This morning it was time for our visit to Florence, a city which has been on my list for a long time. I can’t believe we are here already, time is rushing past. We had an easy trip to the city centre with a shuttle bus for €1.50 each way from reception and Lizzy and Lola get to come too.
After some interesting driving from the shuttle bus driver, which reassured us of our decision not to try and drive in (that plus a complicated low emission zone system), we arrived at our drop-off / pick up point. In keeping with our previous research techniques for the places we have visited, for Florence we had watched the mini series Medici 😂 It follows the Medici family, who engineered themselves to become the bankers of the Pope in the peak of Florence’s history during the Renaissance. Some details were dramatised as you would imagine but it is a good portrayal of the period and this powerful family that sired two popes, two queens of France and who ruled medieval Florence. The wealth of the Catholic Church and the Medici role as their bankers goes some way to explaining the opulence of Florence, ranked the most beautiful city in the world by Forbes in 2010.
We started our DIY walking tour at the Piazzale Michelangelo on the south bank of the Arno river with commanding views over Florence and to the mountains beyond. The enormity of the cathedral (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) can really be appreciated from this vantage point, surely the biggest statement of affluence and grandiosity on the part of the Florentines of that era. One of the largest churches in Italy, it remains the biggest brick built dome in the world (built without a temporary wooden supporting frame!) taking 140 years for the structure alone to be built.
We worked our way down the hill and along the river Arno to see the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge, a little like the Pulteney bridge in Bath, it is crowed with little shops specialising in gold, one of the specialities of Florence. Whilst taking photos we also saw our first Italian Border Terrier, his owners were very excited to meet two English Border Terriers too as they are uncommon here. We wondered through the city to visit the Piazzale degli Uffizi and the Piazza della Signoria, with the imposing Palazzo Vecchio with the replica of the famous statue of David by Michelangelo outside. Though possibly, as impressive historically is the marble sculpture of the Fountain of Neptune in the square which is apparently still serviced by a working Roman aqueduct.
Next we had to go and see the cathedral (Duomo) up close, it really is impressive. You walk round the corner of the narrow tall streets of the UNESCO protected historic centre and it suddenly appears in front of you. The most striking aspect is the marble facade in pink, green and white panels which really adds to the scale of its appearance. Amazingly, it was over 400 years later that the marble facade was added, which was not completed until 1887. There is so much detail to the cathedral up close too, each panel has a different sculpture and there is lots of intricate features. We just stood for quite some time taking it all in.
We had to then visit the home of the Medici chapel, only a 5 minute walk from the Cathedral and designed by Michelangelo (though not completed by him) to be used as a mausoleum for the Medici family. I have seen some impressive mausoleums in graveyards and on the Appian Way in Rome etc, but I can’t think of a grander example of wealth than an entire church built yards from the Cathedral in Florence. Perhaps it puts into perspective the tales of the wealth of modern bankers!
The main sights visited, we could then relax over some pasta for lunch and a wander down the many narrow streets of the extensive historic centre of Florence. Often the exterior of the tall and imposing buildings is quite stark, but then you get to peak through a partially open door and see a vast courtyard garden hidden within, right in the centre of the city. We saw the many leather good shops around the city, another speciality and even passed the School of Leather in the city to continue the tradition. There was lots of independent shops and quirky antique stores. We eventually emerged into the daylight of the Piazza di Santa Croce and took a seat in the sunshine, out of the cold wind.
The Basilica of Santa Croce is quite a familiar sight, being designed by Arnolfo de Cambio, the architect of the cathedral. It bears a striking though smaller resemblance (also having a marble facade added in the 1800’s) and houses the tombs of honoured Florentines such as Galileo and Michelangelo. Although apparently Galileo was first interned in a small room next to the novices chapel due to objections to his heretic views. His remains were later moved to the main church, though randomly without three fingers and a tooth (?!) which are apparently displayed in the Galileo museum nearby!
We finished our tour with a walk along the river and had our own personal shuttle service back to the campsite. Plans for tomorrow have had to be reconsidered due to the strike of petrol station attendants. We thought we would still be able to get diesel at the self service pumps, but all of the several stations we passed today were completely empty suggesting these are not accessible either and we do need to refill. We had been waiting to do so when we found LPG, not expecting a strike. which we have also not done successfully yet. Therefore, we have decided to stay an extra night at our plush campsite and travel the hour to Pisa by train from here tomorrow morning. That probably also means leaving the Cinque Terra villages to our next trip too as our following stop is Venice. On the plus side we get to enjoy the morning and evening rendition of the Italian national anthem played on tannoy at the campsite each day. Has us chuckling every time 😂 Hi-de-Hi campers 😂