If you come to
for the first time, a city you may have visited previously in art and imagination, there is one supreme moment of epiphany. It is not a place that surrenders easily, unlike Florence Rome and . But there you are, right in the centre, walking along narrow streets unknown to you. Venice
It's the evening of your first day. You have not long arrived, driving up from
. You are tired. But life is short; you want to explore before going to bed, using every drop squeezed from the fruit of time. You turn into a narrow and rising alley for pedestrians only. On both sides are goldsmiths’ shops, so close together that you almost feel that you could reach out and touch both sides. You reach the top of the incline. There are no more shops. The vista is free. There is the River Arno. You are at the top of the Ponte Vecchio - the Rome . This is your A Room With A View moment! Old Bridge
This is the city of
, of the Medici, of Botticelli, of Donatello, of Machiavelli, of Savonarola, of Michelangelo and so many others. It's a city of poets and painters, of soldiers and bankers, of prophets and outcasts. It's where the Renaissance was born, in a place still suffused with its traces. There is a romance to Dante , sensual, yes, but something else, something divine. Here Dante saw Beatrice (say it in Italian: bet-reach-eeh. It's so much more beautiful than the English pronunciation) He fell in love with perfection, and perfection was what she remained, near yet distant, adored yet unattainable. It was by the banks of the Florence Arno that they met for the last time, the briefest of brief encounters. She died eight years later, aged only twenty-four. She was his salvation, destined to live forever in one of the greatest poetic epics ever penned.
To the Uffizi now, principally to see the work of Botticelli, my favourite Renaissance painter. You've probably seen illustrations of Primavera and The Birth of Venus, but how marvellous it is to stand before them, captivating, sublime and mysterious. I'm not presumptuous enough to hazard an interpretation of Primavera; I leave that to others. It just thrills me. I think the figure of Flora, off to the right, is another dimension of perfection and sensual beauty, this time in a female form.
We had a room with a view, a view of the Duomo, the central cathedral, topped by the magnificent dome designed and built in the fifteenth century by Filippo Brunelleschi. It was a reflection of his talent and of the grandeur of
. There is another view, right at the top, a God's eye view of the city, all laid out before you. Be warned though: the ascent from the inside of the dome is not for the feint of heart! From the gallery I looked down to the interior far below, the place where Savonarola once preached to a congregation of thousands at the height of his power. Florence
Not far from here is the Baptistery, the oldest building in the city, dating back to the sixth century. Enter through the wonderful east doors, by long tradition known as The Gates of Paradise, only to be confronted, looking up to the ceiling, by the Gates of Hell! It's breathtaking mosaic in a medieval Byzantine style, dominated by the central figure of Christ. This is the Last Judgement, with a fearsome demon consuming the damned. The place is busy but try, if you can, to lie on your back looking up, even only for a moment or two.
Of course it wasn’t all art and culture. We picnicked in the park. We dined by starlight. There is a wonderful restaurant not far from the Ponte Vecchio where I had wild boar served with polenta, soft and succulent, complemented by some local wine. Alas, all dreams end. We flew back this afternoon from
Pisa, back to grey old making ready for an Olympic party. I feel, though, that I have just descended from London ! Mount Olympus
Right - playtime over, back to the mill!ReplyDelete
Sounds like another great trip! Thanks for sharing, and especially about the Italian pronunciation of Beatrice, which I hadn't heard. (youre right, so much better.) I first learned of Dante & Beatrice in Daniel Boorstin's great book, The Creators - kind of a "popular history" of the arts. I wonder if you've read it? It may be geared too much toward a general audience for someone with your historical acumen, but it is one of my all time favorites.
Jay, that's good enough for me. I'll pop over to Amazon in a bit.Delete
What a bridge. Superb. Always wanted to visit but never quite managed it. Florence, and Toledo. One day although I think out of season might be preferable because of the crowds. Was it crowded, Ana? Incidentally, Dante met Beatrice again after her death.ReplyDelete
Yes, Nobby, it was pretty busy. It might be better to go out of season but the Tuscan winters can be quite fierce.Delete
Dante and Beatrice together in Paradise. It's a beautiful thought.
A thought too, if you like :-)Delete
Who could not? :-)Delete
The wonders that human creativity has produced, what is truly amazing is that much has survived centuries of political turmoil etc. It seems that the sculptor's vision was a bit limited, I would have enhanced certain appendages by a bit ( a lot really )ReplyDelete
Actually, Anthony, all Renaissance nudes are, ahem, under-endowed!Delete
Ana it is a beautiful city. The wealth of the Renaissance imbues each stone there.ReplyDelete
It certainly does, Richard.Delete
Rumours of the exact location of the Statue of David are legion, and it is difficult to ascertain truth, but I do recollect a sight in a cheval mirror many years ago that may help prove provenance.ReplyDelete
Now there's a thought. :-))Delete
Very few people visit places taking in all the soul of their history. You are one of those few.ReplyDelete
Davids uncircumcised, why was that again!?
This reminds me of my final night in the USA back in '05. I dined lavishly on fat east coast and west coast oysters under the light of the full moon where I was staying at the Delamar.
Thanks, my friend. It would not at all be the thing, even in the Renaissance, to draw attention to Jewishness as Jewishness. Ahh, oysters, hmmm. :-)Delete
We have our differences, Ana, but of course you love Florence--and oysters, for that matter--I'm not surprised in the slightest.ReplyDelete
My wife and I were married in Florence over twenty years ago at St Marks English Church on the Via Maggio: http://www.stmarksitaly.com/
The building was once Machiavelli's palazzo, and the chapel is on the ground floor, which in Machiavelli's time was where the stables were located, so we were married in Machiavelli's stables. Perhaps more to your taste is the large plaque on a wall in St Marks honouring the Coldstream Guards who fell in Italy in 1943 - 1944 . . .
No doubt the Fitzgerald-Beamonts have a suitable place hallowed by family tradition already ready and waiting for your future nuptials, but if it all becomes a bit too much, you can always elope and seal the deal on the Via Maggio . . .
Oh, Chris, how wonderfully romantic that must have been. :-)Delete