Episode 260 – Firenze Fantastico e Pisa Perfetto

April 26, 2022. 71°F/22°C


Our 11 hour excursion today began with a drive through the Tuscan countryside from the port in Livorno to Florence, where we alit for a guided walking tour, and ended in Pisa.

Florence (Firenze to the Italians) is the city of Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy, the novel about the life of Michelangelo Buonarotti that got me hooked as a young teenager in equal measure on Italian sculpture, historical novels, and a romanticized ideal of Italian cities.

There were painters along the Arno, appreciating the city as much as we did.

Florence needs no romanticizing. This is a city filled with art and science and tributes to artists and visionaries: painters and sculptors like Giotto, Michelangelo, Leonardo DaVinci, and Donatello; poets and philosophers like Dante Alighieri; and analytical thinkers like physicist/astronomer Galileo Galilei all flourished here during the Italian Renaissance.

The famous Ponte Vecchio (literally “old bridge”).

But you can’t have artists without patrons. Florence is also the city of the banking family Medici, who, after generations of commissioning and collecting art, ended up donating their entire Florentine collection – along with the Uffizi, the palatial gallery that houses it – to the city.

The beauty of Florence is quite overwhelming. Ted’s hundreds of photos today each captured something magical, and yet photos (no matter how good) really cannot duplicate the experience of standing just feet from a 500 year old statue and seeing the sheen in the marble, or looking up at a soaring 60 foot tall fresco painted in the early 1300’s and marvelling at the colours.

We began in Santa Croce (holy cross) Square, dominated by the church of the same name, which is the largest Franciscan basilica in the world, founded by St. Frances himself. A piece of his cassock and belt are kept on display in one of the chapels.

The facade of the church, back in 1385, was originally plain brick like its bell tower, but was updated in the 1800’s in an ornate neo-gothic style, designed by Jewish architect Niccolo Matas from Ancona,who worked a prominent blue Jewish star into the design. The church complex became public property in 1866 and is now a museum.

The portions of Santa Croce basilica which were not updated are plainer, but still very beautiful….and remember, they were built in the 14th century!

The basilica houses the tombs of many famous Florentines, as well as the cenotaph (empty memorial) of Dante Alighieri. Dante is revered here, with a statue outside Santa Croce (right below), and another in a niche of the Uffizi (left below) in addition to the cenotaph (top).

Three of my other favourite memorials/tombs were those to Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Rossini.

The interior of the church is richly frescoed. Some are by Giotto, and others simply attributed to him. It doesn’t really matter, since they’re all magnificent.

While we didn’t have time to enter the Uffizi (we clearly have to return to Florence), we did see the exterior niches with their statues of artists, explorers, and inventors that the Medici either sponsored or admired. There were many more than these, but these were my favourites.

We left the courtyard of the Uffizi and entered the Piazza della Signoria (Duomo Piazza) in front of the Palazzo Vecchio (old palace), one-time residence of the Medici…. and there was Michelangelo’s David. It is a replica, made in 1910, and stands where the David statue was originally erected. The original was moved into the Academia Gallery museum in Florence to protect it from deterioration. Replica or not, it was magnificent (that might be my word of the day for Florence).

The David is by no means the only stunning sculpture in the Piazza. On either side of David are two other wonderful statues: Baccio Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus (1534) on the right, and a second statue I forgot to get the name of – but I really liked the way it looked amid the coloured facades of the buildings in the square.

Then there is Cellini’s Perseus, done between 1545 and 1554, the first major bronze statue (it is 3.2 meters tall) cast in a single piece using the “lost wax” method. These statues, commissioned by the Medici, are all about power, reinforcing their own status in Florence.

The piazza is also home to a very impressive fountain featuring Neptune and horses, sculpted by Bartolommeo Amanatti (a student of Michelangelo) in 1563-65.

The purple granite used to add colour to the horses makes the sculpture especially effective.

It was interesting to note that the face that the Medici commissioned to be the god of the sea is his own, visible on Giambologna’s bronze Cosimo de Medici Equestrian Monument (1594) nearby.

Again, there was so much more in the piazza, but then we moved into the Piazza del Duomo and our jaws absolutely dropped. There truly is no way to get a photo of the entire Duomo (the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore), since it is massive both in length and height, and dwarfs everything around it. On our next visit to Florence (there has to be one) we’ll get tickets to go inside and climb both the bell tower and into the dome, but today we were hard pressed even to capture the highlights.

The photos below cover only 2 of the Duomo’s four sides. All the colour is naturally occurring in the marble: white from Carrara, pink from Sienna, and green from Prato.

Interestingly, we were told that Michelangelo’s David was originally intended as a statue for the cathedral, which is why the head is large and the upper body dominant, so that it would appear in perfect proportion when viewed from below. once it was completed, however, the Medici preferred to have it in front of their palace.

The cathedral was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio. Work continued on it over a period of 140 years, completed in 1436. The dome was engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. Across the street from the dome is a statue of Bruneschelli, looking directly up at the glorious result of his work.

The famous “Paradise doors” of the Baptistery of St. John, located in front of the Duomo, in gilded bronze created by Lorenzo Ghiberti over a period of 27 years between 1425-52.

Florence also had lots to offer besides the art and architecture. We passed cafés, sandwich shops, and bakeries with mouthwatering displays, lovely (expensive) leather and gold shops, and fresh vegetable markets. We can definitely see ourselves spending a month or more exploring here.

And then there was Pisa. I couldn’t help but recall our Venetian tour guide, who was perplexed as to the fuss that gets made over Pisa’s leaning tower, when Venice has hundreds of them.

She was wrong to be perplexed. The leaning bell tower of the 11th century Romanesque Pisa cathedral is spectacularly beautiful; the fact that it leans is really beside the point. The original builders didn’t take into account the sandy waterlogged ground they’d chosen to build on; there was never a point when the tower didn’t lean!

The iconic picture is the tower on its own, but that’s really not what we saw. The tower is just part of a complex that includes a cathedral, a baptistry, and an enclosed mausoleum, all set in a verdant green park that gets actively used by Pisa’s university students and young families.

Top: the Piazza dei Miracoli (“square of miracles”) viewed from the entry. Second: the cathedral and bell tower. Third: the baptistry and a portion of the mausoleum/cemetery wall. Bottom: detail of the Romanesque decoration.

Was it another beyond fantastic day? It was, despite the fact that I couldn’t seem to “fix” the tower.

Even the sunset was perfect.


  1. Catching up on your wonderful blog Rose and noticed your numbering had lost sequence during your days in Istanbul.


  2. Thank you for your wonderful blog! We’ve been to Florence twice already and are returning in May with Max, Nicole and the boys. You are right, it merits returning to, several times! This time I will make a point of seeing some of the things you mentioned that we didn’t take time for before, like Santa Croce.
    On another topic, I’m going to be using a new email wendy.schau@gmail.com. Please send to there. I wouldn’t want to miss any of your posts!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s