Gypsies thieving on the streets wasn’t exactly the sight I was expecting to see when I got to Firenze or Florence, as we know it — the flower of Italy and the crucible of the Renaissance. But fact is they are a huge part of the city. They get to work with their nimble fingers as soon as they spot a group of tourists. While one of our group members lost a camera to them, another one saved his own just in time due to his attentiveness and forced the ladies to drop their loot and scurry away. Greeted with that experience, we remained alert through the rest of our trip.
Walking across the city makes you realise that it lives up to its image of being one of the most stylish places in the world — a city that had its landscape built by the likes of masters such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Raphael, Donatello, Galileo and Machiavelli. I stood spellbound before the Duomo — a term for an Italian cathedral church. The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (St Mary of the Flower), better known as Florence Cathedral, is the third tallest in the world, after St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St Paul’s in London. We stood before this architectural marvel, craning our necks to view the cross at the apex of the dome, and taking positions to get the best picture shots — a common sight, thanks to tourists wanting to get a perfect shot of the place.
Our guide told us that Florence was founded in 59 BC as a Roman encampment on the Arno River. It was a centre of money lending and banking in the Middle Ages. The golden ‘florin’, first minted in 1252, soon became one of the most valued monies in Europe. Florentines were financiers to the Popes. After all, he who pays the piper, calls the tune!
Next on the trail, we stood at the Piazza della Signoria, a public square, where the wool-comber riots of the 1300s had marked the first labour strike in history. Here the monk Savonarola had been burnt alive in 1498 for heresy. Talk of breathing history, right? Many 16th century masterpieces are exhibited here, including ‘Perseus with the head of Medusa’ by Cellini (1554) and ‘Rape of the Sabine’ by Giambologna (1583). In this very square, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, Michelangelo’s David had stood naked for nearly four centuries. We were told that before sculpting the famous figure, the young Michelangelo had painstakingly studied anatomy by dissecting corpses and the impeccable marble male nude had been unveiled in 1504. For the purpose of safekeeping,
David was moved to the Academia Gallery in 1873 and what stands there today is a replica of the original with his eyes turned towards Rome. And he is not alone. Poseidon and Perseus are naked too, not to mention a whole lot of others whose names I don’t know.
I had arrived in Florence in the midst of a whirlwind tour of Italy with a group of spiritual enthusiasts. We had landed at Rome and toured the Vatican, Venice, Padova and Assissi. We had stopped by the Leaning Tower of Pisa and come to the inevitable conclusion that, “Yes, it leans!” The ‘eternal city’ was mind-boggling, Venice was a dream city, and yet I would say without the slightest hesitation that Florence was the icing on the cake. I wished our tour had not been such a frenzied round of the city hotspots. There was just too much to take in and we had so little time. I did manage to do some hurried shopping, though. How could I resist when leather handbags and shoes were available for a pittance?
Pushpa is a writer bitten by the travel bug