Florence, a city of many firsts

Once a stopover on the pil­grim­age route, Florence is now a pil­grim­age it­self

Hindustan Times (Patna) - Live - - Lifestyle - geetik­a­glo­be­trot@google­mail.com GEETIKA JAIN

Stand­ing at Pi­az­zale Michelan­gelo, a strate­gic van­tage point on a hill, you can see Florence be­low, in a clus­ter of cob­bled streets, crowded stone houses and pro­trud­ing tow­ers with ter­ra­cotta roof-tiles. The large cathe­dral with its dis­tinc­tive mar­ble cladding dom­i­nates the sky­line in the cen­tro storico (his­toric cen­tre). A hand­ful of bridges line up beau­ti­fully on the Arno River, and to the south, the city ex­tends just a bit in the ol­trarno (other side of the Arno) be­fore giv­ing way to wooded hills dot­ted with sprawl­ing vil­las and their tum­bling gar­dens.

Florence, or Firenze, as the Ital­ians call it, is tiny. De­spite its small size, in me­dieval times it with­stood threats from greater city-states such as Milan and Rome, and wielded enor­mous power, be­sides be­ing the cra­dle of the Re­nais­sance in the 1400s. Not sur­pris­ingly, Florence was rep­re­sented as the clever and brave David from the leg­end of David and Go­liath, which ex­plains the in­nu­mer­able ren­di­tions of David by Michelan­gelo, Donatello, Ver­roc­chio and other sculp­tors sprin­kled all over Florence’s squares, mu­se­ums, palaces and vil­las.

The story of Florence is com­pelling; the in­signif­i­cant, sleepy city-state be­came a part of the pil­grim route in the mid­dle ages. Peo­ple that stopped over bought leather shoes and wool clothes, stim­u­lat­ing commerce. Over time, Florence’s mer­chants and bankers be­came im­mensely wealthy, and the likes of the Medici fam­ily be­came avid pa­trons of art and ar­chi­tec­ture, com­mis­sion­ing skilled artists and work­men. A great num­ber of writ­ers, pain­ters, thinkers and ar­ti­sans con­gre­gated in Florence, at­tracted by the op­por­tu­ni­ties and the mer­i­to­cratic guild sys­tem. Dante Alighieri, Donatello, Bot­ti­celli, Leonardo da Vinci, Ghib­erti, Giotto, and Michelan­gelo lived within a cen­tury of each other.

The Re­nais­sance ex­plored the con­cept of the “re­birth” of mankind, award­ing greater im­por­tance to our time on earth and find­ing ways of el­e­vat­ing ev­ery­day ex­is­tence. It also fo­cused on re-gain­ing the lost knowl­edge of science, math, lit­er­a­ture and arts once known to the an­cient Greeks and Ro­mans.

THE STEND­HAL SYN­DROME

Florence’s great con­cen­tra­tion of ar­chi­tec­ture, art and sculp­ture can be seen in places such as its open pi­az­zas (squares), its Duomo (cathe­dral) the Uf­fizi Gallery, the Pitti Palace, Bargello Mu­seum and Santa Croce, a Fran­cis­can church with stun­ning fres­coes by Giotto. It was on the porch of Santa Croce in 1817 that the French au­thor, Stend­hal, was so daz­zled and over­come by the riches of the art he’d seen, that he ex­pe­ri­enced phys­i­cal pal­pi­ta­tions and light head­ed­ness. His con­di­tion be­came known as the Stend­hal Syn­drome. The num­ber of visi­tors that line up to see Florence’s cul­tural gems is stag­ger­ing, and many choose to skip the mu­se­ums and ex­plore the me­dieval streets in­stead, tak­ing in the views of the pi­az­zas, tow­ers and bridges. The pedes­trian Ponte Vecchio (the old bridge) is par­tic­u­larly charm­ing, with its rows of jew­ellery shops over-hang­ing the wa­ter. It leads to Ol­trarno, a homey neigh­bour­hood where lo­cals go about their busi­ness amid an­tique shops, restau­rants,

con­vents and gelatarias.

FLOREN­TINE IN­VEN­TIONS

Lucia Lazic, our guide pointed out some lesser-known facts. “Florence is where gelato was first in­vented, the first pianoforte too was built here. This was the first cap­i­tal­ist city, with the first science and arts acad­emy. The first opera, Daphne, was per­formed at a pri­vate home here, and the Floren­tine florin was the first Euro­pean gold coin.” A proud denizen, she of­ten rides out into the green hills be­yond on her scooter, and feels a thrill each time she catches a glimpse of her beau­ti­ful city. When asked if there was any­thing she didn’t like about Florence, she said with a laugh, “This place really is small, ev­ery­one knows each other, so hav­ing an af­fair can be very tricky, you’d be found out in two sec­onds!”

A view of Florence’s

his­toric part from Pi­az­zale Michelan­gelo

Painted fres­coes at the Santa Croce church

Pave­ment art in Florence

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