Florence, traveling through Renaissance history
Florence Travel, Saturday, 12 October – What a spectacular place, the boulevards and massive buildings remind me of Munich, but when you gaze at the structural details and old ornamental flourishes, it’s all Italy. Our friends and I trained into Florence while Ursula remained behind in Lucca to climb some of the City’s towers. The ride was pleasant enough, only taking about an hour and 15 minutes.
We signed up for the free city tour, and while I’m always leery of being lead around by the nose to see what others want me to see, it turned out the be a fantastic experience. The young lady who served as our tour guide was an art history expert; she did an excellent job relating the City’s history, art, and culture as well as stories and gossip of the Medici family. I discovered that these free little city tours are definitely the way to get a good overall picture of the city before heading off on one’s personal excursions.
Piazza della Signoria
The City center, the Uffizi Palace (a.k.a. the Medici’s home), and the Piazza out front are utterly captivating with all the statues and the fascinating stories behind them. They take on a life of their own as you learn the political intrigues and stories behind their purchase; and, discover the specific imagery intended as a Public Relations message to all who would see them. One such story is with Medici’s acquisition of the bronze statue Percales with the beheaded Medusa standing under the logia in front of the David. The story goes that the Medici’s placed it there as a threatening message to the people of Florence. The message was that if they messed with the family’s control over Florence, they’d get the same treatment as the Medusa (figuratively speaking – or was it?).
One of the more engaging backstories to this tale is with that of the artist, Cellini. Apparently, he was a gambling man, and a poor one at that. To finance a series of bets, he sold off much of the bronze material that Cosimo Medici gave him for the project. He promptly lost the money as he was such a foolish punter. Cellini knew he couldn’t approach Cosimo to ask for more bronze, so he stripped his home for every piece of metal he could find (dishes, pots, forks…..) and melted it down to bulk up whatever was left of the bronze bullion so he could cast the stature. It’s kind of funny that this threatening PR statute, incredibly beautiful as it is, is part bronze and some cheap metals from Cellini’s kitchen!
Florence Political Messaging
Another prominently featured sculpture on the right side of the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, facing off of David on the left, is Hercules and Cacus. David is know as the ‘little guy’ standing up to the ‘Big guy.’ In this political analogy it represents the people of Florence standing up to the Medici Family. The Hercules and Cacus sculpture depicts Hercules fulfillment of his last labor to kill the fire breathing monster Cacus. It’s reputed that this image is meant to convey the Medici’s victory over their ‘fire breathing’ foes (The Republicans, or people of Florence) once they returned to power in Florence. I guess in the days when literacy was low these sculptures served as the most effective propaganda means to send a clear messages. I suspect these are much more effective than the 30 second political announcements we see on TV these days…and more enduring!
The Ponti Vecchio was another site I had not seen previously. It was much wider than I had imagined, and it was open to the sky. For some reason, I thought it was enclosed as you walked through and under the houses to get to the other side. Again, there’s another another fascinating Medici story. They built a walking passage on top of the bridge’s homes and shops so they wouldn’t have to mingle with the ‘common people’ as they were carried from their downtown digs to their palatial palace on the other side of the Arno River.
Before their passageway was built, the bridge was home to the city’s fishmongers. It was ideally selected for health precautions to prevent the noxious, rotting fish from infesting the streets and alleyways of the town. With the market’s position on the bridge, all the offal and rotten fish could antiseptically be thrown into the water and safely washed downstream away from the City’s population. Legend has it that the Medici’s, the ‘advocates of the public,’ would have not of it….because of the rotting fish smell. They chased all the fishmongers off the bridge and installed the city’s gold merchants, who still sell from there today.
A solo stroll through the city
Our tour guide was filled with such captivating stories and fascinating local insights. But, alas, she had to leave as the tour concluded, and I was on my own to wander the streets to conjour my own local histories.
There’s just too much to see and do in one day, and with the throngs of tourists, there’s really no way to get around quickly. But, I managed to get more pictures of the Bridge, the Duomo, the Basilica, and several other Piazzas, Churches, markets, and a slew of other impressive buildings, sites and markets. An afternoon in Florence is entirely inadequate. But, leaving a little bit undone is always a great motivator to return someday and finish up the tour.
Florence is a ‘Must See,’ and I’m hoping to return again with more time on my hands to see the the rest of the ‘City of Lilies’ – Florence Travel.
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