Sunday, June 20, 2010

Florence, Italy

I was able to get a roundtrip ticket on Ryanair from Bratislava to Pisa for only €18 ($22), so I decided to spend a long weekend in Italy. I spent 1.5 days in Florence and 1 day in Pisa. This region of Italy is absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait to come back to Tuscany. Next time I’ll be sure to visit Siena and San Gimignano.

Firenze (Florence) is the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region. It lies on the Arno River and is considered to be the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. You can’t help but be blown away by the art and architecture here. The historic center became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.

Santa Croce is a beautiful Franciscan church that also houses some famous tombs, including those of Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli.

Ponte Vecchio
(Old Bridge) crosses the Arno River and was first built in 972. Since at least the 12th century it has been lined with shops. During WWII, the Germans blew up the city’s bridges in order to slow down the advancing allied forces. This was the only bridge that they didn’t touch, due to its age.

The Basilica di San Lorenzo was consecrated in 393 and is the city’s oldest existing religious structure. It is the burial place of the Medici family who ruled Florence for over 100 years.

Mercato Nuovo
has been the “new market” since the 16th century. There are just lots of souvenir shops here now. The market is called Porcellino (piglet) because of the 17th century Tacca boar fountain. You toss coins in to the fountain for good luck and if you rub the snout then you will one day return to Florence. I made sure to rub it twice.

Tempio Maggiore is the Great Synagogue of Florence. It was built between 1874 and 1882. The design blended Islamic and Italian architectural styles. During the war, the Fascists used the synagogue as a garage. In 1944, the Germans and Italian Fascists tried to it up but the resistance was able to defuse most of the explosives.

The Galleria degli Uffizi was built in the late 16th century and is the world’s oldest art gallery. It contains pieces by Botticelli, Da Vinci, Giotti, and Ghirlandaio.

Next to Uffizi is the Piazza della Signoria which is a basically a free open-air museum. There are lots of sculptures to admire including Ammannati’s 1565 Neptune fountain in the center. I really liked Cellini’s Perseus with the head of Medusa.

There’s also a copy of David where the original once stood. In 1873, the original was moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia. The copy is fine but you really have to go see the original. It took Michelangelo 3 years to sculpt it from a single block of marble. It costs €10 (~$12.25) to get in but it is so worth it. I wish I could show just how awesome it was to see. Unfortunately, the museum is very strict about its “no photography allowed inside” policy.

The highlight of Florence is going to Piazza del Duomo to see the cathedral, the baptistery, and the bell tower. This is also a wonderful area to just relax and grab a coffee.

Tourist survival tip: I noticed this in Milan last year, so I guess it’s just an Italian thing. If you grab an espresso and stand up then it costs around €1 (~$1.25). But the same drink costs €4 – €5 if you sit down. Those cute little cafés will get you if you’re not careful.

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