After leaving Assisi, our group headed north to Florence. Florence is much different than Assisi, not only because it is a large city (approximately 600K), but because it is a booming trade city. Florence had no choice in the matter, really. Several centuries ago, the Medici family “invented” marketing. They decided to make Florence an attractor of fine art, and that has stayed true ever since.
We arranged to meet as a group around The Duomo, a large dome cupola located at the rear of the Cathedral of St Mary of the Flowers. Curved roads and tall, narrow alleyways lead from square to square, each with its own purpose. We had a lot of free time to explore in Florence, and it was a great decision. We were each able to pursue our own interests.
The Cathedral sits across the square from the Baptistry. The Baptistry is generally placed inside the church, but the church was still young in Florence when the Cathedral was built. As a result, they were baptizing many adults as well as infants. Baptisms only occurred twice a year. Those baptized would walk out the “Doors of Heaven” (named by Michaelangelo, built by Giotta) and across the square into the welcoming arms of the Church. A symbolic act of both new life and community.
As a side note, it is the rituals of the Catholic church that hold such a place of awe for me personally. It was something I came to appreciate while spending time in England. And the thought of the Church, the family of God, Christ’s body here on earth, welcoming new believers into its arms in this fashion was not lost on me.
As a group, we took a guided tour of downtown Florence that led us through the streets from the Cathedral to the Old Bridge and back. Every time we turned around, something new and exciting was standing before us.
We walked the Old Bridge on the Arno River, the only bridge not destroyed by the Germans in WWII as they tried to cut off the tanks of the American troops. Looking downstream we saw the Ponte Santa Trinita Bridge. This 14th century bridge was destroyed by the Germans in WWII, but was later rebuilt by the people of Florence who dredged the river, pulled up all the original stones, and put it back together like a puzzle. An amazing feat!
One of the highlights of the trip, of course, was going through the Accademia Gallery in Florence where the statue of David stands. Perhaps the greatest sculptural creation of all time, it was certainly ahead of its time. Originally hired to create a work of art for the Duomo of the Cathedral, the church leaders expected a statue of David standing in triumph over Goliath with Goliath’s head in one hand a sword in the other. What they got was the idea of Goliath’s impending death with David’s sling over one shoulder and a stone in his other hand by his side. What they also got was a statue of David in all his glory, and the church leaders refused to place it in the Duomo for that reason. Instead, it stood outside the Old Palace of Florence (a replica stands there now).
A large part of our group decided to take the 463 stairs to the top of the Duomo. An interesting trek to be sure, but well worth every effort to crawl up stairs in one of the most claustrophobic areas ever. The views were spectacular (as the picture with this post can attest).
We stayed at the PLUS Hostel of Florence. As hostels go, it was a really great place to stay. The bed was comfortable. The shower was hot. Our breakfast was rudimentary. But the wifi was horrible. (Priorities, right?).