By Francesca Papi, Private Tour Guide of Florence

Monthly Archives: February 2016

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The 5 WOW! views of Florence

View of the Duomo from the CupolaHi there! Today I want to give you some tips about the 5 places where you can enjoy the best views of Florence.

BRUNELLESCHI’S DOME. 463 steps, tiny corridors, people sweating in summertime: this is the dome, “cupola” in Italian. A little precaution: if you don’t like claustrophobic places, don’t go up! Built by Filippo Brunelleschi between 1420 and 1436, payed by the Florentines with their taxes, it was the biggest dome ever built and it was the pride of the city (it still is!). It’s a self structure of two domes placed on each other, creating a double shell. The climbing is hard and steep, but at the end there is an amazing reward. Thanks to the fundamental relevance that Brunelleschi’s dome played on the development of modern architecture, this huge construction is the most important architectonical work built in Europe from the Roman antiquity. You have to walk through the two domes from the inside to get to the top. You go up a spiral staircase, seeing also the frescoes of the dome with its marvellous Last Judgment by Giorgio Vasari (1572-79) from an unusual and very close point of view. There’s a breathtaking panorama waiting for you at the top, with all Florence around you. Isn’t it exciting? It’s like a carpet of colourful roofs at your feet. Ready to climb to the top?

RINASCENTE’S TERRACE. One of my favourite spots to meet my friends for a cup of tea or a cappuccino is the cafe on top of the department store called Rinascente, in Piazza della Repubblica. The first Rinascente department store was opened in Milan in 1865, shortly after the unification of Italy in 1861. Few years after it was inaugurated in Rome, Genoa, Venice, Turin, Naples, Palermo, Bologna and Florence. So this department store is one of the oldest ones in Florence. You can have a delicious and creamy cappuccino on this terrace while chatting with a friend enjoying a great view on the square: the triumphal arch, the column with the Statue of Abundance, the top of Orsanmichele Church, the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, the peak of Giotto’s Bell Tower. It’s all around you! This will be definitely the best cappuccino of your life!

Piazzale Michelangelo in FlorenceARNOLFO’S TOWER. This is the tower of Palazzo Vecchio, the public palace built to house the government in 1299. Today Palazzo Vecchio is still the town hall of Florence. The tower is named after the architect Arnolfo di Cambio, who likely designed it. The palace was first the headquarters of the Republic and then the Medici family’s house, when they eventually took the power in the XVI century. The structure is strictly medieval, with its buttresses and crenellations. However, inside the palace was completely renovated by the Gran Duke Cosimo I, who transformed the sober and imposing Middle Ages architecture into a sumptuous and magnificent Renaissance residence: frescos, statues, geographical maps, all with the purpose to extoll the high lineage of the family. On top of the building there is the camminamento di ronda, the rampart used by the patrol sentinels to watch over the square. The overlook is really beautiful, you can dominate the entire Signoria Square. Can you imagine the soldiers throwing down pitch and boiling oil on the enemies’ heads? Just out of curiosity, facing the stairs, you will pass by a little cell called by the Florentines “alberghetto“, that means little hotel. You don’t have to think that it was a cozy little hotel room, but it was rather a prison cell whose “guests” were, among others, Cosimo the Elder de’Medici, accused in 1433 of plotting against the Republic, and the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola, accused in 1498 of heresy and then burnt in the square… Cosimo had a better luck: he was only exiled for one year out of Florence.

PONTE SANTA TRINITA. One of the highlights of Florence is undoubtedly Ponte Vecchio, the former bridge of the butchers and fishermen, later replaced by Medici order with jewellers and goldsmiths. It’s the only one still original of the Middle Ages, because all the others were destroyed during the war by the German troops during their retreat. But where is the best place to take a picture of this famous bridge? In my opinion it’s Ponte Santa Trinita, the bridge next to Ponte Vecchio. It was built in 1252 in wood, financed by the Frescobaldi family, taking the name from the church near it. In 1259 it collapsed under the weight of the people who were there to see a show on the Arno river. It was later destroyed again by the flood of 1333 and rebuilt once more. But the bad luck wasn’t over: another flood in 1557 made it fall down. The bridge we see today dates back to that time when Cosimo I de’Medici appointed the Florentine architect Bartolomeo Ammannati to rebuild it, following a design by Michelangelo. In 1608 the statues of the four seasons were placed at the four sides to celebrate the wedding of Cosimo II with Maria Maddalena of Austria. This unlucky bridge was blown up by the Germans on August 4, 1944. The new bridge was eventually inaugurated in 1957. The statues came back to its original location much later, because one of them, the Primavera (Spring) had lost her head. An antique dealer of Florence even put a reward on her head: $ 5,000 to who could find it. It was found only in 1961 by some sand diggers in the Arno. The American film director Spike Lee took inspiration from this to make his movie Miracle of St. Anna (very beautiful, you should watch it). Today, hundereds of people take pictures from Ponte Santa Trinita. So at sunset, take your camera, your selfie stick (or better just ask someone else to take you a picture!) and go to this bridge to catch the best light!

Ponte Vecchio at dusk from Piazzale MichelangeloPIAZZALE MICHELANGELO. This is definitely the place where you will enjoy the best view of Florence. It doesn’t matter if it’s summer or winter time, at dawn or dusk, the thing is that here the panorama is absolutely unique. Generations of Florentines have chosen this place for a first date, the romanticism is guaranteed! You can see from this overlooking terrace all the monuments of Florence: Santa Croce Church with the National Library, the Duomo with Brunelleschi’s imposing dome and the Bell Tower, the Palazzo Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio, the beautiful green dome of the Synagogue. This breathtaking landscape is framed by the hill of Fiesole and the Apennines in the background. Why the name of this terrace? Because a replica in bronze of Michelangelo’s David is standing in the centre of the square watching us! The statue is a perfect mould of the original, which stood in Signoria Square until 1873 and then was moved inside the Accademia Gallery. At the feet of the copy of David, there are other four sculptures reproducing another Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the characters he created for the tombs in the Medici Chapels (the statues of Dawn, Dusk, Night and Day). This spectacular square was designed in 1869 by the architect Giuseppe Poggi on a hill on the south side of the river, completing the works of the so-called Risanamento (restoration) when Florence was proclaimed capital city of the Reign of Italy. The restoration plan included the creation of the lungarni (boulevards along the river), the destruction of the medieval city walls, the demolition of a big part of the historic centre and the making of a panoramic avenue called Viale Dei Colli (avenue of the hills) that brought to the new Michelangelo Square, possibly the most enigmatic result of Florence’s renovation. You can reach the square on foot in about 30 minutes starting from San Niccolò neighbourhood (across Ponte Vecchio) or taking the bus n. 12 or 13. The walk is very nice. You can also go to San Miniato, few meters from the square, a magnificent Romanesque style church, where you have another wonderful view of the city. You will see many people sitting down on the stairs, with a bottle of wine, two glasses, a camera, and maybe a guitar, waiting for an amazing show: one of the most spectacular sunsets of your life! 

By |February 24th, 2016|Home|0 Comments

THE MAGIC OF CREATION: THE ARTISANS OF FLORENCE

Nerdi Orafi Firenze

There’s a strong link between the past history of Florence and its present life: the people. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance Florence was known all over the world for its skilled craftsmen: weavers, shoemakers, silk embroiderers, wool workers, leather tanners. All this history made up of people is still reflected in the name of some streets (Via dell’Arte della Lana, Corso Tintori, Via Pellicceria,… – these are all names of professions: wool workers, dyers, fur makers). Taking the Tour of the Artisans of Florence we can discover this more popular face of the city (interwoven with the history of the city itself).

There’s Giuliano, curved over his work with his reading glasses on, shakes his head when I ask: “and what will happen to your bottega (workshop) when you want to retire? Who will continue all this marvel?”. He says: “It will finish with me unfortunately, there’s nobody who wants to do this job anymore, it’s complicated”. It’s so sad, I think, years of experience and tradition will be lost and we will never see his beautiful pill holders made and decorated by him with great precision and passion. Giuliano has been working in his brass engraving workshop in Santo Spirito for 50 years. He learned from his maestro this delicate art when he was a little boy. Now he sells his products (little objects in silver plated brass, like brooches, pins, pill holders, Christmas decorations, etc) mainly to the United States. He’s proud to show us a picture of Bill Clinton buying one of his post-it cases in Philadelphia.
Then there’s Silvia, a perfect host who shows us the marvels of her jewelry laboratory near Ponte Vecchio. She works at Nerdi with her sister Daniela (the jewels’ designer), Luca  (the goldsmith) and Paolo, who runs this little worksop since 1948. “We have been here since the end of the Second World War, we have seen the reconstruction of the city after the dynamite of the Nazis, the terrible flood of 1966, the Georgofili bomb of 1993 (a mafia attack at the Uffizi Gallery), but we have survived all this. We do the jewels following the Florentine tradition, we haven’t changed a single thing. We design, we produce, we make our clients’ dreams come true, they tell us what they have in mind, we give a shape to the idea and we make the jewel for them, on commission, like the Medici family did with great goldsmiths, like Cellini or Ghiberti”.

The young Leonardo is 25 years old, works at Mannina and shows a great passion for shoe-making, greets us at the shoe workshop. He’s making a pair of shoes that will go to Japan. During Christmas time they were very busy, with many deliveries to ship through out the world. “The shoes start from the design of the foot, we make it only once, so we keep it in case the client want to do another pair in the future. Then you have to decide the kind of leather and color, together with the model. Our feet are different, what’s good for me cannot also be good for you, and our painful calluses are caused by bad shoes”. Suddenly Salvatore Ferragamo’s autobiography comes to my mind.

He wrote a very beautiful book about his thrilling life called ‘The shoemaker of dreams’, where he explains exactly the same thing. The industrially-made shoes have ruined generations of feet, he said. It makes sense, I think, and I have a secret wish: one day I will buy my own hand-made shoes too!
Scarpelli Mosaici, Florentine mosaics' workshop

One of the many talents of the Florentine artisans is the stone inlay. Florence is the place where an amazing craftsmanship saw its birth in the XVI century thanks to the Medici family: the commesso fiorentino. It’s a very ancient job to transform the mosaic made up of tesseras into something more refined, that had to be closer to a painting out of stone. Renzo is the founder of Scarpelli Mosaici and he is one of the very few masters of this art, that requires a strong attitude to painting and design, a profound knowledge of materials, and a longsightedness to see the final work from the very first stage. It’s a “puzzle” of colourful stones, made following the pattern of the design, so carefully that you don’t see the union of thousands of pieces. Renzo looks for the stones on the river banks, in the country or in the mountains and he cuts them into big slices. The big slices are then cut into many small pieces using a cherry bow and a clamp, in the same way the stone cutters did for centuries. Nothing has changed. The results are spectacular masterpieces, each is a unique piece, since it’s impossible to replicate them: paintings, table tops, little jewels. Every piece a different story. Renzo loves his creations so much that some of them are not even on sale: a piece of his heart cannot be sold.

This is an exciting way to get to know Florence and its craftsmen’s workshops, talking to the Maestros to discover their secrets. These people are the pride of Florence, they are the descendants of the ancient Arti e Corporazioni, the Guilds of Florence established in the Middle Ages to develop the trade and the economy of the city. The magic of creation is still alive in the modern artisans workshops. Should we call them artisans or artists?

By |February 1st, 2016|Home, Medici|0 Comments