Saturday, April 21, 2007

More of Firenze (Florence), the renaissance city

I would encourage people not to miss the noteworthy Palazzo Pitti, now a museum, and in particular the amazing Giardino di Boboli [Boboli Gardens], spanning approximately a vast 45 hectares of hilly land. Beautiful is the word I can describe this stately property.

The Palazzo Pitti at my back from the Boboli Gardens. Right behind me is the ampitheater, the primary axis of this huge estate where open-air theatrical performances were once held for the Medicis. In the 2nd foto, you can sight the city of Florence at the back of Palazzo Pitti.

Neptune (fountain), the discus thrower in the middle of the pool at Boboli. Next foto is a part of Palazzo Pitti (this is the wing where the Costume Gallery is) with the panoramic view of Florence just right behind it.

This medieval palace with lavishly landscaped gardens and Renaissance antiquities is the home of the once powerful Medici family, rulers of the Tuscan region during the dark middle ages. Eleonora di Toledo, wife of Cosimo I de Medici, bought the palace from the rich banking entrepreneur Lucca Pitti and she transfored the whole place into a kingdom of her own.

On the 1st foto is a sneak peek of the Palazzo Pitti inner courtyard. 2nd foto is just right outside the palace backyard facade. This is before you tread into the Boboli Gardens. And the last is the palace door (entrance) looking towards the outer courtyard and street.

In the backyards of the palace is the great and beautiful Boboli Gardens rising magnificently above the massive chateau. The expanse of the gardens reminds me quite a bit of Madrid’s Retiro Park. The difference between the two is that the Retiro Park is visibly man-made and very commercial-looking, whereas the Boboli Gardens has this spry yet highly imperial twist, like a play between tasteful stately art and the pure elements of nature.

I very much enjoyed my time in the Boboli Gardens. If I was a kid I would have gone amok, running wild, exploring, and hiding in the many arch vaulted pathways that looked like mazes of secret clove passages made purposely of clustered and clipped branches and high shrubberies. It was so Alice-in-Wonderland kind of thing.

That’s me getting ready to descend the arch vaulted clove garden mazes in Boboli. Above is the Pottery Gallery nestled on top of the gardens... and look at that delightful view! Felicity was what I felt when I was up there.

Entrance fee to the Palazzo Pitti and its art galleries is €11, and to the Boboli Gardens (inclusive of the costume and pottery galleries) is cheaper, costing only €6. You can easily spend half a day to a whole day here.

I decided not to do the full palace and museum tour for fear that I will suffer acute art overdoses. Even though I am an art enthusiast, I do not think I can handle too much art all at the same hour, or 2-3 hours, lol. The opulent gardens with its fantastic view of Florence would simply do justice to my lust for art, and my sanity of course as it provides optimum tranquility. I just needed really to get away from the busyness of the city, something I was badly wanting for that very moment.

La Fontana della Oceano con il Perseo che esce dalla acqua - one of the luxuriant pool fountains in Boboli. The sculptures were shall I say evoking, dramatic, stirring, and vivid.

Allow me though to deduce and talk a little bit about the Costume gallery. The visit was surprisingly a very very interesting experience. The museum did not only display timelines of women-and men’s fashion in the olden days but it also exhibits the garments of the very mighty Medici family of Florence.

The clothes Eleonora di Toledo, Cosimo I de Medici and their son Don Garzia wore when they died and when they were buried, and let me add this most important piece of information--they were, the clothes they wore inside the tombs, were freshly unearthed during our time! Right, after several hundreds of years!

The outer grounds of the Palazzo Pitti across the street. Many people were sitting on the grounds basking under the sun.

A team of experts were flown into Florence to preserve and restore the decaying garments, piece by piece, into its nearest original state. The whole procedure took years. I believe 10 years or more.

Just going through the collection was simply mind blowing. Keep this in mind, the Medici family died in the harrowing middle ages. Fascinating isn’t it? Indeed the joys of history...

This is the cafe (Caffe Pitti) across the palace where I had my scrumptious lunch, and two Asian women poring over a myriad of post cards and paintings in a nearby touristic stand.

A busy junction in Ponte Vecchio leading towards Palazzo Pitti by the Arno River.

Before going to the San Lorenzo Mercato (public market hall), which was in my agenda for the day, and which I realized was actually quite near to my hotel, I wandered about aimlessly along the river banks of Arno and the charismatic narrow alleys in the East part of the city.

I love to walk and sight-see, and even though my feet were aching like crazy already, I still walked, devouring all the history, culture, and architectural bounties around me.

With the old Fiat mini car in front, this foto articulates the true Italian spirit.

Then I rolled into Piazza Santa Croce. The square is said to be dated circa 13th-14th century. There were many tourists hanging out in the square. There was even a class doing yoga.

Piazza Santa Croce in the eastern part of Florence - those people standing are doing yoga classes. The Santa Croce church began construction in 1294 with the guidance of the Florentine architect Arnulfo di Cambio. And did you know that the grave monuments of Michaelangelo and Galilei are housed in this church?

To see Piazza Santa Croce and me -- ha-ha, I look so cheeky-corny on film(!), please click on the short movie clip above. This is my first attempt of being on film ;-), perhaps next time I will do better.

This is another Piazza Santa Croce version, but without me.

This foto of 3 men and 4 women is another favorite, taken also in Piazza Santa Croce. Next foto is a street fruit vendor. The colors are so beautiful.

Upon reaching San Lorenzo church, I right away made acquaintance with the buzzing street market scene and its surroundings, then hurriedly walked further. I can’t really be bothered with the kitschy and fake goods displayed. Not only that, when traveling, believe it or not, I realized that I do not like shopping at all, at least the female manner of pouring on every single item and having the shopping activity listed on the agenda every single day.

Perhaps I have reached to a point of contentment-utter contentment to shop once every quarter, that is. Or maybe I am just busy. The last time I shopped for clothes was when I was in the US last early February. I felt obliged to do so because my hotel was annexed to this humongous complex of malls and hotels. It was easy to sneak in and shop during idle moments. Even then, I have only bought 3 items! What a shame?

The hustling street market in Piazza San Lorenzo. Like all over Florence, there are many black guys touting leather goods, watches and even electronic wares here.

I know completely that many women are by nature wanton shopaholics. It’s a bit ironic because I really do like fashion, but I am truthfully far from this women inflicted materialism stereotype--not joking okay. Far be it for me that I shop until I drop or have squeezed out my last cent from my wallet/bank account into some vain whatever pointless shop. I seldom carry cash nor use my credit card--thank goodness. I would rather save, and if I have to spend, it would better be on one of my traveling binges, he-he.

So with that I avoided the crowd and went straight to the mercato (market hall), just right across the San Lorenzo church. The mercato is a public market, something like the wet market in Asia/Philippines where you can find fresh meat, seafood, vegetables, and fruits sold. Well, I found my favorite Italian gourmand there – dried sausages, cheeses, spices and olives. Yum!

The San Lorenzo church (began building in 1420) towering above the street market in the piazza is designed by the famous Florentine architect, Brunelleschi. In this church are the tombstones of the Medici family. Next foto is a cozy cafe terrace that I took at the back of the San Lorenzo Mercato (public market hall).

Nevertheless, I was very pleased with my package of Italian goodies. Here is a point I always make when traveling too, I always make sure to pay a visit to the local supermarkets, wet/public markets, and the open-air markets in the city squares. There is so much to discover in these places and it amazes me everytime I get caught up in the whirlwind of its sights, sounds, and smells.

The Dutchman who is in the Caribbean for work right now will surely love a little slice of this la dolce vita present waiting for him when he comes back to good old flat Holland.

This is what I found inside the San Lorenzo Mercato (public market) - Italian delicatessen, dried sausages, cheeses, preserved fruits... there were also olives, olive oil, wines, spices, and many more.

Later that day, somewhere in Piazza della Santissima Annunziata I sat down to rest my weary butt and legs on the steps in one of the buildings in the square. In my travel guide book, I read that this is the first square built in Florence in Renaissance style during the first half of the 15th century. The fountain across me standing in the spacious square has this grotesque looking sea-creature images. They looked very intimidating, like little minions of the devil, lol, and were believed to be the work of Pietro Tacca, Giambologna’s assistant.

More importantly, I didn’t realize that sitting alone may send wrong messages of invitation to assertive Italian men!? WTF, I better get going!

Piazza della Santissima Annunziata is located very near to the Duomo, Piazza San Lorenzo, and Piazza San Marco. The equestrian statue in the middle of the square is the Grand Duke of Florence, Ferdinand I de Medici, son of Cosimo I de Medici. This is Giambologna’s last artwork and completed by his student-assistant Pietro Tacca in 1608.

All in all, my time in Florence was truly well spent. I love the city! There were still many other places that I would love to see, explore, and experience, but for now they will have to wait for another time.

Next entry: My unforgettable Siena...

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