Close your eyes. Now imagine you are an art lover or a food connoisseur, a hope-full romantic, a historian or a shopping enthusiast, or simply a spiritual being. If each of these projections was asked to pick a city to spend their holidays in, don’t be surprised to see yourself there.
Open your eyes. And see Florence.
Ah Florence!. Around 60 B.C, Roman soldiers founded Florence, initially called Florentia, meaning “may she flourish.” And flourish she did — becoming home and inspiration to Dante, Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and many other historical giants.
The capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and an erstwhile capital of the Kingdom of Italy, Florence is considered the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and a source of its lavishly rich artistic, historic and cultural heritage. Florence is believed to have the greatest concentration of art (in proportion to its size) in the world. Just the very fact that out of the 10 cities that I and my family visited as part of an European tour, the one city I can still feel and experience is Florence.
The best way to reach the city is to take a flight to Pisa and then a bus to the city. With its stone cobbled streets and shared pathways, Florence is best explored on foot. The three must see places in Florence are the Duomo, the Campanile and the Baptistery.
As you approach the Duomo, the enormity of the domed cathedral dwarfs you. The Renaissance style Gothic architecture on the outside leaves you searching for details. But once you step inside, it lets you search yourself. Glass tinted paintings and scented candles bring alive the devotion in you and the church’ contagious calm permeates your inner self. The Campanile and the Baptistery are an art lover’s delight. The baptistery has the Golden Gates to Heaven with intricately carved scenes and figures. As the figures project out of their settings, you will realize that the ancient Italian artists had a much broader sense of 3 D than the filmmakers of today’s time.
At the heart of the city lies Piazza della Signora. A city square, it is an open museum where you find jaw dropping marble statues of an imperious looking Neptune and a replica of David-Michelangelo’s masterpiece. While you may be busy clicking pictures of the art around, make sure you don’t miss the real life art in the Piazza. The locals sitting on pavements, or in the local cafeteria’s, seem to be so at home with the beauty around them. They are not intimated by it, as we tourists are and instead of being in awe, they share a sense of camaraderie with the art pieces. It seems they have discovered the secret of enjoying life to the fullest. A walk around the Piazza would reveal local artists, who paint, sketch, do caricatures without a care of time and world.
It is also a great place to shop. Nestled among the local leather products shops and shops selling jewellery nit bits, you may discover a Chanel haute couture store or an Armani.
And all the walking is sure to get your appetite whipped up. Florence boasts of some of the best Gelatos in Italy. Any local shop can offer a delightful array of flavors to choose from. And the local eateries around the Piazza offer delightful food at a reasonable price. Do not forget to try an authentic Italian Pizza and spaghetti topped with the local flavors of Parmesan cheese and olive oil. You can sit inside or take a chair outside and admire Michelangelo’s works, but keep in mind that they charge you more for the outside experience.
As you come out of the Piazza, you witness a picture postcard scene-the famous Ponte Vecchio Bridge over the Aron river with a castle in the backdrop.When you think about Florence, the thing that probably come to mind are the art museums and with good reason. Museums such as the Uffizi Gallery (housing the famous painting-Botticelli’s Venus) and the Accademia are world-famous and deserve a prime spot on your Florence itinerary. No matter how much you like art, no one person can absorb that many masterpieces in one visit. Also there is a long list of churches, villas, gardens, palaces, streets and squares that demand your time, so make sure you pick and choose carefully in case of a time bound trip.
One square that you must visit is Piazzale Michelangelo. Why is it special? As you climb up to it and travel at the edge, being watched by a bronze statue of David from behind, a splendid panoramic view of the entire city hits you like a shock wave. Dumbstruck, you just stand there; try to take in the beauty and mystique of the city, while the generous wind of Florence extracts a promise of another visit.
Ever heard about the Stendhal syndrome- a supposed ailment which causes sufferers to grow faint at the sight of great beauty? It also goes by the name “Florence syndrome,” as it was first coined after 19th century visitors to Florence were overcome by its beauty. You just don’t visit Florence. You inhale and absorb it. Or it absorbs you? I guess you will have to visit it again to find out.