Saturday, May 31, 2014

129. The Pitti Palace and gardens

The Palazzo Pitti is a huge - mainly Renaissance - palace sitting on an elevated site overlooking Florence on the south side of the River Arno. The core of this severe and forbidding building dates from 1458 and was originally the town residence of Luca Pitti, an ambitious Florentine banker. 

 

The palace was bought by the Medici family in 1549 and became the chief residence of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It grew as a great treasure house as later generations amassed paintings, plates, jewelry and luxurious possessions. ( ... more about the Medici family in a later blog posting ... )
 

The Palazzo remained the principal Medici residence until the last male Medici heir died in 1737. It was then occupied briefly by his sister, the elderly Electress Palatine; on her death, the Medici dynasty became extinct and the Palazzo passed to the new Grand Dukes of Tuscany. 

 

In the late 18th century, the palazzo was used as a power base by Napoleon during his domination of Italy, and later served for a brief period as the principal royal palace of the newly united Italy. The palace and its contents were donated to the Italian people by King Victor Emmanuel III in 1919, and its doors were soon thereafter opened to the public as one of Florence's largest art galleries. Today, it houses several minor collections in addition to those of the Medici family, and is fully open to the public. 

Unfortunately photography is not permitted inside the galleries - so I'm sorry but you'll just have to imagine the grandeur of the rooms and the extraordinary treasures contained therein ...

 


The Palazzo is divided into five separate art galleries and a museum, housing not only many of its original contents, but priceless artefacts from many other collections acquired by the state. The interior rooms of the palazzo have been largely altered since the era of the Medici, most recently in the 19th century. Some of the rooms are quite small and intimate, and, while still grand and gilded, are more suited to day-to-day living requirements of the ruling families.


I did manage to "sneak" a few photographs of statuary during my wanderings of the Palazzo - but usually only on stairwells and in courtyards out of range of the guards ... !!! ...




















The Boboli Gardens

Land on the Boboli Hill at the rear of the Palazzo was acquired by the Medici family in order to create a large formal park and gardens, today known as the Bodoli Gardens.

 
   
 

The Gardens - rising up behind the Palazzo - are some of the first and most familiar formal 16th-century Italian gardens. The mid-16th-century garden style, as it was developed here, incorporated longer axial developments, wide gravel avenues, a considerable "built" element of stone, the lavish employment of statuary and fountains, and a proliferation of detail, coordinated in semi-private and public spaces that were informed by classical accents.

 


The openness of the garden, with an expansive view of the city, was unconventional for its time. The gardens were very lavish, considering no access was allowed outside the immediate Medici family, and no entertainment or parties ever took place in the gardens.
 


The garden area lacks a natural water source, so to water the plants in the garden, a conduit was built from the nearby Arno River to feed water into an elaborate irrigation system. The gardens have passed through several stages of enlargement and restructuring work. They were enlarged in the 17th century to their present extent of 45,000 meters² (11 acres).

 





 
The Boboli Gardens have come to form an outdoor museum of garden sculpture that includes Roman antiquities as well as 16th and 17th century works.
















Scene from the back of the Gardens are the beautiful Tuscan hills with olive tree plantations ...

More from Florence soon ...


Saturday, May 24, 2014

128. Next Adventure - Florence ...

So after a couple of weeks wandering the streets of old Venice - it's a five hour bus ride down the centre of Italy through Padua and Bologna - landing me in fabulous Florence on the next leg of my adventure ...

Home for the next five weeks ...

After settling into my new home and checking out my immediate neighbourhood, it's into the city centre ( 15 minutes by bus ... ) to begin exploring the many attractions that draw me to  this ancient and exciting city  ...

... and the best place to start is from the highest point and it's from there that I can get an idea of the lay of the land - so in this city the highest point is atop the bell tower of the Florence Cathedral ...

Now at 85 metres this is a climb not for the faint-hearted and I am thankful that I had a good plate of muesli for breakfast and a strong coffee before starting on the climb - all 414 steps to the very top ...  



But before that climb, here is a bit about this extraordinary church complex ...
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore - Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower – is commonly called Il Duomo di Firenze. 


Construction of this magnificent building began in 1296 in the Gothic style to the design of Arnolfo di Cambio and completed structurally in 1436 with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. 

 

The complex includes the Basilica building, the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile ( the bell tower which I am about to climb ... ) and the three buildings – found in the centre of the historic precinct of Florence, are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 
 
The decoration of the exterior of the cathedral, begun in the 14th century, was not completed until 1887, when the polychrome marble fa├žade was completed to the design of Emilio De Fabris. The exterior walls are faced in alternate vertical and horizontal bands of polychrome marble from Carrara (white), Prato (green), Siena (red), Lavenza and a few other places.

 

The basilica is one of Italy's largest churches, and until the development of new structural materials in the modern era, the dome was the largest in the world. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed. 

The dimensions of the building are enormous: length 153m, width 38m, width at the crossing 90m. The height of the arches in the aisles is 23m. The height of the dome is 114.5m The Gothic interior is vast and gives an empty impression.

 

Santa Maria del Fiore was built on the site of an earlier 5th century cathedral, that having undergone many repairs, was crumbling with age and was no longer large enough to serve the growing population of the city. The first stone of the new building was laid on September 9, 1296, by Cardinal Valeriana, the first papal legate ever sent to Florence. The building of this vast project was to last 140 years - the collective efforts of several generations of architects and builders.  
   
 


So after that walk around the vast Basilica and taking a few deep breaths and calf-stretches, it was time to start the climb ...

One lot of stairs for both ups and downs - 
barely room to pass ...

And once to the top - with a couple of stops at landings on the way up to catch my breath and check the heart rate - the 360 degree views were as expected - spectactular - and well worth the climb ...






The only structure higher than us was the observation deck on the Basilica's dome ...






And right on cue - at midday - the huge bells 
( not the little one - but the big monsters behind the cage
rang out just a couple of metres above my head ...


After the climb up, next came the climb down ... !!! ... 
and out into the glare and crowds on the Piazza ...







After surviving that climb both up and down - and feeling very fit and pleased with myself - it was into the Basilica to climb another 250 steps and get an up-close look at the magnificent fresco on the inside of the dome ...

 



It was originally suggested that the interior of the 45 metre (147 ft) wide dome should be covered with a mosaic decoration to make the most of the available light coming through the circular windows of the drum and through the lantern. 

Brunelleschi had proposed the vault to glimmer with resplendent gold, but his death in 1446 put an end to this project, and the walls of the dome were whitewashed. Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici decided to have the dome painted with a representation of The Last Judgment. 

This enormous work, 3,600 metres² (38 750 ft²) of painted surface, was started in 1568 by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari and would last till 1579.






Thank goodness for my sturdy Blundstone boots ...
the spiral staircase down was a bit frantic ...



The relative bareness of the church interior corresponds 
with the austerity of religious life at the time ...





Many decorations in the church have been lost in the course of time, or have been transferred to the Museum Opera del Duomo ( which at this time is closed for restoration until late in 2015 … ). 

The church is particularly notable for its 44 stained glass windows, the largest undertaking of this kind in Italy in the 14th and 15th century. They are the work of the greatest Florentine artists of their times, such as Donatello, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Paolo Uccello and Andrea del Castagno.




The three massive brass doors at the front of the Basilica 
are a 19th century addition ...

Then it was across the Piazza to have a look inside the Baptistery - sadly wrapped in scaffolding and printed cloth as restorations are carried out ...


 
The Florence Baptistery - also known as the Baptistery of Saint John - stands across the piazza from the Basilica and the Campanile. It is one of the oldest buildings in the city, constructed between 1059 and 1128. 

 

The Baptistry is crowned by a magnificent mosaic ceiling depicting the Last Judgement. The earliest mosaics - works of art of many unknown Venetian craftsmen - date from 1225 and probably not completed until the fourteenth century.


Statues of noted thinkers of the time by Donatello ...




The building is probably best known for its magnificent bronze-cast and gilded doors ... The south doors were done by Andrea Pisano and the north and east doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti.

 The east doors were dubbed by Michelangelo, the "Gates of Paradise".
  

 
The day I visited the Basilica the temperature hit a sweltering 32 degrees - and in their wisdom, the city called out a fleet of ambulances in readiness for dehydrated tourists ...

So that was my first of many outings into Florence ...