|Florence, Part 2: Friday
||[Dec. 14th, 2005|11:26 am]
As EnidW said, Florence can be (and I quote) "a bit of a sensory overload". There are many amazing things packed into a small area, but after being there for a little while and doing some exploring, it all starts to seem quite manageable.|
Our day started at the Piazza della Repubblica, the public square that was traditionally the heart of medieval Florence, and which became the centre for merchants and their trading. Around this was the part of town known as the Jewish quarter or the "Ghetto," and which got itself into such a sorry state they demolished the whole slum and put up an inscription to celebrate its destruction. I wrote down the inscription: L' ANTICO CENTRO DELLA CITTA DA SECOLARE SQUALLORE A VITA NUOVA RESTITUITO, which means something along the lines of: from squalor the ancient centre of the city has been given a new lease of life.
It was interesting to contrast an asymmetrical, slapdash medieval building with a Renaissance palace like the Palazzo Strozzi. The frontage of this palace was pleasing to the eye, and we also had a look inside and stood at the central courtyard which was a feature of this sort of rich family home. Back in its heyday the courtyard would have been a private outdoor space with maybe fountains and greenery, although when we saw it some workmen were making a mess. Across the street and a little further down was another, smaller Strozzi home which they used to house guests who had come for a visit. In the front of this second home, and looking for all the world like a cat door (cat-flap), was a hole in the wall through which the occupants of the house would push their leftover food into the street after dinner so the poorer people could have something to eat. We also learned they often used to give wine out as well, in this same manner.
The main point of interest for me in the Church of Santa Trinita was seeing and hearing about the frescoes, including a very famous one whose image I'd seen many times in books. This was Adoration of the Shepherds by Ghirlandaio which is a feature of the Sassetti Chapel, one of the beautifully decorated alcoves inside the church. I already knew how frescoes such as these were created, but it's an entirely different experience to talk about them while they're right in front of you rather than looking at pictures in books.
The next ancient church we visited was Orsanmichele, originally a granary and grain market built in the 13th Century on the site of the San Michele monastery's garden. Somehow or other a building for storing grain became the focal point for religious devotion, and in the 14th Century the open arches were closed up with cement so it could be used as a church. This didn't mean it was no longer a granary, however! Space in Florence being at a premium, the grain was now stored in the upper floors, dragged upwards by ropes and pulleys, and returned to ground level when it was needed by being poured through vertical conduits in the pilasters (support columns). V. and I were lucky to be able to walk around inside Orsanmichele because it has been closed to the public for several years and had just been re-opened in the last week or so.
I had an espresso in a cafe at the corner of Piazza della Signoria.