Florence is without a doubt one of my favorite places in the entire world.
This was like walking face first into one of my architectural history textbooks from undergrad. I would turn a corner, and BOOM, there was an incredible, amazing, historic building. I wound up skipping lunches and shopping opportunities to go look at yet another building, or catch another monument. I think I raised more than a couple of eyebrows, munching on a protein bar and insisting that yes, I was ok to skip the nice sit down lunch, I needed to go to this specific church.
I just didn't want to miss a single thing.
We got into town, and began our walk to the restaurant for dinner when all of a sudden - "You guys, is that the Palazzo Medici?" (blank stare) "Ms. S, I have no idea what you're talking about!" (It WAS the Palazzo Medici). We didn't go in, but I did get to stick my camera in between the bars of the courtyard for a picture! Good enough for a non-stop on our itinerary, and I began to understand that Florence was going to be a very, very big deal for me.
The facade of San Lorenzo that Michelangelo never got to finish.
What's a construction budget, anyway?
The interior at San Lorenzo, which Michelangelo did finish. Pietra serena, etc.
After dinner the first night, we had the chance to shop or wander. I took a couple of students to see the nearby Santa Maria Novella and Ospedale degli Innocenti.
Facade completed by Leon Battista Alberti (a Really Big Deal in Renaissance architecture + humanism) in 1470.
8/10 on the Schnurr excitement scale.
I actually had no idea the Ospedale degli Innocenti was across the piazza, but I had serendipitously used it as an example when showing the Scooby gang della Robbia roundels someplace else. (The della Robbia family used this really phenomenal blue in their glazed terra cottas that is very recognizable, and all over Florence.) So we got to the piazza, and my jaw just dropped. Too cool.
Brunelleschi (same guy who did the Duomo!) designed this one, and it was originally a sort of orphanage/hospital for kids, if memory serves.
Schnurr for scale + detail of those roundels. Check out that blue!
We had some time to wander and enjoy the city, and everything was beautiful. There were some pretty aggressive panhandlers in the piazza by the Duomo, but the kids handled themselves just fine. They're from New York, after all. I think the coolest part of the trip so far is that this hotel was walking distance from everything, and we could just wander back as a team.
The next morning we woke up to climb the Duomo. The kids had been warned within an inch of their lives "YES, it's a lot of steps." "No, there's no air conditioning." and we were off to the races.
I think we were one of the first tours allowed in, so the day was still nice and cool. There was also basically nobody ahead of us, which was great. They let us in a little side door, and up and up we went. (And check out that marble! *Swoon*)
One thing I think photos do not do justice is how GIANT this building is. The streets of Florence are very close, the city is packed pretty densely onto its historic footprint. And then all of a sudden, the piazza opens up, and you have one of the largest cathedrals in the world BAM right in front of you.
Fun fact: that major facade in the front - 19th century! The rest of the cathedral was much earlier. Arnolfo di Cambio, freaking Giotto, Brunelleschi, his apprentice Donatello, Michelozzo, Verrocchio and his apprentice, young Leonardo da Vinci all had a hand at this building. It's like a who's who of Renaissance architecture, they all wanted to be a part of this magnificent building.
The view kept getting more awesome as you went up - here's a shot out one of the tiny windows.
It was absolutely amazing - you're actually climbing between Brunelleschi's two domes (the inner one is strutural, the outer one is prettier).
What's the big deal about this dome, anyway?
1) It's pretty (no really, it's art history, that matters)
2) It's huge, and nobody had successfully spanned a space that large before.
You got to walk along the inner rim of the dome, and get CLOSE up to the frescoes in the ceiling. It was stunningly cool.
REALLY close to the frescoes on the way down.
And then we got to the top.
We kept trying to pick out places we had gone the day before.
One of the other teachers was pointing out - look how they figured out atmospheric perspective!
Check out those hills fading out!
Amazing, amazing drop off
After, we went into the Baptistery. I told the kids it was built in 1096, but the real years are 1059-1128. Other than the Temple of Dendur at the Met, this is the oldest building I have had the pleasure of seeing. It was kind of staggering to think that we have tiny fountains in Catholic churches these days to dunk baby heads in, but they had this giant city monument to St. John. Pretty cool, and very different times.
The building is so heavy looking from the outside, I was not expecting it to be this filled with light.
Gold domes, man. They help.
We had a tiny bit of free time, so I went with several of the other teachers to check out this Baptistery and the Duomo Museum. I had been hoping to get inside the Cathedral, but there was a line wrapping most of the way around the church and I didn't think we had time! (Turns out one of the teachers did get in, but it really didn't look that way! But don't worry, I got in the next day.)
They have dozens of priceless statues and sculptures, of course (Europe!), and even a model of the way the Cathedral facade would have looked during the medieval period (before that 19th century remodel I mentioned). They had the bronze doors of the Baptistery by Ghiberti, adored by Vasari and Michelangelo and most people afterwards. They took the real ones off the building so they could preserve them a little better. There was a huge competition in the 15th century to build them, much drama, many Medicis involved. All good stuff.
One of the coolest things about this museum (which were many) was Michelangelo's second to last sculpture.
Michelangelo wanted this Pieta to sit near the site where he would be buried, but he found a flaw in the marble and trashed the statue. It's kind of awesome to think of the master throwing an epic temper tantrum like that. They pieced it back together, and here it is.
We went to a leather making workshop (sales pitch), did a walking tour of the city with an amazing local guide (best walking tour of the entire trip), did a fresco painting workshop, and ate. This was SUCH a long day, but such a good day. I skipped the nice sit down lunch (maybe a mistake?) to go see Santa Croce and the Pazzi Chapel (decidedly not a mistake, SO SO SO SO cool). It still boggles my mind that we managed to fit this many things into a day, but we did, and maybe that's part of why I slept for almost a solid week when we got back. Art history hangover.
Santa Croce, where almost everybody is buried.
Michelangelo, Dante, Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini. You name it, they're dead here.
I even came across this extremely cool relic, meaningful to me because this guy is the patron saint of the school I teach at! If I am translating properly, this is part of the habit of St. Francis of Assisi from the 13th century. It was just tucked into a back room of this church, with a sign from a printer and absolutely no fanfare. Wow.
AND THEN, I TURNED THE CORNER, AND THERE WAS THE PAZZI CHAPEL.
I think that maybe I should have paid more attention in class to where things were that I was learning about? But I honestly had no idea that I would see this. I suppose my general directional helplessness got me two delightful surprises in Florence, but I was taken totally unaware.
The Pazzi Chapel was designed by Brunelleschi (dome guy), and started construction in 1429. Some historians argue it was somebody else, but for the sake of your attention span, let's just call it Brunelleschi. It is considered one of THE examples of Renaissance architecture perfection (check out that facade- it's almost exactly a triumphal arch!). The interior is absolutely stunning, but extremely hard to photograph. It was so, so cool to see in person. And by accident.
More della Robbia roundels, look at that blue!
And then I got delicious strawberry gelato. We did more on this day, but this seems like a great place to halt for now - gelato + the facade of Santa Croce.