Monday, June 30, 2008

Seven Hundred Years Ago, I'd Have Been Neighbors with Dante (A Very Long Italian Story, Part Three)

Our apartment, on an alley-like side street in Firenze, was nestled amongst a fine pasticheria and restaurant, a few shops, and a residence or two. Just a few housefronts to the east, on the corner, stood a structure that claimed to be the home of Dante Aligheri, Firenze's most famous literary son. I thought it would be an excellent opportunity, to tour the house of the author of the Divine Comedy, but, upon further investigation, Monkey and I discovered that the house was actually built in the 1970s, in the style of a 14th century Fiorentine house, on the foundations of Dante's house. We'd found our first tourist trap! We took it as enough to say that we were dwelling on the same street and, perhaps, trodding some of the same cobblestones as the great writer. We did not visit the Dante simulacrum.

However, on our first full day in Firenze, after a small breakfast of cake and coffee at the apartment, we were off to adventure and a trip back in time to Renaissance Italy! First, we returned to the Duomo, which we had perused from the outside the day before. With its accompanying Baptistry and Campanile, this Renaissance cathedral is the pride and joy of Firenze. After all, even if every semi-major town in the region has a cathedral they might call the Duomo (which just means "house of God"), few have such a magnificently realized, domed cathedral, and Firenze has the first octagonal dome built without the use of any scaffolds!

In addition to the architectural marvel of the cathedral, which also hosts some amazing sculptural work inside and out and a beautiful fresco inside the dome, the Baptistry, just across the piazza, is bedecked with gilded bronze doors sculpted by Ghiberti over the course of 21 years in the middle of the 15th century. Of course, the doors currently on the Baptistry are replications. The originals, after being restored, are displayed in the Opera del Duomo Museum, just across the street from the Cathedral (we'll visit there, later).

After spending the early morning inside the Duomo and outside the Baptistry, we walked around deciding what to do next. We had several hours to kill before our 2pm reservations at the Uffizi Gallery, so, we thought we'd warm up for that museum inside the previously mentioned Duomo Museum.

The Duomo Museum contains (as you may have gathered) many of the works from the Duomo and related buildings. Modern Italy has been hard on marble statues left out for five hundred to seven hundred years decorating building facades, so, they've gathered many of them, restored them, and brought them inside various museums. The Duomo Museum, which is located in what used to be the workshops for sculptors of the Duomo's facade and other decorative structures, is unique for another reason, also. Michelangelo's David, which used to reside in Firenze's Piazza del Signori, was scuplted in the courtyard of this workshop. Everywhere, the footprint of art and history.

The museum housed some pretty cool stuff, including the Pieta that Michelangelo sculpted for his own grave. The freakiest thing we discovered was a number of reliquaries, which are ornate silver and gold boxes, with glass windows in them that house the bones of saints or pieces of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified (at least, that's the claim). It was equal parts cool and creepy, looking at the leg bone of Saint What's-his-face, but it was nothing compared to some later morbid sights of Christianity (stay tuned!). We saw quite a number of these reliquaries over the course of our trip, probably somewhere in the hundreds, but this was our first real look at them. They are very beautiful things. They just hold thousand-year-old bones. Momento mori, baby.

We were then off to the Uffizi, the home of Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Primavera (Spring) , among other masterpieces. The museum used to be the offices of the Medici's, the ruling family of Florence. It became a public museum in the 1700s. It is an interesing building, as well as a museum, with long corridors and lovely views of the river and city. A museum highlight for me: Artimesia Gentileschi's Judith Slaying Holofernes. It's sort of down in the basement, almost at the end of this long room of seemingly random stuff. But, it's such a beautiful painting. The colors in it really jump out at the viewer. The action in the work is so brutal, but the colors and the use of light make it so beautiful, it's captivating. Why they have this gem stuffed down in the basement, I don't know.

After nearly four hours at the Uffizi, we paused at the casa and then were off to dinner at La Giostra, another Monkey-certified recommendation. It was awesome, people. I know Monkey will read this and think that I skimped on the meal's details, but, it's enough for me to say that I had some kick ass spinach ravioli, and Monkey had a spectacular papardelle with ciangale (boar) ragu. Also, the complimetary antipasti plate, filled with crostini and bruschetta and prosciutto and such--wow! It was a great meal.

More gelatto, at a place called Vivolui (chocolate and pear, I think), which was not as good as the first. Then, it was prep time for tomorrow's big museum, the Accademia, current home of Michelangelo's gigantic masterpiece, David.


boring election said...

It's like being back in Art History class. I once wrote a paper about those doors...there's a replica set in San Francisco. Grace Cathedral, maybe? (Or maybe that's just memorable to me thanks to a Red House Painters song...dear god, house painting, but I digress.) I'd rather go to Italy to see them.

Keep the stories coming...loving it.

La Fashionista said...

Somewhere is there a picture of you looking as excited as you sound writing all this? I'd love to see an accompanying picture of awe-struck Reda gazing at some historic Italian something. Your writing is bursting with zeal, and I'm trying to imagine how you must have looked while experiencing all this in Italy.

That said, the pic of Monkey is quite fabulous!

Anon AMVB sez keep the Long Italian Story installments a-comin'!

ATR said...

Awestruck? Me? To the best of my knowledge, there exists no photograph of me ever taken (besides a few from my wedding, but they may have been doctored) in which I appear anything but nonplussed.


comoprozac said...

Four hours in the Uffizi? Yeah, it's easy to do. There is just so much there. Thanks for just hitting the highlights.

I'm expecting that you'll write about David's abnormally large hands.