Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Florence and The Duomo

8 August 2006. The day started really early.

But the scenery as the Island Star sailed into the Italian port of La Spezia was well worth it as this 7:00am view shows.

The reason for this early morning scurrying was that we are booked on an excursion to Florence - Firenze, as the Italians call it.

The ship docks whilst we have breakfast and we troop off to join a coach. The fun starts straight away. First of all we find the tour operator is called Trumpy Tours which causes a ripple of very British humour along the coach.

Next, no sooner have we all got on than there is a bang and a large German camper van swerves and weaves all over the road in front of us, trying to control his shock at having taken off the mirror stalk from the front corner of the coach. He's not stopping. However he's held up in a queue at some traffic lights. Our driver hairs off down the road towards him... but the lights change and he gets away.

All this excitement and we haven't gone anywhere yet! Luckily the driver manages to fix the bits of broken mirror back onto the remains of the stalk with a huge roll of sticky tape! And off we go to Florence.

There is no let up to the excitement of the day as the look on this young lady's face clearly shows.

Here we are in Florence, still laughing at following this large Trumpy Tours paddle when there's a burst of laughter and gasps of disbelief coming from this group immediately behind the guide.

The young lady is drawing my attention to the incredibly long underarm hair of the guide... It is long. Incredibly long. You get the idea from looking at the expression on the face of the lady on the right who is staring at it as though she can't believe it... Neither could we. It was at least a foot long. She could have plaited it...

In entertainment terms we have had our money's worth from this trip already and we haven't seen Florence yet!

This is the impressive facade of Il Duomo. Officially, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (...of Saint Mary of the Flowers).

It has one of the most impressive domes of the Medieval world. A cathedral had stood here since the 5th century but it needed replacing entirely by the late 1200s. Building commenced on September 9 1296 and was to last another 170 years, interrupted at times by various project managers growing old and dying and a small matter called the Black Death in 1348.

The facade is relatively new. Almost all of Florence seems to be constructed of white, green and red marble and the present facade was added only in 1876/87. The original facade had never been finished, never having gotten above the lower portion of the basilica and by the Renaissance was very old-fashioned in appearance. It was pulled down in 1587-88 and the front of the basilica remained bare for the next 300 years.

Some say it is excessively decorated. We just thought it was excessively dirty. It was in dire need of a good wash and brush up.

The guide took an incredible 3/4 hours to tell us all this, adding many names and dates that meant absolutely nothing to me and, to judge from the intense boredom on the face of our fellow travellers, to no one else either. If you were a scholar of Italian artists and architects it may have been interesting...

We were, however, stuck in the queue to go in! Once inside we could see up into the interior of the dome. The figures were painted elongated so that they appear in the correct perspective when viewed from below.

It doesn't look that big from below but it's a long way up to it! In fact the painting covers a massive 3600 square metres and took 11 years to complete. The original artist Giorgio Vasari started in 1568 and then selfishly died in 1574, leaving Federico Zuccari and a few friends to finish it off.

There's lots more to see in Florence yet. The place is full of sculptures and statues including Michalangelo's statue of David and there's the famous Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge that the Germans didn't blow up on their retreat in 1944.

Large versions of the photos: all the photos from this holiday can be found in a set at Flickr

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