|Florence, seen from the Palazzo Vecchio|
The whole Duomo complex
|Florence Cathedral in the morning|
Of course, first you’ve got the cathedral building itself, a gigantic Gothic church clothed in gorgeous contrasting blocks of white, green, and pink marble. From the main nave to the space beneath the dome, you’re just awestruck by how gargantuan the open area is.
Descending down some stairs in the church floor you can explore the ruins of the old Church of Santa Separata, over which today’s cathedral was built. There’s not much to see…but it helps you comprehend how ambitious the new plan was.
The western façade wasn’t put up until the 1800s in a harmonious Gothic Revival style, which means that all throughout the Renaissance the cathedral’s westwork was left just completely unfinished. How was this okay to the Florentines?
Anyway, the dome itself literally began the Renaissance style (props to you, Brunelleschi!), and spans a diameter just 2 meters shorter than that of the Pantheon in Rome. Composed of an inner and an outer dome, it still holds the world’s record for largest brick-and-mortar dome. It’s an exhausting hike to the top but the views are absolutely perfect. Everybody takes their pictures of the dome from the detached bell tower, which was designed by the famous Early Renaissance painter Giotto…in the Gothic style.
The nearby museum was being renovated when I visited Florence, but I was still able to see the so-called “Gates of Paradise” that originally opened to the baptistery’s north side. Designed by sculptor Ghiberti, the doors’ gilded bronze panels depicted biblical scenes with striking perspective and depth; the revolutionary Renaissance had arrived.
The urban setting
|Arno River at dusk|
To the north of the old town sits the Accademia, a small, overpriced art museum whose star is Michelangelo’s glorious David statue. To me the sculpture wasn’t nearly as titanic in size as documentaries and pictures have made it out to be, but it was still way larger than life and really showed off the humanistic ideals of the Renaissance. As you approach the statue you pass by some of Michelangelo’s unfinished works, his Prisoners, which give you an illuminating peek into his creative process.
|Museum of Natural History a.k.a. “La Specola”|
|Church of Santa Maria Novella|
Right by the train station of the same name, the Church of Santa Maria Novella (“New St. Mary’s”) is a grand, typically-Italian Gothic church with a playful green-and-white façade. The arcade that surrounds the adjoining cloisters, with its dozens of striped pointy arches, reminded me a lot of the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, Spain. But the real reason I came here was to see The Holy Trinity, a revolutionary Renaissance fresco by Masaccio that pioneered the use of perspective and converging lines.
Another soaring example of Italian Gothic can be found on the other side of town: the Church of Santa Croce (“Holy Cross”). I was first inspired to check this place out after learning about the Pazzi Chapel, a later addition. Planned by Brunelleschi (same guy who designed the cathedral dome), it’s a perfect encapsulation of Renaissance architecture: a triumphal arch façade recalls ancient Rome, while inside, ideal forms like the circle and the square combine to create a simple, well-proportioned space. The interior of the actual church itself, however, really stunned me because it’s the resting place of not only Galileo, but also Michelangelo, Dante, and Macchiavelli. Talk about a celebrity cemetery!
|Pazzi Chapel, Church of Santa Croce|
Architect Brunelleschi worked on San Lorenzo as well as the similar Church of Santo Spirito (“Holy Spirit”) across the river in the Altrarno neighborhood. The interior is hard to distinguish from San Lorenzo’s: idealized semicircular arches with Corinthian columns, white plaster walls with dark pietra serena stone, and a pretty gilded ceiling. However, the chapels that line the walls in San Lorenzo are rectangular whereas here they’re smooth and rounded; cubes or “dice” cap each column in Santo Spirito’s nave; and even though the exterior façade was also never finished, it’s been plastered over to create a simple, stately look.
|Stairs, Church of San Miniato al Monte|
|Florence, seen from the cathedral|
|Florence, seen from Monte di Firenze|
I preferred the vistas from a little higher up on “Mt. Florence” near the San Miniato church I talked about above. Not many people were hanging out in the small, quiet square in front of the church, so it was nice to watch the city change colors in peace as the sun set.
Have you been to Florence before? Did its beauty overwhelm you or did the hordes of tourists drown you? Is it okay to travel to super-touristy places or should you stick to undiscovered gems? Add your opinion in the comment section below.
For more pictures, check out my set on Flick here.