Coming to Love Florence: Fifteen Walks Around the City
by Sue Davies
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An introduction explains the layout of the text and illustrative material and gives advice on how to get about the city and maximize the time at your disposal. It tells you how to avoid the worst of the crowds, and is packed with other helpful tips. It ends with a note on the sources used and some suggestions for further reading.
The fifteen walks are prefaced by a historical summary and a chronological overview of fifty of the better-known Florentine artists. The former gives a succinct account of the history of Florence from the Roman Period up to the present, and introduces you to the main players on the historical stage, while the latter provides a few pegs to help those who are new to the subject pin down some of the things that they are going to see.
The walks take in all the major museums, galleries and churches in the central city. Brief overviews are given of each venue to enable you to decide if it is for you or not, and a quick-reference index is provided to enable you to find the relevant entries easily. Each itinerary has its own dedicated map, and begins with a list of the venues covered, advice on timings, and tips specific to that walk. There is also a city map showing all of the walks.
Walk 1 explores the area around the Baptistery and the Duomo, gives lively accounts of the building histories of these structures, and draws attention to details which you may otherwise miss. Learn, among other things, about how the authorities rewarded Arnolfo di Cambio, the original architect of the Duomo, and about what happened when Brunelleschi was thrown into jail. Read about the strange pets kept by one particular artist, and about a gastronomic delight served up to him and his friends at their dinner club.
Walk 2 concentrates on the area of Piazza della Signoria, and explains the building history of the piazza, the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi buildings. Learn about how Michelangelo’s statue of David arrived in the piazza, how Cellini set fire to his workshop while casting the bronze statue of Perseus, and how he punished a fellow goldsmith for socially unacceptable behaviour at church. Finally, read about some of the spectacular events that took place in the piazza, including jousts and wild animal hunts.
Walks 3 and 4 plunge you into the streets of mediaeval Florence. Pause on the Ponte Vecchio, marvel at the mediaeval towers, and learn about family feuds, murders, political dissension and pitched street battles so violent that they resulted in widespread destruction.
Walks 5, 6 and 7 take in the major church complexes of S. Croce, S. Lorenzo and S. Maria Novella respectively. Walk 5 takes you past imposing palaces, again drawing attention to details which you may otherwise miss. Read about the battle at Piazza S. Pier Maggiore, and about how Michelangelo came to have two funerals. Walk 6 takes you through the Mercato Centrale and the tourist bazaar on Via dell’ Ariento. Hear how a furious Michelangelo gave the pope a piece of his mind, and read about the over-ambitious plans for his facade at S. Lorenzo. On Walk 7, get to know Jacopo Peri, composer of the first opera to survive complete, admire a lovely Ghirlandaio fresco of the Last Supper, visit a beautiful perfumery, and, among other things, find out how Botticelli got the better of a belligerent neighbour.
Walk 8 takes in the Museo di S. Marco, with its wonderful frescoes by Fra Angelico, the Accademia, where the original of Michelangelo’s statue of David is housed, and the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, with its exquisite chapel decorated with frescoes by Gozzoli. Learn about Fra Girolamo Savonarola, who came to a grisly end, and read about the famous Pazzi conspiracy, an account of which reads like a thriller.
On Walk 9, see the markers recording the levels of the two disastrous floods on 4th November 1333 and 4th November 1966, learn how the Venetian ambassador was saved by his horse, and marvel at the spectacular collections housed in the Museo Galileo and the Bargello. Finish up, if you wish, with fish and chips at what must be the most historic fish restaurant in the world.
Walks 10 and 11 take you into the N part of the city. Walk 10 takes in the beautiful Piazza SS. Annunziata, with the church of the same name, the famous Ospedale degli Innocenti, and the Loggia de’ Serviti, while Walk 11 includes two refectories and a cloister, all adorned with wonderful frescoes. Meet the extraordinary Trollope family, and read of how a vindictive cardinal tried to take revenge on his opponents.
Walks 12-15 take you across the river to the Oltrarno. Walk 12 concentrates on the area around S. Spirito and the Pitti Palace. Hear how the Bartolini got the better of some business competitors in an underhand way, learn about a public row between Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, and read about the bad behaviour of guests at balls at the Pitti Palace. Walk 13 takes in the Carmine complex, with its famous Brancacci Chapel. Read about how Filippo Lippi, one of the monks there, ran off with a nun, and about numerous other carryings on in the cloisters. Visit a sculptor’s gallery and indulge in a spot of ornithology on the Ponte Amerigo Vespucci.
Walk 14 takes you out to beautiful S. Miniato al Monte, from whence you get magnificent views over the city. Read of the siege of Florence and of why Michelangelo ended up as a wanted man, escaping execution only because of his skill and his contacts. On Walk 15, learn about Vasari’s Corridor, and visit the Bardini Gardens, the Boboli Gardens and the Belvedere, again with magnificent views. Read of how the Bardi bounced back from the brink, of how a Raphael was rescued from a ruined palace, and of how a prior got his sums wrong.
The book ends with the afore-mentioned quick-reference index to the museums, galleries and major church complexes, an index of personal names, and a full general index.
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