Kim and Katy and I were wide-eyed and alert when we met at the kitchen table at 8:00 this morning. The plan was to climb the 400 something steps of the Duomo (only a 10 minute walk from our villa if you know the way). But the line stretched around the enormous cathedral by the time we got there after several missed turns, so we decided to try another day and went to the antique market instead. We must have been there too early because half of the stalls were not open yet. I couldn't find anything I could fit in my suitcase, although quite a few crystal chandeliers caught my eye and I experienced some momentary insanity trying to figure out how they could. Katy and Kim each bought some cool stuff. We made it back to the villa in time for lunch of leftover pizza.
After lunch all 12 of us walked the few blocks back to the piazza to meet Alexandra, our brilliant tour guide from yesterday, who led us through the Uffuzi Gallery. The Uffuzi was built in the late 1500's to house the offices of the Florentine magistrates (hence the name uffizi, "offices"). Over the years it evolved into a display place for many of the paintings and sculptures collected by the House of Medici. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo gathered at the Uffizi "for beauty, for work and for recreation."
Alexandra guided us through magnificent rooms of Medieval and Renaissance paintings and sculpture: Botticelli, Da Vinci, Albrecht Durer, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Rembrandt...only a few of the works we saw. We needed more time.
We walked the Vasari Corridor, an elevated enclosed passageway which was built to link the Medici offices to the Palazzo Pitti. It crosses the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge), the only remaining Medieval bridge in Italy. The corridor was commissioned to be completed in time for the marriage of Francesco Medici to Johanna of Austria so guests could move freely between the residence and the government palace without having to pass through (or smell) the throngs of butchers and customers beneath on the bridge. The butchers were eventually removed to another site and replaced with goldsmiths, which is what remains today on the Ponte Vecchio; the bridge is lined on either side with jewelry shops, glittering with gold and brilliant gem stones. I didn't even bother to check out prices.
In the middle of the corridor there is a series of windows; in 1939 the original windows were replaced by order of Benito Mussolini for an official visit to Florence by Adolf Hitler, so he could have a panoramic view of the Arno River. We could peer through the windows to below and see the winding river and crowds shopping for jewels on the bridge. The long meandering halls of the corridor are used as a gallery today, exhibiting centuries old paintings. Lining the walls of the last few halls of the corridor are artists' self-portraits, which all of us thought was the most exciting work of the Uffuzi and its corridor. Many of our favorite artists were on the walls.
After dinner we stopped for gelato; we are out to determine whether Alexandra was really right or just snobbish. Are the gelatos sold from venders with heaps of visible gelato not as good as those whose gelato is hidden in stainless steel canisters and covered with lids? We are also considering the variables: what was the taster's condition at the time of the tasting--physically tired from excessive exercise (a full day walking) or mentally exhausted from intellectual exercise (a full day at the studio). We may have to try both types of vendors under both conditions. We are only beginning the study.
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