Florence: The Saturday

Since I only had two days, I booked tickets for the museums. You can do that to get in without waiting too long. Today I would visit the Galleria dell'Accademia, and tomorrow I would visit the Ufizzi. I had information on a walking tour that I could join later on. It turned out that Florence is so convenient that a walking tour isn't really necessary.

One of the main attractions in Florence is Michelangelo's statue of David. Originally positioned in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, it was a political comment which symbolized Florence against its larger enemies. The statue is huge, and through its stature in the art world has become something of a Goliath in itself.

There are actually three statues of David. Two of them are outside, and the original was moved to the Galleria dell' Accademia during the 19th century to protect it from the elements. The statue in the Accademia is thronged by tourist kids, and is probably the only art work they'll remember. At least it leaves the rest of the museum relatively quiet.

It's a shame that David himself isn't around to collect royalties on the product line. There are postcards, key chains, plates, kitchen aprons, and even mouse pads. More interesting, different mouse pads zoom in on different parts of David. One is of the head, and another is of the er tail very tasteful. I realized at that point that this statue of the future king of Israel wasn't completely accurate. If Michelangelo carved just a little bit more he would have got it right.

Besides the statue of David, there were some unfinished works of Michelangelo, many paintings, and a 19th century hall of sculpture as well. Unlike the large museums in Britain and the U.S., it's possible to see everything in the Accademia in an hour or so. I had thought that I would spend half the day there, so I was surprised to be out on the street again so soon.

The rest of the day was free association. I passed by the monastery of San Marco. San Marco had one of the first public libraries in the world (with some huge music manuscripts) and there were great paintings by Fra Angelico. Unfortunately, San Marco was also the home of Girolamo Savonarola, a religious lunatic who became the de facto ruler of Florence at the close of the 15th century. He made Florence a grim place, and in 1497 he sponsored the "Bonfire of the Vanities", where "objectionable" books and paintings (some of the best of the Renaissance) were burned, with Botticelli volunteering his earlier works. Mr. Savonarola was such a nice guy that they gave him his very own bonfire a year later.

Later in the day I went to the Duomo, which is a huge cathedral and a meeting point for all the tourists. There's an amazing dome (hence the name), and the remains underneath of a Roman-era cathedral. You can get yourself up to the cuppola to look at Florence, but I must have forgotten to do that. I also visited San Lorenzo, which was the local parish church of the Medici. Michelangelo made an altar and a set of tombs, and there were two pulpits by Donatello. Fantastic.

The highlight of the day was the Palazzo Vecchio. This is the original location of the David statue, and nowadays, is the Florence town hall. That day they were getting ready for a reception in the main chamber. There was a numbing amount of artwork, but for me, the main attraction was the map room. As possible owners of the world, the Medici wanted to see exactly what it looked like. They took maps from the major cartographers of the time and paneled a room with them. In the middle of the room is an enormous globe. There were maps of China and Japan, Europe, Central Asia and South America. Some were incredibly accurate. Others, like the one of the Baltic region, were a bit fanciful. Still, the room was quite amazing.

The Palazzo Vecchio also has balconies, with wonderful views of Florence. I snapped a bunch of pictures there, and from a balcony which went around the clock tower. Next to the telescopes, there was a wimpy little sign that said "No photos", but I believe that was more of a commercial consideration than one of national security. In any case, what's done is done.

For the rest of the day I walked up and down the Arno, crossing here and there on the bridges and snapping pictures of the Ponte Vecchio. On the way back to get ready for dinner, I took a different way back and did some window shopping. The nice thing about Florence is that whichever way you walk, you'll find something familiar. It' almost impossible to get lost.