Sunday, October 29, 2006

Thursday, 26th October – Florence

Today we realized we only have one full day left in Florence, and set ourselves an agenda to “do” the rest of the must-see sites – the Piazza Del Duomo with its Cathedral, Baptistery, Cupola (the Duomo) and Museum – plus the Bargello Museum, and other sites. And we succeeded, despite sleeping in till 9am (we love shutters)! In fact we managed to finish the day with night-time views over Florence, followed by a very nice dinner.

So - in the order we visited:

Piazza della Signoria. This is an outdoor terrace attached to the Uffizi Gallery, which holds a number of Renaissance sculptures. Some large and very impressive works.
Bargello Museum – showcases Italian Renaissance Sculpture, including one of the most famous of all, Donatello’s David. Excellent collection, and slightly off the main tourist agenda, so not crowded at all.

The Baptistery – once the building where all Florentines were baptized, it is a Romanesque building that dates from the 11th century. It’s an elegant building in the “Florentine Style” – green and white marble in geometric designs, but has two striking features – its doors, with their 3-D bible stories, and a dazzling mosaic dome ceiling, which we really loved.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiore (usually referred to as the Duomo, because of the spectacular dome). The exterior is stunningly beautiful, but the inside is relatively plain. It is huge (the second largest church in the world, after St Peter’s in the Vatican) and imposing but mostly unadorned.

The Duomo – it was time to climb the dome itself. All 463 steps to a tiny cupola on the top. It certainly got the heart pumping, but was well worth it. You get to access a gallery inside the dome, which gives a great view of the church, the fabulous painted ceiling inside the dome and the stained glass windows. Then you keep climbing, up increasingly narrow and steep stairs, to the cupola, for superb views of Florence. Wow!!

The Duomo Museum. After sitting on a bench in the Museum’s air-conditioned interior to recover from the dome climb we had an enjoyable wander through this excellent museum, which contains treasures from the cathedral dating back to its early days. Fortunately with each change in the cathedral décor, someone had the foresight to keep the discarded items and they are now preserved for us to enjoy. These include choir galleries (including one by Donatello), sculptures, stone reliefs, and the actual tools used by Brunelleschi (who designed the dome).

Piazzale Michelangelo, an elevated terrace with superb views of Florence. (The only problem with the view from the Duomo is that the Duomo, Florence’s most recognized landmark, isn’t in it). We got there in time to watch the sunset and the lights come on – wonderful.

Dinner – we headed to a restaurant recommended by Alessio but when we got there it looked a bit posh (ie expensive). Instead we went to one nearby which turned out to be excellent, really great food, quite upmarket but not expensive. We lingered over our meal and then walked back to the hotel.