Nothing can prepare you for Florence. No matter how much you read, no matter how hard you work on planning your visit, Florence will stun you and sweep away your defenses. Its art will dazzle you, its architecture will charm you, and you stand absolutely no chance.
This should come as no surprise in a city where the Stendhal Syndrome is at home, but the Stendhal Syndrome gave way to another, more intense –and annoying- feeling: a feeling of sadness. Yes, sadness at the thought that such an aesthetic miracle was once possible…but only once.
At Piazza del Duomo I had the first attack of aesthetic anxiety, with my eyes restlessly moving between Brunelleschi’s unearthly Dome, Giotto’s elegant Campanile and a replica of Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, three absolute masterpieces of art history only a few meters apart from one another. A stone’s throw from here is the Piazza della Signoria, where the Palazzo Vecchio’s tower stands as a noble reminder of how it all started. How did it all start?
It’s a long story, but the magnificence of Florence is easy to understand: it’s a city that accumulated wealth from wool, trade and banking, crushed or neutralized its enemies, and turned its attention to something where it was sure to triumph: art and culture. The world’s most famous patrons (the Medici) sponsored history’s greatest artists (from Masaccio to Raphael), and the city became the epitome of the humanist dream. Easy to understand, but you should have guessed: history is never that simple except in children books! In reality, there were complications. How about the Plague for a start? How about a Bonfire of the Vanities? And, to top it, a wave of political assassinations with wars included?
Back to the city, what do you want me to tell you about Florence that has not been told already? Shall I tell you that it’s the Medici’s immortal gift to humanity? That it is the birthplace of Renaissance Humanism and the school of the likes of Donatello, Luca della Robbia, Filippo Lippi, Fra Bartolomeo, Botticelli, Gozzoli, Dante, Machiavelli and others?
I can tell you about the graceful palaces like Palazzi Pitti, Medici, Strozzi, or I can tell you about churches that are home to priceless treasures like Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce, or take you on a ‘cenacolo’ itinerary to admire The Last Supper(s) by Del Castagno, Andrea del Sarto and Ghirlandaio. I can accompany you across the Ponte Vecchio alongside the Vasari Corridor, or guide you up and down the Uffizi, the Bargello and the Galleria dell’Academia…I can take you everywhere, anywhere, but I cannot explain to you the grace of Florence in one or ten on a thousand messages, because immortal beauty cannot be explained in any mortal language. Still, I will post a series of articles that capture very interesting ‘moments’ in the city’s life. First, there will be a detour to talk about Venice! Stay tuned and enjoy the photos.