We rode the Circumvesuviana shuttle train from Sorrento to Napoli and boarded a train for Florence. We then schlepped our backpacks across the main square to just behind the Duomo to the Residencia Proconsulo. We were spoiled by the excellent rooms, great breakfasts and fantastic views of the Duomo from our room.
Florence, like most cities in Italy, was once a Roman town. Now all that really remains of its connection to its Roman past is a pillar locally referred to as the “Belly-Button of Florence.” After the collapse of Rome in the fifth century AD this area of Italy was invaded and plundered by everyone it had offended over the past 1,000 years. In AD 800 Charlemagne, the King of the Franks took the control of the peninsula from the city of Rome in the south northward. The area became part of the Holy Roman Empire. The new rulers reigned from distant Germany. And while local Italian cities pledged allegiance to the king they functioned pretty independently. Wealthy families gained control of cities and employed the less powerful peasants to fight in their armies, build walls around the cities, and farm the lands. In exchange for their service these peasants were given homes, food, and protection. They functioned a lot like the ancient Greek city-states. Sometimes neighboring cities fought with each other. Sometimes they allied together to take on other stronger enemies. Florence became noted for its wealth in textile manufacturing and eventually became an international banking center. Italy was rocked by the bubonic plague (1347) and 1/3 of the population died. In the wake of death Florence was somehow able to take control of other local municipalities and became a super power. The Medici family, who began as doctors (Medici-medicine), now controlled the city as bankers. It was the wealth of this city that was able to draw together pretty much every gifted Renaissance artist and thinker of the times.
Florence is now really noted for is its fine Italian Renaissance art (and expensive gelato). It is a tourist Mecca. And with good reason. The architecture and art of the city is truly breathtaking. We spent the morning of our first day at the Academia staring at Michelangelo’s David. We sat ourselves at a small group of chairs and watched the tour groups parade by this magnificent piece of marble. All three kids passed the hour sketching different versions David. Sam and Sarah Jane got on a roll and illustrated David in the styles of Picasso, Salvador Dali, Mondrian, and Jackson Pollock. Emma stuck with dot-to-dot. The medieval icons in the museum were really fun as well. The afternoon was spent wandering around the Duomo and admiring Bruneleschi’s famous dome. We feel that he did a pretty good job even though he was unable to reproduce the size and grandeur of the Pantheon’s dome in Rome (see the blog entry The Pantheon). We completed the day with a stroll along the Ponte Vecchio. I especially liked the street venders selling their Faux-lex Rolex in front of the real deal jewelry shops there.
The next day found us wandering the rooms of the Uffizi Museum. We somehow survived four-plus hours of art admiration with three children. The kids were amazing. We set them up with a Get Art Smart book that functioned as an art scavenger hunt that actually educated them as well. They really know their medieval to renaissance art, probably better than me. Sam came prepared having taken Ronda Perea’s renaissance class last fall. Even Emma learned how to look at art and can now recognize John the Baptist regardless of how he was painted. Sam and Sarah Jane’s favorite piece was a painting of Jesus and John the Baptist as toddlers. It was fun to see them so engaged. I was really struck by how similar the subject and style of Botticelli’s painting the Birth of Venus was to a fresco we saw in the ruins of Pompeii. This fresco was still buried at the time of the Renaissance. We capped the day off with a picnic alongside the Duomo. One thing this city is missing is a park. It seems that every square inch of ground is covered with paving stones.
On our final morning in Florence we visited the Brancacci Chapel for a look at Masaccio’s incredible frescoes. The realistic, sorrowful expressions on the faces of Adam and Eve as they were expelled from the Garden of Eden are truly moving. He is often credited with bringing the skills of human expression and perspective to Renaissance painting and was an inspiration to many Renaissance greats who came after him. From there we backtracked our way to the hotel, hoisted on our backpacks and struggled down the street to the bus stop. We must look pretty funny with the three kids and all our gear. A group of Japanese tourists passed by and stopped to take pictures of us. Whatever!