Dan Brown can hardly be called the most inspired or the most inspiring of authors. However, his books are my guilty pleasure (Angels and Demons are in my top ten list. Yes. I am not ashamed to admit it.), and Inferno’s Florence parts were so well written, Vidya and I knew we had to go and see it for ourselves. Our time in Florence, therefore, was for all intents and purposes, in the amazing Dante Alighieri’s footsteps, inspired by Dan Brown’s Inferno.
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore
We stayed in the historic town centre of Florence in a b&b that was within shouting distance of the Florence Cathedral, ordinarily called Il Duomo, the sprawling medieval building that dominates the town. The historic centre of Florence itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and represents the best of Renaissance architecture. The Duomo sits, huge and sprawling and beautiful and majestic and dominating, in the centre of Florence. There is no escaping it – wherever you go, there is some part of the Duomo you see. Even when you are facing completely away from it, the reflections of the Duomo look back at you mockingly. So you don’t try to escape it, Instead you learn, very quickly, to accept it and revel in its massive benign presence. You make a game of it – trying to spot it from wherever you are.
Right up close, the Duomo is really massive, and completely decorated with sculpture. Before I saw European cathedrals, I had no idea they could sculpturally rival the ancient temples of India. One look at the Duomo will convince you otherwise – in both quantity and quality, its sculptural adornments will give any Indian temple a run for its money.
The sheer size of the Duomo, combined with the closely built town centre makes it impossible to get a single picture of the whole building, let alone one with it and the monumental Giotto’s Campanile – the cathedral’s freestanding bell tower. We spent a considerable amount of time just walking around the Duomo – rather impossible to avoid since we were staying right next to it, and to get anywhere, we had to pass it.
Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria dell’Accademia
One of the highlights of our time at Florence was checking out Michelangelo’s David. This sculpture is monumental, standing 14 feet tall, and it is impossible to capture in words the sheer achievement of the sculptor. The Galleria dell’Accademia houses the statue, and there is always a crowd of people admiring it. What is mindblowing is that the statue was completed in 1504, and stood in the open for 369 years before finally being moved indoors in 1873. The sheer artistic ability of Michelangelo hits you with full force as you approach the sculpture. As you walk around it, it is overwhelming to think he was merely 29 years old when he completed it. When you have seen the David and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, you cannot but agree that Michelangelo’s genius is of the kind that is seen rarely.
On the Trail of Dante
Another fascinating character, the one who had originally lured us to Florence, was Dante Alighieri, better known to us as the man who gave us many of the images we have of a Christian hell. This literary giant was a Florentine, and the story of his love for Beatrice Portinari is legendary. Having read about this, we had to go and find the Chiesa di Santa Margherita de’ Cerchithe, the 13th century church where she is buried, and write a note to her and put it in her basket. We then went to the site of the Alighieri family home, where there is a museum dedicated to the man himself, which has a copy of his death mask. We also visited his funerary monument – a grand statue of the man himself, at the Basilica di Santa Croce.
Galleria degli Uffizi
Florence is the capital of the Renaissance, and holds some of the most precious treasures of the art world. Opened to the public in 1765, the Uffizi is a treasure house of Renaissance art, and is a definite must-visit when in Florence. Even if you have no interest in art, this museum is bound to hold your interest. Where else would you find Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings from his time as an apprentice in Verrocchio’s workshop, or a parade shield painted by Caravaggio? We wandered open-jawed through the corridors of this museum, and would have just sat before one of the masterpieces and not seen anything else if not for our energetic tour guide, who kept us going by promising one more wonder! You could spend a lifetime at the Uffizi, and yet not see it to your heart’s content!
The short time we spent at Florence was hardly justified, but we had to make do with the time we had. Given a choice, I would have happily spent all my time in Italy in Florence and Tuscany!