This is a series of posts following my wife and me on a tour of Italy.
Day 2 continues our stay in Florence, Italy. Next up, the top of the Il Duomo
“One should not attend even the end of the world without a good breakfast.”
― Robert A. Heinlein,
I remain speechless in the presence of great words. Wholeheartedly and in good faith, my wife and I adhered to those words and finished our breakfast. Tracy chose the healthy spinach and eggs crepe, while the child in me gobbled down a waffle slathered in chocolate and banana. I ordered a double Americano for the road and we paid and left.
Walking toward the Florence Cathedral I saw a large arch looming ahead. It was the entrance to the Piazza Della Repubblica. Inscribed on the arch were the following words:
L’ANTICO CENTRO DELLA CITTÀ
DA SECOLARE SQUALLORE
A VITA NUOVA RESTITUITO
This claim translates to “The ancient center of the city, from age-old squalor, restored to new life.” The statement and the arch are a controversial reminder that this was once the home of Roman Florence, the Jewish Ghetto, and medieval or Renaissance Florence. It is the only designation that those periods ever existed.
Like the modern roads and buildings that cover the evidence that the Roman Forum once stood here, this arch is the modern evidence that the past was removed when Florence began its public works improvement projects as the capital of a reunited Italy.
I realized that it was noon when the church bells began to sound. The noise became a roar. The echoes tumbled through your ears and down the streets off the walls and reverberated like a wave against my head.
We continued walking and soon we were at the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower. The line to one of the buildings was long. Tracy had spoken with a client about our trip. When she told us about climbing to the top of the Dome that was one of the celebrated features of the basilica. Our line was for the Tower, but there was no line for the dome. Tracy waited in line and I went for a walk around the church. I had just passed the opera museum when I met E. Patel with Visit Today Italy.
Once I explained what we were trying to do, he told me that I needed to be in a different line. That we were in the line for the tower only. I also needed to purchase an individual ticket and there was a limit on the number of people that can go up so we would need to purchase for tomorrow or the next day. But, we could purchase a package from him that included a group tour to the top of the Il Duomo, and access to five other sites including the tower and museums. I also learned that the David required planning and advance ticket purchase, but that his group might have some spaces open for tomorrow.
I asked him to wait for me while I showed my wife the brochure and brought her around to ask any questions that I had not thought to consider. Tracy asked a few more questions and then we paid and I ran to find a restroom before the two-hour tour began. When I returned we were each given a portable receiver that was the size of an iPod nano. It hung around our necks on a blue ribbon and a single earpiece went over the right ear.
Our guide Giacomo was tall with glasses, a modern beard, and thick brown hair. He wore maroon pants and a pinstripe shirt and his English sounded British. He began to tell us how Florence had become one of the wealthiest nations in the area, if not the world. The Medici family were bankers for the church. The desire to reflect this was done through the building of great structures and the church was a vehicle for this development. The structure began when all was well and prosperous, and the part of the church that was built during that time is very ornate and detailed. But, the Bubonic Plague struck during the construction period and the number of workers changed from plentiful to sparse. That period of the churches exterior showed that the numerous close-set windows and tight, ornate decoration and patterning gave way to broader strokes.
Once inside, it was evident that the interior as Giacomo warned was not as ornate as the exterior. But the simple structure was not without its own beauty.
He then pointed out that we would begin the climb to the base of the dome. The entire climb to the top was 463 steps. We were using the staircases that originally belonged to the workers.
They were small narrow brick steps that twisted up and to the right. You could either hold the wrought iron handrails affixed to the wall or use the center column that the stairs twisted around to steady yourself during the climb. On the way down the direction reversed. Because there was only one way up and down, there was always the chance that you would come across someone heading in the opposite direction and compromise would become a necessity.
When we finished the first climb we arrived at a concrete walk that followed the perimeter of the dome. Frescoes depicted Jesus, saints, the devil and members of the church on the curved walls. Below was the floor of the church. An octagon in the center and from its eight sides spread rectangle patterns out across the floor.
Looking back up I could see the layers of the fresco reaching towards the light at the center of the dome. On the first layer was the earth. Men and women, naked walking and laying upon the earth. Wild animals attack, an old man with wings holding the wooden frame of an hourglass. To the sides are the pits of hell opening to the earth where men fall below to suffer the torment of a violent devil devouring sinners. Above this, four layers of clouds. On the third layer, Christ sits on a throne. Above him are rows of observes looking on. On the final layer, just beneath the opening in the dome, figures peer and lean over ledges and railings.
We continued our climb, moving upward and to the right. Every few feet was an opening that allowed the viewer to peer out at the city. Other times there was a glimpse at the gap between the lower dome that was built to cover the interior and the upper outer-dome which twisted to join the two concentric spirals at their center.
A final flight lifted us past the throng of visitors waiting to return to the ground from the top of the dome.
The city below sprawled out in a pattern of red tile roofs that spread all the way to the Etruscan hills where the Medici built their summer homes.
Looking directly down, was like staring at a cascade of red tile that spilled like a waterfall toward the city below.
Holding onto the railing we looked at the courtyards and the dome of the Cathedral de Medici.
Giacomo’s job was done. He collected our receivers and earpieces and invited us to stay as long as we wanted and ask him any questions we might have. We returned back to the base of the dome’s interior and then made our way back down the stairwells. When we reached the bottom we looked back at the dome in amazement that we had ever reached the top.
We walked to Leon d’Oro and Tracy decided to try out a shampoo and blow out. In 25 minutes she emerged smiling and refreshed. Her hair silky and her smile radiant. We continued to Drago Verde where we saw the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella and the Grand Hotel Minerva where Henry Wadsworth Longfellow translated Dante and Henry James wrote Roderick James.
A plaque dedicated to Longfellow is mounted to the outer wall of the hotel. It proclaims Longfellow a master translator of Dante who said, “This square is a mecca for foreigners.'”