Tag Archives: Tuscany

Florence

For our last few days in Florence we bought a pair of 3 day ‘Firenze Cards’.  These were quite expensive and so we were determined to get the maximum use of them, although I am not sure that it is actually possible to see everything worth seeing in three days, but we tried.   The challenge is that there is so much there and so little time to appreciate it all!

Palazzo Vecchio

Our guest house, Affittacamere Nel Cuore qDi Firenze, was right alongside the Palazzo Vecchio, home to the Medici family, and as such was really centrally placed for seeing the sights.

Although chilly it was really pleasant wandering around between our chosen destinations.   It was also unexpectedly crowded, in March; what it would be like in the height of the tourist season I shudder to imagine.    Florence is generally quite expensive but it is a University town so there are cheaper alternatives, the Central Market for one and near our guest house a series of ‘street food’ restaurants that sold enormous meat sandwiches.

Room of Cosimo il Vecchio
Room of Cosimo il Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio
Ceiling panel of the Audience Room
Ceiling panel of the Room of Cosimo il Vecchio

The Medicis originally came to Florence from a small Tuscan village, Cafaggiolo, in the 12th century and made their money in banking.  Cosimo went to work for his dad at the family bank which, by the 15th century, had branches all over Europe.   This made it the bank of choice for the Papacy; local churches could easily find a Medici Bank to pay their contributions into and get it transferred to Rome!    Early in his political career Cosimo was banished from Florence in 1434.  He left and took his bank with him, as you do.   This resulted in other financiers and artists seeking patronage following him to Venice.   His banishment lasted for all of a year after which he was asked to come back, with his bank!

Mural depicting Cosimo returning to Florence after being exiled for a year
Mural depicting Cosimo returning to Florence after being exiled for a year
Ceiling of the Chapel of the Priors, Palazzo Vecchio
Ceiling of the Chapel of the Priors, Palazzo Vecchio
Audience Chamber, Palazzo Vecchio
Audience Chamber, Palazzo Vecchio
Ceiling of the Audience Room
Ceiling of the Audience Room
Uffizi Gallery
Ufizzi Gallery. Four corridors lined with sculptures.
Ufizzi Gallery. Four corridors lined with sculptures.
Painted ceiling in the Gallery
Adoration of the Magi – 1487 – Domenico Ghirlandaio. Ufizzio Gallery
The Holy Family with Infant St. John the Baptist, known as ‘Doni Tondo’ – 1507 – Michaelangelo. Ufizzi Galery

In 1737 the last Grand Duke of Medici descent died without an heir ending 300 years of family rule.   In that time the Medici sponsored virtually every Italian scientist, artist, architect or philosopher you have ever heard of and most of the ones you haven’t; as a result the city is pretty magnificent.

Palazzo Richardo Medici
Chapel ceiling, Palazzo Medici Riccardi.
Chapel ceiling, Palazzo Medici Riccardi.
Sala Luca Giordano, Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Sala Luca Giordano, Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Santa Maria Novela

Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella

Almost every building is spectacularly decorated, with a heavy emphasis on painted ceilings; we needed neck braces after three days of looking up!

Florence Cathedral, Il Duomo
Duomo main facade
Decoration above main door of the Duomo
Decoration above main door of the Duomo
Dome of the Duomo
Roman mosaic beneath the Duomo

The only ‘disappointment’ was the Duomo.   Externally it is a magnificent building but internally it is relatively plain, being free should have given us a clue, and we could have given it a miss and not missed a lot.   The saving grace were the extensive Roman ruins in the crypt.   There is a Duomo Museum which is more interesting than the actual Duomo itself!

La SS Annunziata di Firenze
La SS Annunziata di Firenze – not much from the outside …
Nave

Palazzo Pitti

The Medici weren’t the only wealthy bankers in Florence.  The Pitti family were pretty well off too and had a small place, sorry palace, on the south bank of the Arno.  The Pitti and Medici were not the best of friends and the Pitti were amongst those who banished Cosimo.

Palazzo Pitti from the Giardino Boboli

Almost every room was magnificently painted with ceilings to match, each one more spectacular than the last.

Sala dell'Iliade
Sala dell’Iliade
Sala di Marte
Sala di Marte
Sala di Apollo
Sala di Apollo

This is one wall and the ceiling, painted.   The top of the wall is where the two spotlights sit.

3D painted ceiling
Santa Croce

The Church and Convent of Santa Croce was built in what was a poor area of Florence and is below the level of the River Arno; it floods dramatically, with water height reaching 5 metres or more.

Santa Croce
Tomb of Galileo, Santa Croce. The Galileo Museum has an awesome collection of old scientific instruments
Altar
Apse, behind the Altar

 

 

 

Convent of Santa Croce
Flood heights as recorded in the Cenaloco Refectory
The Academia

Michaelangelo’s ‘David’ in the Academia was magnificent.   We didn’t find the rest of the museum so impressive, but then we’re not art historians.

Michelangelo's 'David' - apparently carved from a scrap lump of marble ....
Michelangelo’s ‘David’ – apparently carved from a scrap lump of marble ….

So far I think Florence was the most impressive Italian city we have visited.   Rome the most historic, Venice the most romantic (I proposed to Valeria there) and Pisa the most iconic, but Florence is the one we would definitely return to.  There is still so much to see.

Siena, Monteriggioni and San Gimignano

On Wednesday, 21st, we took a bus tour from Florence through the Tuscan countryside south of the city to nearby Siena, on the way visiting the villages of Monteriggioni and San Gimignano and having a wine tasting lunch.

A chilly street in San Gimignano

San Gimignano is a small, picturesque, walled town with a castle on top of the hill.   This was a typical bus tour flying visit with just an hour scheduled.  San Gimignano was famous for it’s tower houses, most of which are gone, but the height of the tower indicated the wealth of the family concerned.  There were some 72 towers once, now down to just 13 remaining.   The village was apparently founded by the Etruscans, rather than the Romans.  Our guide told us the Etruscans built on hill tops but the Romans favoured rivers!

Main Street in San Gimignano
The main street in San Gimignano
Piazza della Cisterna
Tuscan countryside around San Gimignano
Brrrrr …..
Main Gate to Monterigionni

Moneriggioni is a large castle with a village inside it.   It was built by the Sienese in the 13 century as a defence against the Florentine Medici and was  reputed to be impregnable, until 1554.  The Medicis laid siege to the castle and in typically Medici style deployed their powerful and exceptionally large ‘Seige Wallet‘.   They simply bribed someone to leave the castle gates unlocked – and then Monteriggioni wasn’t so impregnable after all!

 

Via Gramsci, Monteriggioni
Piazza Roma
Piazza Roma

After leaving Monteriggioni we were taken to a local vineyard for lunch and a wine tasting; the almost obligatory attempt to flog very expensive wine and obscenely expensive Balsamic Vinegar to a bus load of tourists.   The vinegar was really good, the price not so much and we were introduced to various varieties  of Chianti, but I am afraid it was lost on Valeria and I; we liked the red but not the white so much ….. Philistines!

Siena was our final, and longest, stop.   Legend has it that the city was founded by the sons of Remus, co founder of Rome.   This is supposedly why Siena and Rome use the wolf suckling two children as their ‘badge’; apparently both the stories about the founder and the badge are just myths.

Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia, Piazza del Campo

The high lights of the visit were the main square,  the Piazza del Campo.   They hold a horse race around the square twice a year and scenes from ‘Quantum of Solace’ were filmed there.

Duomo di Siena

The real attraction though is the Cathedral; The Duomo di Siena.   It is magnificently decorated.   We were told by our guide that the interior of the Duomo was more impressive than that of Florence’s much larger version; having now seen both we can confirm she was right.   It is magnificent, the Reading Room doubly so,  and photographs simply can’t do it justice.

Marble floor in the Aisles
Ceiling of the Reading Room
Scene from the wall of the Reading Room
The Reading Room
Reading Room
Main church

It was a full day and nice to get out to see a bit of the surrounding area.   Tuscany, or the bit we saw from the bus windows is very picturesque and the villages and towns are quaint.   Siena probably has more to offer than our 3 hours there afforded us, but if nothing else the Duomo was well worth the visit!