For two wonderful days I have been in the home, the mother land of that illustrious episode in the time of the western perspective and mind that we collectively refer to as the Renaissance. It’s almost difficult to put into words the sheer glory of this place, and glory, splendor and beauty are all superlatives that get over used when describing Florence and Tuscany as a whole, but then when one travels here and sees the display for one’s self, it’s instantly understood to the very depths of the heart, spirit and soul why these things are said.

A definition of depilated Beauty: The Birth of...

A definition of depilated Beauty: The Birth of Venus (1486), by Sandro Botticelli. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a depth, a richness of form and coherent structure to Florence that is breath-taking. The city seems to be an assembly line of one beautiful thought after another. Painting, sculpture and architecture are all gracefully blended together, and were clearly all conceived at the same time. All is designed to complement and flatter, all looks to be as is it should, no matter how ornate or grand. Although the objects are many hundreds of years old the city is not dated, its still living, breathing and serving it’s function. This is so refreshing in comparison to the sterile steel and glass boxes that we are encouraged to admire in other parts of the world, where some empty void is asked to be filled by some random piece of art that has no relationship to the structure in which it finds itself housed.

Harmony conceived on this scale is just humbling, and hundreds of years later the great patronage of the Medici and other notable families are still showing the world how these things should be done. Florence makes London (sparing it’s own glories) look like a ramshackle, incoherent bag lady looking for a bargain at a jumble sale. I have read on several occasions the lamentations of critics that specialise in the realms of architectural taste bemoan the lack of vision with London’s modern city planning, at the time I gave a gentle nod of agreement, now my head shakes vigorously! London needs to get its act together urgently, Florence has barely changed externally for at least a hundred years, save for some restoration work here and there, and tasteful internal modernisation of utilities, yet still effortlessly outshines the beauty of London, Paris and New York put together, just as Botticelli’s the birth of Venus outshines the other great paintings in one of the rooms at the Uffizi.

After Berlin I arrived in Pisa before my planned later arrival in Florence, and as I trudged up from Pisa train station with my luggage to the Campo dei Miracoli, I was chastising myself for being so head strong, and not doing the sensible thing of dropping off in Florence and then coming back on another day. When I eventually reached the famed site (after getting a little lost) the sight that greeted me was of such splendor that I briefly didn’t feel the weight of my bags, and self-criticism ended instantly. ‘Field of Miracles’ is an accurate description of this place, you turn the corner and your jaw just drops to let out an exclamation of sheer wonderment! In the limpid sunshine the monuments gathered there the Duomo, the Composanto (the cemetery) and the Leaning Tower glow a brilliant white, and seem to be made more of bone, porcelain or ivory than bricks and mortar, and appear almost weightless as they sit crisply on the vivid green grass.

Inside the Duomo the richness of the sculpture, wood carvings, altar and frescoes is almost ridiculous, and again one’s mouth is used for catching flies. The Composanto is just gorgeous, and I have never seen death represented so luxuriously, there was one notable grave that was literally draped with the sensuous form of what must of been a likeness of Aphrodite, giving a pose to rival that of a Vogue model. The resting place was transformed from somber grave of some august nobleman, to something closer to a chaise long in the bed chamber of a seductive mistress. I’m confident that Georgian or Victorian visitors on tour would of blushed for many reasons at the suggestiveness of the marble curves.

Of course a person cannot talk of Pisa without mentioning the leaning tower, it really is a sight to behold, and at a far more jaunty angle then I at first thought it would be. Thankfully due to many hundreds of tonnes of lead weight added to the foundations, the leaning is no longer continuing, and the attraction is now safe to the public. However it must be said that for those with a slight fear of heights (like myself) there are a few hair-raising moments in the assent when two hands to hold on are required! There is a crucial bit in the assent when you are basically on the very brim of the leaning side of the tower, before the final ascent to the crown while under the full effects of gravity, with only a wrought iron bar and some extremely narrow steps to cling to for safety. Do not look down at this point! I did twice and felt I was going to faint on both occasions, better to ignore where you are and not imagine one’s self rolling off the side like a human marble, gut wrenching! Once at the top however you realise that braving the feelings of doom and danger were totally worth it, and self chastisement and quiet swearing to the self is extinguished instantly by the view! And what a view. Literally the rolling hills of Tuscany lie before you in majestic beauty, looking just like all the paintings that seem too stylised and romantic to be real, and then you look and see for yourself that the vision is both wholesome and true. The only view that can rival the view from the top of the leaning tower in my opinion is the one from the top of the copula of the Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. This view overlooking the city, has to be one of the best of my life, and even the most hard-line atheist would find it hard not to raise a prayer to God or some other heavenly entity when faced with its sight. It’s nothing short of a spiritual experience to describe the elation for me upon reaching the summit of the Copula, especially as visually (and therefor narratively) you have to walk past the depictions of Hell and Heaven painted inside the dome on the way up. The painting of the inside of the dome is mind-boggling!

Genius is a word that is often used too liberally to ascribe sanctity upon that which does not deserve the accolade of art, literature, architecture or even comedy that truly transcends the grasp of mundane reality. The painting of this dome (as well as all the other miracles that abound in this place) is truly an act of illustrious Genius, it cannot be called anything else, the scope of the achievement is truly humbling to behold, and I would hope that I would be able manifest three crumbs of work in my whole life that could compare to such epic art, that frightens, enthralls and dazzles in equal measure. I could not help but run my hand admiringly above the protective plastic in the dome and touch the master work for myself, like a pilgrim to some holy relic to feel imbibed by the master piece, and hope that a little of it could find yet more life in me and all those that gaze upon it. It was a truly wonderful experience that will never be forgotten for as long as I live.

The more every day factors like describing the food, wine and ice cream of the city will have to be left for another entry, as these deserve an entry for themselves.

Today I leave for Padua and Venice, where no doubt I will be dazzled yet again, although churning mass of tourists in Venice do detract from the experience I’m told (and of course I’m only adding to the problem by visiting myself) but it has to be experienced so I and the city will have to bear it. As everything has proved thus far on this adventure, effort will be totally worth it!

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