A Week in Florence

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Pensione Ottaviani where we were staying. Excellent and friendly small hotel in the heart of the city.

Here we are. First day on a trip to Florence staying at a delightful little hotel called Pensione Ottaviani right in the heart of the city. The beautiful church of Santa Maria Novella is just across the road and the Duomo is a short walk away. The weather is good but not too hot. Perfect weather for sightseeing. The only problem is deciding where to go first. It’s Sunday so there may be problems visiting churches unless we attend mass. No, I think maybe the best thing is to visit the Piazza del Duomo and then to the Ponte Vecchio and across the river to the Boboli gardens and the Palazzo Pitti. Yes, that’s a good idea.

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Palazzo Pitti. Grim palace that looks a bit like a prison. Home of the Medicis at one time. The Boboli Gardens behind are very nice.

The Palazzo Pitti is a pretty grim looking place that was the residence of one of the wealthy dukes that dominated Florence. It looks a bit like a prison from the outside and there are no benches or chairs to sit on in the square in front. They obviously still want the peasants to suffer! The Boboli Gardens in the rear are very pleasant and afford a very good walk if you can afford it. The reason for going inside is to view one of the best exhibitions of Renaissance art there is with works by Raphael and Titian and many others. They are hung in the way they would have been presented originally and so give a different perspective to the paintings than in a normal gallery. There are some excellent pictures in there but also quite a few that I would consider mediocre. In some ways I found it quite a depressing litany of images of the rich and powerful who don’t really deserve to be remembered. They stare blankly from the walls and you feel they are trapped forever in their own conceit. The whole experience is like a homage to a vacant and meaningless materialism. The religious pictures sit uneasily with the portraits. Why did they want pictures of the dieing Christ on their walls? The sheer scale of the opulence of the palace scream out against any kind of humility or charity. This is a truly bizarre experience and one that is quite tiring because there are so few chairs and benches inside as well. Time for a nice cappuccino I think.

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Florence, place of great cappuccinos!! Or should that be cappuccini!

OK, time to move on. The Duomo is a truly astonishing place. It’s size is immense. Apparently, it took over a hundred years and the genius of Bruneleschi to work out how to put a roof on it without it falling down. It represents an amazing ambition to create something that had never been done before. This cathedral dominates the city of Florence and is clearly visible from all the vantage points in the surrounding hills.

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View from Piazzale Michelangelo
Another view of the Cathedral and the Campanile. Astonishing buildings and so big!

Florence is a lovely city and is very self contained. The people are also very friendly even though it is packed with tourists, even in October. It is easy to walk to all the main attractions and the restaurants are also good. It’s a bit on the expensive side but I suppose that’s to be expected. Next stop is Ponte Vecchio which is truly remarkable lined mainly with jewelry shops.

Ponte Vecchio

The first big exhibition we went to was at the Palazzo Strozzi called “The Thirties. The Arts in Italy Beyond Fascism”. This was a fascinating exhibition that demonstrated the variety of artistic expression that was taking place even under the cultural,totalitarian restrictions of Fascism. There were some disturbing examples of Fascist and Nazi art alongside experimentalism and expressionistic work. Things got really bad in 1938 though when Italy enacted it’s own racial law under pressure from the Nazis. The holocaust had reached Italy! This is what the curator says about the exhibition:

“The Thirties. The Arts in Italy Beyond Fascism comprises 96 paintings, 17 sculptures and 20 objects of design and tells the story of a crucial era characterised by an extremely vigorous arts scene in the years of the Fascist regime, against a backdrop that included the embryonic development of mass communication in Italy – radio, cinema and illustrated magazines – which stole numerous ideas from the “fine” arts and transmitted them to a broader audience. This retrospective illustrates an era that profoundly changed the history of Italy. The 1930s also witnessed the increasing mass production of household objects, which led to dramatic changes in people’s lifestyle, allowing ordinary families to live out a dream of modernity surrounded by designer objects, a practice that continues to this day”.

I would recommend this exhibition if it comes your way.

Programme for the exhibition
Palazzo Strozzi
Josephine Baker.
Crude propaganda using Futurist techniques with a touch of Art Deco!
Dream Complex No.1

It’s a hard slog walking around exhibitions (but in this case worth it). Time for a nice sit down and a rest outside the Santa Maria Novella church.

Santa Maria Novella
Sue outside Santa Maria Novella
Nice caffe!!
Beautiful cloisters at Santa Maria Novella.
Mmm, Special Effects! That’s what that button does!!

The church of Santa Maria Novella is beautiful and contains many astounding frescoes. Unfortunately they don’t allow you to take photos ( a common thing in most museums and art galleries which I think is a bit mean really). The stand out feature though is the crucifix painted by Giotto. It is a sublime and beautiful piece of work.

Crucifix painted by Giotto.

We spent two days travelling round Florence on an open top bus. Fortunately, the weather remained good for most of the time although there were a few heavy showers at times. The view from Piazzale Michelangelo is breathtaking and it contains one of the many copies of David, the sculpture of which Vasali said that once you’ve seen it you’ll never need to see another sculpture. The original is in the Accademia which we visited and it really is breathtaking. The hands and feet look like they might start moving any minute! It is enormous and seems to be alive!

Michelangelo’s David

Thursday night we went to the open mic at the Irish pub “The Fiddler’s Elbow” on Piazza Santa Maria Novello. Not many people there but had a really good time. Was asked to play at a Bob Festival to be held next May. That’ll be fun!

On the last day we went to Pisa where we were flying from. Spent the afternoon having a meal with the leaning tower in the background. Very nice!

The leaning tower. Nice hat!
The cathedral at Pisa.

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