and palaces we visited last year has been this opulent. I must say though, the palace’s façade is plain and dull compare to the inside. It is more fortress-like than palace, in the Roman rustica, antica style. Nevertheless, it stood the test of time and the design was copied through the ages and it is very similar to the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi also in Florence.

Palazzo Pitti façade

The palace’s ceilings are beautifully painted and the art collection is huge. The paintings in the Palatine Gallery covers from the 15th to the 17th century and is in general nearly all very good, especially the paintings by Raphael. My favorite was his La Donna Velata (The Woman with a Veil.) All the rooms are decorated in different periods and one could get a fantastic idea what was fashion at the time or how luxuriously these people lived. Most of them are as the de Medici left them. In one area Napoleon built a new bathroom but he never used it once. Unfortunately you will not see any pictures because cameras were not allowed.

The palace though, just like most of Florence, is very expensive. Entrance to just the Palatine Gallery was €11.50 per person. Then to see the costume gallery (only about 12 costumes) and the Boboli gardens is another €9.00 per person. A cappuccino in the cafeteria is €4.00.

Palazzo Petti - A side entrance.

From the Palazzo Pitti we walked back across the Ponte Vecchio, stopping at the Marcato Nuovo (the new marketplace) where I bought an apron depicting landmarks of Florence, and rubbed the nose of the wild boar bronze statue for good luck. (Left). We walked further north to Piazza Di San Giovanni, where we found one of the landmarks of Florence, Duomo and Baptistery. From the outside the Duomo, the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, is magnifico with its green, pink and white marble, and it is huge. (It is Europe’s 4th largest church.) The cathedral was started in 1296 and eventually completed in 1436. The massive octagonal cupola, build between 1420 and 1436 and which dominate not just the church, but also the Florence skyline, was build by Filippo Brunelleschi. Next to the church is the Campanile (bell tower) (Picture above), started by Giotto in 1334 in the same general style as the duomo, but the façade was actually only added in the 19th century complimenting the campanile. (Duomo façade - Picture left.) The inside of the church is rather plain and simple, as if they wanted to focus more on the spiritual aspect compare the magnificence of the outside, although the frescoes in the dome are rather good.

Next door, the baptistery is just as wonderful. The frescoes in the dome are really beautiful. The east doors of the baptistery are as good as all the travel books rave about. The artistry is simply incredible for 1402 when Lorenzo Ghiberti won the competition to create these doors, beating the likes of Donatelo and Brunelleschi in the competition. The three dimensional aspect of the doors are far ahead of other artists at that time. The great master Michelangelo called them the “Gates of Paradise.” (Remember 1401 was at the very start of the Renaissance. It would be another 84 years before Botticelli painted his “The Birth of Venus” in 1485 and more than 100 years before Michelangelo completed his David in 1504.)

Florence Baptistery Dome.

The rain of the previous day stayed away all morning, but during a late lunch another storm crossed over Florence. We waited out the rain in the restaurant before we took a leisurely walk back to our apartment. After we rest for an hour or so we went out for another stroll around the neighborhood before we went for dinner at the Osteria Il Mostrino at Borgo Ognissanti 141r, which specializes in traditional Tuscan food. You can't come to Tuscany and not try the traditional food, especially me that loves Italian food. And we were not sorry that we tried. The service and food was very good, the best we have had so far in Italy, and strangely for Florence, not too expensive. We paid less than €50 for appetizers, wine and one course each. I had wild boar prosciutto and later beef with sage and potatoes with rosemary, while Monica had prosciutto with melon, followed by spaghetti with a prosciutto cream sauce. The best though was the tiramisu dessert. Now every ristorante, tratoria, osteria and even pizzeria in Italy has its own version of tiramisu, the classic Italian dessert. Some, awful, mass-produced that taste like plastic, others, like at Il Mistrone deliciously to-die-for heaven in your mouth. After a half a bottle of quality Chianti Classico we just had to cross the street to the apartment to end a very good of sightseeing and food with a nice cup of coffee as only Monica can make it.

Tomorrow is our last day in Florence and it is dedicated to art and shopping.

Monica in front of the East doors of the Baptistery in Florence. With so many people trying to take pictures of the doors it was rather difficult to get a clear shop without someone jumping in front, like this guy with his elbow.

Florence Baptistery. One of the panels of the East doors. Seeing is believing as to how good this bronze work really is. Doors were by Ghiberti in 1402.

Another panel from the East doors of the Baptistery.

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