FIRST DAY IN FLORENCE
Before starting to see FLORENCE one should first look down from the top of one of its grey stone towers at the red sea of roofs lying between the hills, scattered with villas, cypresses and olive groves. The natural setting of the city is superb. From Porta Romana climb up the Bellosguardo hill to Piazzale Michelangelo. From this point go up the monumental staircase of San Salvatore to San Miniato, with its facade of inlaid polychrome marble; this is more than decoration, it is colour serving to express the architecture; the serene beauty of this facade is a foreshadowing of the Renaissance. In the interior this quiet expression of beauty in marble is continued. In the nave the Chapel of the Crucifix by Michelozzo, in the north aisle, the fine tomb by Manetti for a Portuguese Cardinal. In the Sacristy there are frescoes by Spinello Aretino, a pleasing minor master of the late 14th century.
From here we can go down to Fort Belvedere (late 16th century) which houses detached frescoes from various parts of Tuscany. Beneath is the Boboli Garden. Going through the rusticated Porta San Giorgio, we come into the almost country lane of Via San Leonardo down which we walk towards the monumental complex of the Baptistery and the Cathedral.
The Baptistery is of the 11° century and has the same clean and linear architectural lines as San Miniato; it is the most ancient building in Florence. The interior is an- elegant octagon with a glittering Venetian mosaic m the dome. On either side of the altar stand the impressive Mary Magdalene and the Papal Tomb by Donatello. The bronze doors are of different periods; that facing the Cathedral, which Michelangelo called << the Gate of Paradise >>, is the masterpiece of Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455).
Opposite is the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. The facade is 19° century, but the interior impresses by the simple harmony with which the Florentines adopted (or perhaps adapted) the Gothic style. Giotto tookpart m the building of the Cathedral, which was completed by that genius of the early Renaissance, Brunelleschi, with his mighty dome. In one of the transepts there is the most dramatically eloquent of the four Pieta carved by Michclangelo, the one that the sculptor intended for his own tomb. In the north aisle there are the fresco portraits of Dante, by Domenico di Michelino, of two captains of the Florentine army, the Essex knight, Sir John Hawkwood ("Giovanni Acuto") by Paolo Uccello, and Niccolo da Tolentino by Andrea del Castagno. Leaving by the door at the end of the church, in the south aisle, we note the sharp curve of the apse and the rich shape of the Campanile, or bell-tower, which Giotto planned at seventy years of age. In the Opera del Duomo Museum, there is some important sculpture, including the Choir, with its garlands of putti and the realistic statue of the Prophet Habbakuk (known to the Florentines as lo "Zuccone", or "Old Baldpate" by Donatello.
Along Via Calzaioli we pass Orsanmichele, a church as solid as a fortress. Round its sides, between the richly decorated windows there are statues by Donatello, Nanni di Banco, Ghiberti, Verrocchio and Giambologna. The shadowy interior is commanded by the Tabernacle, a masterpiece of sculpture as minute as goldsmith's work, by Andrea Orcagna (14th century). Next to Orsanmichele there is a fine example of Medieval civic architecture, the Palazzo dell'Arte delta Lana. From this point it is only a few yards to Piazza della Signoria, centre of Florentine life for ten centuries. Here the people rejoiced in happy times and gathered in time of trouble; here Savonarola was burnt, here artists displayed flit works they had just finished, here took place the festivals, the wedding processions, the Medici theatrical performances. Here they still play the football match in 16th century costume, which recalls ancient Florence.
When the Renaissance came along, this Piazza was already built, and it hadto look elsewhere for space to express itself. The Palazzo delta Signoria was finished in 1314, but it took two more centuries to create the interior as we know it today. Gazing up from the ground, it makes one giddy, not so much from the height (308 ft.) but for the boldness with which the tower soars from the facade - a rare example of strength and elegance combined.
the Loggia delta Signoria demonstrates with its semicircular arches that the Renaissance spirit was already mature in Florentine artists a century before. It is of 1381. Here Benvenuto Cellmi left his masterpiece, the Perseus, with its four base statuettes, perhaps even more perfect than the larger statue. Passing a copy of Michelangelo's << David >> we enter the Palace. The left-hand courtyard has remained as it was in the 14° century, but all the rest was transformed in the following centuries. From being the seat of government of a Republic it became a royal palace. Michelozzo built the first courtyard in 1453: Tadda made the fountain, Verrocchio decorated it with his bronze putto; a century later, at a loss to know how to add to the splendour, they applied stucco ornaments to the columns. This profusion of wealth is continued on the upper floors. There is the vast Salone del Cinquecento with Vasari's Battle Paintings and the statue of the << Genius of Victory >> by Michelangelo. Then there is the Studiolo (small study) which Vasari planned for Francesco I and which his pupils trasformed into a document of sensual Florentine Mannerism. The whole of the first and second floors are taken up with the Medici apartments which Vasari and Bronzino built; they alternate with wonderful loggias and terraces giving views of the whole of Florence. Going down into the street again, we enter Piazzale degli Uffizi with its noble Palazzo which Vasari, the great town-planner of Renaissance Florence, built for Cosimo I, who wanted to set the central bureaucracy of the state there. Instead, it houses themost famous Gallery in the world (See ,The Ten Capitals of Italian Painting ).
The morning might well finish with the Uffizi. One can have lunch in one of the restaurants in Piazza della Signoria.