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  • Writer's pictureTamanna Mohapatra

Florentia, Florence, Florenz, Florencia, it by any name, it is just as charming

My favorite subject in school used to be history. To me, it was like listening to stories after stories, to my friend it was a snooze fest. She used to get mad that our teacher would be looking at me and therefore she (sitting next to me) couldn’t sleep!

That love of history is what took me on an overnight journey to Florence this June. And, what a marvelous journey it was. I think all history buffs who can afford to should visit Florence. Everything about it is so magical and alluring. Be it the sunset on river Arno, the cafes opened till late at night serving delicious Italian food, the cobbled streets dotted with centuries-old sculptures, the awe-inspiring and space-taking Duomo, the detailed gates of paradise, or the spectacular Uffizi gallery. I could go on and on.

I tried to take in as much as I could in the one day I was there. I was lucky enough to have booked myself on a walking tour and therefore learned a lot about my favorite Italian city through the tour guide. For example, did you know the following facts?-

The Florence Duomo (church), which took 175 years to build is the largest church in Europe. Seeing it would make you believe so. It is truly beautiful to behold. The official name of this Duomo is "Santa Maria del Fiore" which translates in English to "Our Lady of the Flower". It has a very interesting story of how it was built. The story goes that, the famous architect, Brunelleschi won the competition to design Florence’s Duomo with an egg trick. The Gothic-style church was planned to include a huge dome over its center, although no technology existed at the time to create a dome with such a wide base. They started building the Cathedral anyway, but they left the final part exposed for years while waiting for a good solution to fix the problem. The city announced an architectural design competition and the winner was Filippo Brunelleschi who came up with a revolutionary idea: building two domes, one on top of the other, using a special herringbone brick pattern and a horizontal stone chain in order to reduce stress and allow the weight to be evenly distributed. Now, it’s the biggest dome in the world and is more than 600 years old.

On this visit, the line to enter the duomo was about 100 people long. Next time, I plan better and get myself in there.

pic courtesy:

Along with London and Paris, Florence used to be one of the main commercial centers- way back in the 1200s. Now, it’s a hard fact to believe but it still remains one of the world’s top cities infused with culture. A wonderful example of that is the Uffizi Gallery. We can thank this Latin word-Uffizi, for giving us the modern word office. The Medici were the defacto leaders of Florence and needed a place to run the government so they decided to build a beautiful building for all administrative offices. The reason they were able to do so is that for almost 3 centuries, the Medicis were the wealthiest bank in the whole of Europe. The below photo of the famous painting, "the Birth of Venus" is one of my favorites in the Uffizi Gallery.

In terms of geographical artifact, Florence has a beautiful old bridge (aptly named Ponte Vecchio) that stands prominently in the old town. The Ponte Vecchio is built over the Arno river, a river that used to be the gate to the rest of the world. The bridge is noted for the shops built along it. The guide told us a story about how earlier there were butcher shops along the bridge, and they would toss their smelly leftovers into the river. But when the Medicis started using the bridge to walk to their office, they didn’t particularly like the smell and so had all the butcher shops replaced with goldsmiths, How convenient and clever.

Another beautiful creation I remember being shown by the guide was the gates of paradise. Two points I remember about it are that firstly it took the sculptor, Lorenzo Ghiberti 50 years to make these two massive and oh-so-beautiful golden gates. Secondly, the second gate has his face carved into the gate, almost like an old-fashioned selfie. I remember thinking to myself when I heard 50 years for both gates, "Art requires patience and patience is what we all should cultivate." They are called such because they face the duomo which I guess was considered paradise.

The next big attraction that I got to experience was the statue of David. The statue comes from the biblical story of David vs. Goliath where a mere shepherd boy was able to defeat a giant with his hidden sling. The story goes to show the power of faith because David believed God would help him and thus, David manages to conquer the giant. The statue of this David is therefore very special but it’s not just the story. It’s who made the statue and how. Michelangelo was only 26 years old when he accepted the challenge to sculpt a large-scale David and built it over two years. It is a true masterpiece made from one single marble block, every single detail is captured. It is anatomically perfect as confirmed by doctors. The uniqueness of the piece also lies in it being a perfect symbol of the renaissance movement which believed that naked bodies were divine beauty because the human body was created by God and a beautiful body meant a beautiful inside (soul, mind, heart). But because the statue of David was nude, it wasn’t allowed to be placed inside the cathedral.

My last and foremost memory of Florence will remain the visit to the Uffizi. It is one of the most famous museums in the world, on par with the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. It is famous worldwide for its outstanding collections of ancient sculptures and paintings (from the Middle Ages to the Modern period).

It is perhaps my personal favorite because it’s a vertical museum of various different rooms and every inch of it is decorated with art; ceilings, floor, and walls. For example, the Tribuna room at the Uffizi is an octagonal room, built as such because, according to Christian tradition, eight is the number that draws us nearer to Heaven. It is intentionally built with 4 elements including red velvets on the walls to represent fire and the marble mosaic of the pavement, for the earth. It is hard to describe the beauty but very much easy to appreciate.

The Uffizi opened its doors as a public museum in 1769 which makes it 250 years old! Presently the Uffizi gallery houses 4 floors of 177,000 pieces of mostly renaissance art. I fell in love with this building and all it enshrined. The Uffizzi gets about 2 million visitors annually, that is the number of people who leave Uffizzi both elated and drained every single day of the year.

Final words on Florence; everyone should learn its history and then go and visit. They will definitely remember it as one of their best vacations and marvel at the ingenuity as well as creativity of our human race.

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