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Florence and Pisa

Shortly after arriving at the port of Livorno, Italy at 7:00am, our ship’s tour to Florence and Pisa began. Our tour guide, Anja, was excellent, despite not being a native Italian (she is Dutch). The drive to Florence took about 90 minutes and we passed through the Tuscan countryside, and some mountains with marble quarries that make the sides of the mountains glisten white, almost as if they were snow-covered.

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

Once in the city of Florence (Fiorenze in Italian) we began a long walking tour. We first stopped at Piazza del Duomo, home to Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo) and the Baptistery of Florence. Santa Maria del Fiore is the third largest cathedral in the world (after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London). Anja pointed out there is only one cathedral per city, since a cathedral is where the bishop lives, the rest are churches. We did not have time to go into the church but the outside is quite impressive with Brunelleschi’s famous dome, Giotto’s bell tower, and the exterior covered with white, green, and pink marble. The dome dominates the entire skyline and is a symbol for Tuscany. The dome’s size caused no amount of architectural grief until Brunelleschi came up with a revolutionary solution to support the dome — until recently, the largest dome in the world.

The cathedral’s tall bell tower

Walking a short distance, we reached the Battistero (Baptistery) dedicated to St. John the Baptist. It is believed to be the oldest building in Florence and well known for it’s three sets of artistic bronze doors. The baptistery has eight equal sides to symbolize the “eight day”, the time of the Risen Christ. The first set of doors (South Doors) finished in 1336 depict scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist with the lower panels picturing the virtues. In 1401, a competition was announced to design the North Doors with Ghiberti winning the commission. It took him 21 years to complete those doors, 28 panels depicting scenes from the New Testament. After the completion of the North Doors, Ghiberti was considered a top artist in his field and was commissioned for the East Doors of the Baptistery. Ghiberti threw himself into his work, taking 27 years years to complete the doors. These doors contained panels depicting scenes from the Old Testament. Michelangelo referred to these doors as fit to be the “Gates of Paradise” and they are still referred to by this name today.

The doors of paradise

After Piazza del Duomo we walked to Piazza della Signoria, the political hub of the city since the Middle Ages. This square is filled with statues and various works of art, including a copy of Michelangelo’s David (the original is at the Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts), Fountain of Neptune, and Cellini’s statue Perseus with the Head of Medusa.

From Piazza della Signoria it is a short walk to Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), the oldest and most famous bridge across the Arno. The bridge has been lined with overhanging shops since the 12th century, and until the 16th century it was home to butchers and tanners. When the duke moved into the new palace built across the river, the stench as he crossed the bridge daily was so awful he evicted the butchers and moved in the gold and silver smiths who still occupy the stores today.

The Ponte Vecchio

Our next stop, Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) was located at Piazza Santa Croce. While this square is dominated by the basilica, it is also filled with shopping opportunities for the tourist (really nice leather goods, clothes, souvenirs, etc). We were given the choice to either shop or enter the basilica (shoulders and knee covering required), it wasn’t a hard choice for us, though more than half the tour group opted out of visiting the basilica. It is the principal Franciscan church of Florence — legend says that Santa Croce was founded by St. Francis himself. The interior of the church is not as opulent as others we had seen on the tour. The gothic interior is tall and dark, rather reminiscent of a barn with its huge stone arches and wood beams, but filled with frescoes, funeral monuments, and tombstones. It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians such as Michelangelo (his body had to be smuggled out of Rome to Florence when he died), Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini, so it is also known as the Pantheon of the Italian Glories.

Tomb of Galileo in the Basilica di Santa Croce

After an enormous fixed-meal lunch (two main courses per person, though we skipped the second) at a pre-arranged hotel, we drove back to the coast by way of Pisa. Unfortunately the tour we selected allowed for very limited time in Pisa, especially considering it was a 15 minute walk each way from the bus depot to the Field of Miracles. We took a few pictures, walked to the restrooms, and it was already time to return to the bus. The leaning tower is a very odd sight, especially since construction was altered to compensate for the tilt after the first three levels were built. The fourth level has longer columns on one side, to bring the rest of the tower closer to vertical, which makes the entire tower look bent in addition to crooked.

The leaning tower of Pisa and Duomo (Cathedral)

Our drive back to the ship was supposed to only take 30 minutes or so, but due to an accident in the port involving a tanker truck (we saw the truck laying on its side) we ended up being stuck on the on-ramp to the port for over an hour, along with many other tour buses and cargo trucks. We arrived back at the ship 45 minutes after the “all aboard” time, but of course the ship waited since all their tour passengers were in the same situation.


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