Thursday, September 20, 2007

My favorite cities -- Florence

Florence, it seems, is a city that travelers either love or hate. No one is just "meh" about Florence. I am one who is completely smitten with this city that feels like a town in the heart of Tuscany.

Most notably, Florence is home to two of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen: il Duomo and Michelangelo's David.

I will never forget the first time I saw David. I had rounded the corner from the gift shop to the long hall which leads directly to that naturally lit rotunda exhibiting this man of marble. The hall itself is lined with Michelangelo's own Dying Slaves, human figures emerging from (or is it being consumed into?) the white marble; they almost become an afterthought in the lead up to the man himself. I was so transfixed by what I saw before me; he rendered me teary. This massive slab of marble delicately refined to human form seemed almost life-like to me. I circled him slowly, taking in every indent, every fold in his joints and every ripple of his muscles. His hands seemed captured in that split second between action and inaction. His eyes first seemed to be focused at some point off to his left, but when I sat in that space to absorb him from a distance, they seemed to be looking at me, as if to say "And what exactly are you looking at, anyway?" As if beauty like this is something we see every day. He is so lifelike that I half-expected him to step down from his pedestal and just continue what he was doing before I walked in. And this effect, this bringing to happens again as well. His effect is mesmerizing and alluring. He is part of why I go back.

But what of the gorgeous combination of rose and grey marble that makes up the facade of il Duomo, capped with its Florence-red brick. Only in Italy can a church be named for the dome that tops it, but in this case, it is apt. The dome is simply unforgettable. From a high vantage point on Oltrarno where I can see that it dominates the skyline, it is tantalizing. How can it possibly be so large and fit into such a space? The building itself seems squeezed between the buildings around it, even though common sense tells me that it's the other way around. The baptistery and campanile complete the matching set and make this area completely enchanting if only for their grandness and surprisingly astonishing use of color. Climb the campanile and confirm that yes, that it is not a illusion, the dome is as large as it appears, or climb within the dome itself and test your fitness to confirm its size. No, they don't make them like this anymore, especially at home. In fact, at home, they never did.

And after that, with time to breathe after the sublimity of these gems, I take in the Uffizi gallery, with its works by Italian Renaissance masters. Or the Brancacci Chapel with its cray-pas like brilliant jewel tones. This is a city where I am overwhelmed and consumed by the churches even after I've seen the biggest and the best in il Duomo: San Lorenzo, Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella. Each has something to offer and is hard to resist.

But for a fan of Michelangelo, this city is a dream. There is of course David, but also the Bargello which houses his Bacchus; the Museo del Duomo with his later Pieta; the Medici Chapels with his Dusk and Dawn; the Uffizi with his Doni Tondo, a rare small round painting of the Holy Family; and of course Casa Buonarotti, which was for a short time his home and houses some lesser works and sketches. Coming from a nation where there is nary a Michelangelo to be found to a city where there is literally a Michelangelo at every turn, it is a pilgrimage of a lifetime.

Each time I'm in Italy, Florence lures me. Sometimes I can resist, other times I give in, but I am always glad that I did. She never ceases to amaze me.


Robert said...

Having been raised in the Arno valley, I have to say that Firenze is the best city in the world bar none. And I'm not biased in the slightest!

Did you also do the gardens of Boboli? You can forget in which century you live there...

amybatt said...

I did, it is truly enchanting, especially on a warm spring morning when you're virtually alone.