Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Florence and the Santa Maria del Fiore

Hang in there, kids, we're slowly but surely nearing the end.

After passing the Stromboli Volcano without experiencing any lava or other disasters, our final excursion was to Tuscany were we traveled to Florence and Pisa.

Florence is known for its history and its importance in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance especially for its art and architecture. A centre of medieval European trade and finance, the city is often considered the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance; in fact, it has been called the Athens of the Middle Ages. It was long under the de facto rule of the Medici family. From 1865 to 1870 the city was also the capital of the Kingdom of Italy.

Florence has a decidedly different feel than the cities of Southern Italy. It's as populous as its southern sisters, but feels somehow roomier. The weather is cooler, the streets are cleaner, and it has a more peaceful feeling. It's easy to imagine the Renaissance masters wandering its twisty streets contemplating art, philosophy, and the place of man in the world. Or maybe I had been on the road a really long time and was starting to hallucinate.

In any event, wiki isn't kidding when it says the city was "long" under the rule of the Medici. You can't take a step in Florence without tripping over some piece of Medici history; one of their art galleries, an old villa, or one of the their family crests that seem to drip from the stone walls.

But the real pride of Florence, and it's most recognizable landmarks is the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, or as it is more commonly called, the Duomo.

The basilica was built on the site of a previous cathedral, Santa Reparata (locals of Florence continued to call the Cathedral by this former name for some time after reconstruction), and was inspired by the new cathedrals in Pisa and especially Siene Cathedral, whose ever-extending and over-ambitious plans were never in fact completed. By the end of the 13th century, the nine-centuries-old church of Santa Reparata was crumbling with age. Furthermore, it had become too small in a period of rapid population expansion, when prosperous Florence wanted to match or exceed in size the much larger cathedrals then being built.

The new church was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296 (although the design was altered several times and later reduced in size). He designed three wide naves ending under the octagonal dome, with the middle nave covering the area of Santa Reparata. The first stone was laid on September 9, 1296 by Cardinal Valeriana, the first papal legate ever sent to Florence. The building of this vast project was to last 170 years, the collective efforts of several generations.

But enough of that boring history stuff. Let's get to the good stuff.

Nice, huh?

The Duomo must be one of the most recognizable churches in the world, and it was the only Florence landmark I was familiar with. It's so huge, it's difficult to get an idea of the full scope when you are on the ground. The city is built right up to its walls, so to get a good look you have to walk several blocks away, turn around, and stare up.

Approaching the cathedral from a street.

Looking up at the dome. Or at least trying to get a view of the whole thing. That mother is huge!

The "new" facade, completed in 1871. The cathedral is covered in beautiful white, red, and green marble.

The Florence Baptistry is located directly across the street from the facade of the cathedral and is renowned for its three sets of artistically important bronze doors with relief sculptures by Lorenzo Ghiberti. These doors were dubbed by Michelangelo as "the Gates of Paradise" because of their beauty, and they were said to have begun the Renaissance. The large panels pictures above show scenes from the Old Testament.

Details of The Birth of Eve panel. See, she's busting out of Adam's rib. Ouch!

More pics of the Duomo:

Campanile tower (aka the bell tower).

The facade again.

One last look at the dome.

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