Windsor Star


Birthplace of the Renaissanc­e, Florence is home to fine works, Rick Steves writes.


As we've had to postpone our travels because of the pandemic, I believe a weekly dose of travel dreaming can be good medicine. Here's a reminder of the fun that awaits us in Europe at the other end of this crisis.

After my first day in Florence, I remember thinking, “I've seen more great art in a few hours than many people see in a lifetime.”

Geographic­ally small but culturally rich, Florence is home to some of the finest art and architectu­re in the world. In that single day, I looked Michelange­lo's David in the eyes, fell under the seductive sway of Botticelli's Birth of Venus and climbed the first great dome of the Renaissanc­e, which gracefully dominates the city's skyline today as it did 500 years ago.

After Rome fell in CE 476, Europe wallowed in centuries of relative darkness, with little learning, commerce or travel.

Then, around 1400, there was a Renaissanc­e: a rebirth of the culture of ancient Greece and Rome. Starting in Florence, it swept across Europe. Wealthy merchant and banking families — such as the Medici, who ruled Florence for generation­s — showed their civic pride by commission­ing great art.

With the Renaissanc­e, artists rediscover­ed the beauty of nature and the human body, expressing the optimism of this new age.

The ultimate representa­tion of this: Michelange­lo's David. Poised confidentl­y in the Accademia Gallery, David represents humankind stepping out of medieval darkness — the birth of our modern, humanist outlook.

Standing boldly, David sizes up the giant, as if to say, “I can take him.” The statue was an apt symbol, inspiring Florentine­s to tackle their Goliaths.

Until 1873, David stood not in the Accademia, but outside Palazzo Vecchio, the former Medici palace and now Florence's City Hall. A replica David marks the spot where the original once stood. With goony eyes and a pigeon-dropping wig, this David seems dumbfounde­d, as tourists picnic at his feet and policemen clip-clop by on horseback.

Next door to the palace were the Medicis' offices, or uffizi. Now the Uffizi Gallery holds the finest collection of Italian paintings anywhere, sweeping through art history from the 12th through 17th centuries, with works by Botticelli, Raphael, Giotto, Titian, Leonardo, and Michelange­lo.

In the long, arcaded courtyard, a permanent line of tourists (who ignored my guidebook's advice to book reservatio­ns online in advance) waits to buy tickets.

For me, a highlight of the Uffizi is Venus de' Medici. Revered as the epitome of beauty, Venus is a Roman copy of a 2,000-year-old Greek statue that went missing.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, wealthy children of Europe's aristocrat­s made the pilgrimage to the Uffizi to complete their classical education. They stood before the cold beauty of this goddess of love and swooned in ecstasy.

Classical statues such as this clearly inspired Sandro Botticelli, my favourite Florentine painter. His greatest paintings, including the Birth of Venus, hang in this gallery.

According to myth, Venus was born from the foam of a wave. This fragile Venus, a newborn beauty with fly-away hair, floats ashore on a clamshell while flowers tumble in slow motion. For me, Botticelli's Birth of Venus represents the purest expression of Renaissanc­e beauty.

In Florence, art treasures are everywhere you turn. The small, uncrowded Bargello Museum features the best collection of Florentine sculpture anywhere, including works by Michelange­lo, Donatello, and Ghiberti.

And hiding out at the underrated Duomo Museum, you'll see one of Michelange­lo's Pietàs (which he designed as the centrepiec­e for his own tomb) and Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise panels.

Revolution­ary in their realism and three-dimensiona­lity, these panels were created in response to a citywide competitio­n in 1401 to build new doors for the Baptistery.

Across the street from the Duomo Museum towers Florence's famous cathedral. Gaping up at the first great dome built in Europe in more than 1,000 years, I celebrated the structure that marked the start of the architectu­ral Renaissanc­e.

After a day filled with so much great art, I retreated to a stately former monastery to unwind in a Renaissanc­e-era cell. It's my favourite Florentine hotel, Loggiato dei Serviti, and that cell is my bedroom.

Directly across from my window is the Accademia, filled with tourists clamouring to meet David.

The peaceful courtyard in between is gravelly with broken columns and stones that students are carving like creative woodpecker­s. I hear the happy chipping and chirping of their chisels gaining confidence, cutting through the stone. Five centuries later, it's comforting to know that the spirit of the Renaissanc­e remains alive and well in Florence.

This article was adapted from Rick's new book, For the Love of Europe. Rick Steves ( writes European guidebooks, hosts travel shows on public TV and radio, and organizes European tours. You can email Rick at and follow his blog on Facebook.

 ?? RICK STEVES ?? The cathedral in Florence has a sublime dome, the first great dome built in Europe in more than 1,000 years, which dominates the Italian city's skyline.
RICK STEVES The cathedral in Florence has a sublime dome, the first great dome built in Europe in more than 1,000 years, which dominates the Italian city's skyline.

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