Where to begin? There is so much to see, and so much that happened, so many famous and notorious events and people that happened and lived in Florence that we will only see some little parts of it in our three days this June on the FPU Alumni and Friends Tour.
So here are some things to dream about. Let’s start as we did with Venice with Italy Guides, Florence. But you might also want to look at a couple of video’s that explain something about how to get about, and some of the most popular places—current, historical, artistic: Vidtur’s brief video and The Roman Guy’s Florence in a Day. And here is a little summary piece on the history of the city. These will tell a bit about the general past, major exhibits, the most famous artists, the markets, the piazzas and bridges, and cathedral.
But how about some of the other things to see. The Duomo, or Cathedral was a major architectural and engineering achievement in the 14th century. It was begun in the 1290’s and not finished until the 1460s—the records of the project and its organizing and supervising committee are still in existence. You can find a “Smart History” video on Filippo Brunelleschi and his Dome, and if you are ambitious there is a popular book by Ross King, Brunelleschi’s Dome (Penguin, 2000). (Thanks to my brother-in-law, Bob Worcester, for recommending it.) Brunelleschi was awarded the commission to build the dome through a competition which he one over the more famous and experienced artist at the time Lorenzo Ghiberti. Ghiberti won the earlier competition to design what became the bronze doors of the Baptistry nearby.
Everyone has heard of Machiavelli—notorious writer of The Prince. He wrote much more, some insightful and analytical, some fanciful (despite his seeming practicality), and all focused on maintaining power in a hard political world. Here is an interesting BBC piece take on where Machiavelli worked.
At the opposite of end of the spiritual climate from Machiavelli is Dante. Florence was his home, before he was banished, and he always looked back to it. Here is something on Dante in art—see the reflections of Florence in the first painting. And you might want to visit the Dante Museum (I’m going to!) which has exhibits about his life, Florence around 1300, and The Divine Comedy, the story of his spiritual pilgrimage through Hell, Purgatory and up through Heaven to the vision of God.
An eccentric figure, not as well known now has he once was, is the Dominican prophet and preacher, Girolamo Savonarola. Savonarola was a moralist and political reformer and revolutionary who roused the populace and then alienated them. Another Dominican is a favorite of mine, Fra Angelico, a couple of generations earlier than Savonarola, whose paintings are quietly inspiring. You might want to visit the Convent of San Marco, to see his The Annunciation.
And here is one last piece on Michelangelo’s Medici Chapel. We can’t end without having gone back to one of the classic sites. But we must end somewhere, and we will only have a few days. There’s more than enough for a second trip to Florence!