Entering the Uffizi


Everywhere I went in Florence I was aware of the Medici balls.  Prominent on the family crest and a symbol of the power of the de Medici family, I grew quite fond of them.  No surprise then to find them here at the Uffizi Gallery.  Cosimo 1 de Medici entrusted the task of creating another grandiose building alongside the Palazzo Vecchio to his favourite architect, Giorgio Vasari.  The intention was to house the offices of the Florentine magistrates, the Tribunal and the state archive under one roof, uffizi meaning ‘offices’.

The de Medicis had distinctly magpie tendencies when it came to art works, and the top floor of the Uffizi was used to showcase these.  Viewing, of course, was for the select few.  Today it is an enormous privilege to be able to climb the stairs to see some of their collection, among the finest art in Europe.  It was with excitement and just a little trepidation that I climbed those stairs.

I am in no way a serious appreciator of art.  I like what I like, but still there is the desire to be awed by masterpieces that have world renown.  Who can not have heard of Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Botticelli?  And all under one quite amazing roof space!  Persuading one foot to follow another was as much as I could do as I gazed upwards at the ceiling, a work of art in itself.

It was early morning and the gallery was filling slowly.   I tried to keep track of the artworks but inevitably I was drawn to some pieces more than others.  The most acclaimed works swiftly attracted a small crowd, but there were pockets of peace in between times, if you were patient.  I began with Giotto and the Gothics.  The Visit Florence website will guide you much better than I can, and there is a detailed itinerary too.

So many very lovely creations, in such opulent surroundings!  Did you recognise many?  At times I did not know whether to look at the art or the ceilings.  And then there was that celebrated view from the windows.  Only the weather disappointed.

An outside terrace looks out on Palazzo Vecchio, and then it’s downstairs to Da Vinci, and some rather engaging characters.

I always did have a soft spot for Musketeers.  The Uffizi has weathered some rough times, including  major flooding in 1966 and a car bomb explosion in 1993.  A fuller history is covered here.    It took a little while to emerge into the real world, but en route I managed to purchase a stamp and send my postcard of Ponte Vecchio winging its way to Viveka in Sweden.  I know she’ll return the favour when she visits next year.

Jo’s Monday walk : the walled city of Lucca

Shall I quote Henry James?  Lucca is a city “overflowing with everything that makes for ease, for plenty, for beauty”.  With a recommendation like that, how could I fail to try to squeeze it into our precious few days in Tuscany?

There was an ulterior motive , of course.  The city lies in a flat plain at the foot of the Apuan Alps, an hour or more’s train ride from our base in Florence.  I would have an opportunity to see a little of the Tuscan landscape, and the other half would get to rest the weary legs after the dizzying heights of Florence .  He would need this in preparation for the 4km walk around the city walls.  Not too far, is it?

No matter that you’ve seen photos, the reality is always a little different.  I knew that the city walls had been turned into a boulevard for that much-loved Italian pastime, passegiata, but still I didn’t comprehend the scale.  I found myself grinning as I strode across the grass towards the nearest bastion, one of eleven positioned around these 16th century walls.

Over a narrow moat, through a tunnel and up some steps, and there I was, looking down on Lucca.  A friendly lion gave me a silly smile, and I began to stroll.  Far in the distance, the snowcapped Alps.  Near at hand, elderly couples enjoying the gentle sunlight, cyclists whizzing by, toddlers tottering on 2 or 3 wheels or pushing dolls prams, and students sauntering off to lectures. All of life, it seemed to me.

Looking down from the walls provides views of the botanic gardens and wonderful snippets of the life of the Lucchesi.  A pedalo comes towards me, a dog perched haughtily in the basket up front.  I’m so busy smiling, I miss the shot!

At intervals I’ve glimpsed the bell tower of the Duomo di San Martino, the cathedral.  Time to descend, beneath nodding magnolia, and seek it out.

Construction of this striking cathedral began in 1063, the great apse and campanile remaining, still, from the original.  The nave and transepts were rebuilt in Gothic style in the 14th century, one of many reconstructions.  Entering, my eyes are immediately drawn to the ceiling.

I first learned the story of Ilaria del Carretto through a blogging friend, Ventisqueras.  Born in Pisa, and loving her native Tuscany with a passion, she impressed me with the magnificence of this tomb.  Wife of Paolo Guinigi, an influential politician, Ilaria died very early in childbirth. Jacopo della Quercia, of Siena, was commissioned to keep her beauty alive.

Leaving the cathedral, I go wandering in search of food and a place to sit awhile.  I’m heading in what I think is the direction of Piazza Antifeatro but before too long I’m lost in the maze of streets.  Lucca has her share of lovely squares and exceptional architecture.  Eventually I settle in Piazza San Michele, the site of a Roman forum, with San Michele in Foro towering over me.

I feel sure that Lucca has much more to offer to offer me, but my companion has had enough. Reluctantly I return to the station, dawdling where I can.  The exterior of Basilica di San Frediano, founded by an Irish bishop in the 6th century, invites.  The square in front of it, idle with newspaper readers and peaceful observers of life, a serious temptation.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of this charming city, whose wealth was founded on silk and lingerie.  I wanted to show you Torre Guinigi and climb to the roof garden, symbol of the rebirth of the city under the Guinigi family.  Instead I must ask you to read the links throughout the post for a much fuller picture of Lucca than I can give you here.  I hope you enjoyed it.

It’s been a busy week for me.  Three days on the Isle of Anglesey and a walk through Farndale’s daffodils seem to have eaten up most of it.  I’m sorry if I’ve fallen behind with my visits but very grateful for your continued support.  I’ll be playing catch up this week because next Sunday I’m off to the Algarve for 2 weeks.  I will continue to welcome walks but won’t be posting while I’m there.  Details as always are on my Jo’s Monday walk page.  Let’s put the kettle on now, and settle in for a good read!

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So much more than a walk, I really enjoyed Annika’s visit to Framingham.  I simply had to share this one :

‘Perfume of the Mountain Grass’

I love Debs to bits but I needed a big coat, scarf and gloves for this one!

Wintry Central Park

Much warmer in Lady Lee’s homeland, the Philippines :

Batanes Day Trip 1

I read this one with great interest, as I was Anglesey bound.  Thanks, Eunice!

A walk round Parys Mountain

On the beach at Barnes?  Only with Geoff (and Dog!)

Barnes by the Sea #walking#london

So nice to see my part of the world through fresh eyes. Especially such observant ones as Jude’s :

An amble around Durham’s Cathedral

Where’s Woolly this week?  Why Lucerne, of course!

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Jackie is still hanging around Mazatlan, and it’s easy to see why!

Just Another Day…

Ever wanted to volunteer on a kibbutz?  This is a good year.  Do read Lisa’s post!

Pura Nature Reserve

Bringing back such wonderful memories of my time in Paris!  Thanks, Drake :

Home away from home

Miriam is a joy to be with, especially when she’s feeling light-hearted :

Whimsical Walkabout Wednesday

While Carol knows how to appreciate a good hill or two.  I seem to remember that from our meeting :

Up to the Top

Please give a big welcome to Cadyluck Leedy for her wonderfully original introduction to Cairo :

Jo’s Monday Walk : Me, You and Agatha Christie

And that’s it for another week!  Brilliant, aren’t they?  I may be scheduling a walk for next Monday, but it rather depends how the week goes.  I’ll keep you posted.  Meantime, take care of yourselves and enjoy your walking!

Looking down on the Duomo

My only real disappointment in Florence came with the Duomo.  I arrived too late in the day to be able to climb high into Brunelleschi’s dome to see for myself this amazing construction.  I had to be content with worshipping from the ground, but I knew that there was more than one place to admire from.  Palazzo Vecchio provided a perfect viewing platform, and so much more.

Funny to think of this grandiose building as the town hall of Florence, but so it is. Built in 1299 as Palazzo della Signoria, to house the ruling body of the Republic of Florence, the Signoria, its fortress-like appearance belies the opulence inside. Much of this was added when Duke Cosimo 1 de Medici made it his official residence in 1540.

Intrigue was rife and in 1549 Cosimo moved his family across the River Arno to the security of Palazzo Pitti, renaming his former residence Palazzo Vecchio. The ‘Old Palace’ houses many secrets.  Can you imagine the extreme need for privacy that led to the commissioning of an above-ground ‘hidden’ walkway?  The Vasari Corridor leads from Palazzo Vecchio, through the Uffizzi, and across Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace.

Impossible to orchestrate the full history of this palace, but come with me to whet your appetite a little.

And we’ve barely reached the cloisters!  In the vast ground floor space I was challenged as to which ticket to purchase.  ‘Tower plus Museum’ sent me off in the direction of my first flight of steps, while the other half reclined with a coffee.

A statue beckons from a niche, and in no time I’m on a level with the roofs of Florence.  The 94 metre high tower sits on the solid structure below and contains 2 small cells.  Savonarola was detained here before his trial.  A not too challenging stairwell leads you upwards until you are atop the tower, with sweeping views across Florence, even on a grey day.  I watched the clouds anxiously as I knew the tower is closed if it rains.

The impact of the Salone dei Cinquecento  defies description. Built in the 15th century to house Maggiore Consiglio, Florence’s legislative assembly, the ‘Hall of the 500’ is still used today for ceremonial events.  Folding chairs sit in the hush, while you try to take in the wonder of Michelangelo and his contemporaries, all around you.

Using my Museum ticket I was free to go at my own pace.  A circuit of the palace takes you through a sequence of splendour, each ceiling a work of art, the walls bathed in beauty.  The culmination is a view down into the hall from the second floor. Breathtaking!

Through realms of fantasy, pomp and splendour to Eleanora’s private apartments and chapel. Did ever a family live in such style?

And then the Room of the Elements.  You don’t have to be an art lover to be spellbound by this place.  Not for everybody, the style and eloquence of the de Medici’s.  But you can’t help but be snared by the imagination and sheer daring of these people.

I don’t want to spoil it for you by revealing more.  I can only urge that if you find yourself in Florence, you dedicate a little time to Palazzo Vecchio. You can take a number of tours that delve deeper into the history, or simply do as I did.  And it is a simply splendid place to be Atop Florence.

Jo’s Monday walk : A garden extravaganza

Where do you think we might be for today’s walk?  I can tell you that we have passed by the Pitti Palace and are standing on the threshold of the magnificent Boboli Gardens, in Florence.  For me, this was somewhere I was always going to go, even if it bounced with rain.

Of course, blue skies would be preferable and, on our first full day, after crossing Ponte Vecchio we beelined to the gardens, bathed in luxuriant azure.   Alas, it was a Monday, and the gardens were firmly closed.  Undaunted, we carried on up to Piazzale Michelangelo and the city walls for a feast of views.  Tweaking our plans a little, next day found us back at the palace gardens.  The skies were somewhat leaden, but there was always hope of better.  And there were grottos and sculpture to explore, while we waited for the sun’s appearance.

The gardens were designed for Eleonora di Toledo, wife of Cosimo 1 de Medici, and have been in existence since the 16th century.  Extremely lavish for gardens intended for the sole use of the Medici family, such was Cosimo’s power and prestige in those days. Highlights include an Amphitheatre, staggering in its scale.  Stone was excavated from the hillside for their Pitti Palace home, creating the perfect arena.  Neptune with his trident sits centre stage as you climb the steps. For most of our visit he had the company of a heron, out for a day’s sightseeing.

Isolotto, a pond surrounded by romantic greenery, is crowned by Giambologna’s fountain, ‘Ocean’, on the central island.  For a twist of modern, see the ‘face’ sculpture by Polish Igor Mitoraj.  The gardens reach a crescendo with the Grotta del Buontalenti, or ‘Grotta Grande’.

Sometimes your expectations can be too high.  Or maybe it was those heavy skies, and the quantity of steps.  This bank of the River Arno can certainly be a bit of a workout.  Nor is this the best time of year for gardens.  But, as sometimes happens, there was a surprise in store.  The garden ticket included admission to the Costume Museum.  Curiosity had me pull the door ajar.

And gasp!  That morning I had been at the Uffizi, and thought my eyes had had their fill of beauty.  This was totally unexpected.  The only museum in Italy dedicated entirely to fashion, it occupies several rooms in the Palazzina della Meridiana (the small palace of the sundial).  A private residence of the ruling families of Tuscany until 1946, the ornate ceilings had me spellbound.

The funeral garments of Eleonora di Toledo are dramatically displayed within the collection, but for me the decor outshone the content.  I couldn’t help but wonder at the rest of the Pitti Palace, seeing all this grandeur before me.

Stepping out into sunshine altered my perspective entirely.  It was time to head steadily uphill again, in search of a gate.  Did I tell you this walk would be strenuous?  I’d read that it was possible to slip from the expansive Boboli Gardens into the much more intimate space of Giardino Bardini.

Not quite so simple, but we did find the gate and emerged alongside Forte di Belvedere.  The lower part of the Giardino Bardini belonged to the Mozzi family back in the 13th century, when a wall with mosaic alcoves protected the garden from prevailing winds.  In the 18th century the estate was extended up the hill to the walls of the city and a Baroque staircase was added.  In 1913 art collector Stefano Bardini bought the hillside villa, extending and adding yet more changes.  Renovation began again in 2005 and the gardens are now open to the public.

It felt like a triumph to finally reach Giardino Bardini, perched high above the city.

The lower part of the garden is still in a poor state of repair, but there is a lovely old worldly feel to the place, suspended there in the clouds.  My main regret, not being a few weeks later to see the wisteria walk in all its glory.  I had to content myself with the views down over this lovely city.

The lower entrance brings you out on Via Bardi, close by the river, and your mission is complete.  I limped home, tired but happy.  I suggest that you take it at a slower pace and sit awhile.  There are many places to admire the beauty, including a cafe on the terrace at Giardino Bardini.

Jude, I think you might like this link.  Visit Florence is an excellent website which will give you all the details you need, including ticketing information.  Do note that the Palace and gardens are closed on the first and last Monday of each month.

Thanks, everyone for reading and participating in my walks.  It wouldn’t be the same without you.  Details of how to join in are on my Jo’s Monday walk page.  Do come along!  Let’s pop the kettle on now and settle in for a good read :

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Becky reminds me of just what I’m missing in the Algarve.  I’ll be back soon!

Exploring the hamlets of the Guadiana

I’ve been bombarded with walls lately!  But in a good way.  Thanks, Jude!

Lincoln Castle : Medieval Wall Walk

A flashback to a beautiful Autumn with Eunice :

An autumn walk round Bolton Abbey

And where would we be without him?  Cheers, Woolly!

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Nobody can meander quite like Jackie!

Mazatlan Meanderings

Rosemay has been garden wandering.  I think you’ll find she’s a wonderful companion :

Strolling round the Neuer Garten – Potsdam

Susan has many interesting walks in her home city, New York.  I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one :

A Winter Walk through Riverside Park

And I’m delighted to be joined again by Tobias, where there might be cake!

Strolling

That’s it for another week!  I seem to have tempted the sun out in my part of the world.  See you soon!

 

Six word Saturday

How do you feel about steps?

Of course, it does rather depend what you’re climbing to see?  The views of Florence are magnificent, but I have good news for you.  The number 13 bus will take you up to Piazzale Michelangelo.  So, no need to worry for your September visit, Gilly.  I think you’ll love it!

Should you be really ambitious (or foolhardy!) there are more steps on offer, to take you up to San Miniato al Monte.

He looks like Mafia but I think he was a good guy!

I had hoped to time my arrival for evensong and the attendant Gregorian chant, but my plans were a little awry that day.  The beautiful and unexpected cemetery was some compensation, and the church had a wonderful aura.

The way back down was more gentle, through lush greenery, and lead me past the tower of Porta San Niccolo, originally part of the city walls.

Those doors look intriguing, don’t you think?

I apologise if you’re bored with my current obsession with Firenze, but I’m afraid there’s much more to come.  I haven’t even touched on the Uffizi or Palazzo Vecchio yet.  Can you guess where our Monday walk takes us?

Have a great weekend, won’t you, and hopefully join Cate with your six words?

Scaling the heights

It had never occurred to me to think of Florence as a walled city, so it came as something of a surprise to find that the city walls had been rebuilt as many as six times.  Florentia, as a Roman garrison, came into being around 59BC.  The first wall would have encompassed the area of the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio, with Piazza della Repubblica at its centre.

With the rise and fall of the city’s fortunes, in a chequered history, the walls were redrawn a number of times.  The second wall covered a smaller area than the first.  The third extended to the River Arno- previously considered unstable marshy ground.  In the 9th century Florence was increasingly prosperous and the walls were extended again.  As new villages mushroomed south of the Arno, the defence system needed to include them, and in 1172 work was begun on a fifth wall.  By 1333, Oltrarno finally received complete protection and the walls were 8.5 kilometres long, with gates 35 metres tall.

In sweeps the Black Death in 1348 and the city’s population, in common with most of Europe, was decimated.  In the 16th century additional fortifications were added to face the army of the German Emperor Charles V, and the Fortress of Belvedere was commissioned.  All of the city gates were pollarded to make them less vulnerable to artillery, save for San Niccolo.

The tower that marks Porta San Niccolo

Looking down on the walls from the cemetery at San Miniato al Monte

Florence became the provisional capital of Italy between 1865 and 1871.  And after all that building?  The walls were demolished in order to establish a new ring road.  Today, only the walls in Oltrarno have survived.  For a more complete history, this is an interesting site.

Still in Italy, you absolutely must see the magnificence of Mantua in Paula’s Traces of the Past.

Jo’s Monday walk : Ponte Vecchio

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I’m going to be very gentle with you this week.  We’re going to stroll along the banks of the River Arno.  Can there be anybody who thinks of Florence and not immediately of the Ponte Vecchio?  It’s the iconic image, and I couldn’t wait to see it for myself.

A stone bridge has existed here, at the narrowest point of the entire Arno river, since 972.  In that time the bridge has twice been destroyed by flood, in 1177 and 1333.  The current bridge has been in place since 1345 and is a bit of a survivor.  It was the only one of the city’s bridges left standing when the Germans retreated in 1944, having bombed all of the others.  You shouldn’t be too disappointed to find that, up close, it has a slightly ramshackle appearance.  Hitler may have declined to destroy the bridge, but in 1966 nature did her very best to sweep it away.  The floods that year were catastrophic, damaging buildings and destroying artworks.  But the bridge held.

I’m starting my stroll at pretty, arched Ponte Santa Trinita, with it’s four statues. Here Via de Tornabuoni joins Lungoarno at the riverside.

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It’s a peaceful sight on this early Spring morning, but down on the river bank a team of workers are clearing debris.  This is not a river to turn your back on.  Heavy rain the previous day had caused it to rise.

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The deep shadows herald our very special bridge.  In 1593, Ferdinando de Medici commanded that the rather smelly butcher’s shops, used to discharging unwanted produce into the Arno, be replaced by sartorially more elegant jewellers.  And there they remain, to this day.

Above the jewellery shops, on the eastern side of the bridge, runs part of the Vasari Corridor. This amazing secret passageway was built in 1565 for Cosimo de Medici.  Connecting the Palazzo Vecchio with the Pitti Palace, about 1km away on the opposite side of the river, it assured privacy and protection in those times of intrigue.  During WWII the treasures of the Uffizi were stored in this corridor, for preservation.  Art resides there still. You can clearly see the grilled windows, over the shops, in the photo below.

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Crossing over the bridge to Oltrarno, literally the other side of the Arno, continue along the river bank.  It’s hard not to stop to look back.

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Across the river rises the delicate spire of Basilica di Santa Croce.  With just a short detour you could admire it’s magnificent facade.  Recross the river by graceful Ponte alle Grazie.  In the far distance, snow kissed mountains brush the sky.

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Via de Benci will take you directly to Piazza di Santa Croce.  In Savonarolo’s day, this was a place of execution, and violence is still enacted here in the 3rd week of June each year, when calcio storico takes place.  Roughly combining football and rugby, it is not for the faint hearted.  Headbutting, punching and choking are all allowed.

Basilica de Santa Croce is an altogether more peaceful place, where you will find the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli, among others. The cloisters are renowned for their wonderful frescoes by Giotto.

Retrace your steps to the river, or choose to linger in the maze of streets that lead to the Uffizi. There are too many distractions by far.

Me, I’m drawn back to the spectacle of the bridge.  Spanning the river for all those years, it’s beaten gold resisting all the forces that nature can summon.  But powerless against the lovelocks.

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I hope you enjoyed my first venture into Florence by daylight.  Next week’s walk will be far more strenuous.  There are heights to scale!

In my absence the walks continued to tumble in.  Please take some time to read and enjoy them. Many thanks to all of you for your patience, and continued support.  Now, let’s get the kettle on! I’m sure I saw cake somewhere.

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I hope you’ll join me for more of alluring Florence next week.  Details of how to contribute a walk are on my Jo’s Monday walk page.  I’d love to have your company.

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First up we have Eunice with a wonderfully unspoiled bit of Wales :

A discovery walk on the Llyn Peninsula

Closely followed by Jude, with more delicious shots of Lincoln and the cathedral :

Lincoln’s Minster Yard

And there’s also a stunner of a garden walk from my Queen of the Gardens :

Garden Portrait : Trebah in Winter (or A Walk to Alice’s Seat)

Woolly’s still travelling.  It’s like that game…’Where’s Woolly?’

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Jackie’s all ready to party, and when better than Carnaval?

Carnaval and more- Mazatlan, Mexico

What do you know about the Israeli countryside?  Why not let Lisa show you around?

Givat Barfilia

Becky had to get the waders out for this walk!  Well, clean socks and a towel, anyway.  Cute pigs, though!

A three river adventure in the Algarvian hills

And environmental changes are a constant concern on the Algarve’s beaches :

The sands of the Ria Formosa are forever changing

Drake brings a lovely soft palette to our world :

Less colourless

While Jaspa has us climbing a volcano!

The Views from Mount Vesuvius

Do join Nicole and her lovely family in the desert!  You have choices :

Hiking Saguaro National Park

Sabino Canyon : A Hike along the Phone Line Trail

I never can resist the Azores!  I’ll get there one day!  Please say hello to Uncover Travel :

Hike up Ponta dos Capelinhos, Faial 

Beautiful and individual images for you from Jesh :

A Morning Walk

Finally, I’m very familiar with the city walls at York, but not with these in Chester, so thank you, Carol!

Wall Walking

Another wonderful selection, you have to agree.  Wishing you all a good week, with lots of healthy walking.