Some great advice anyone can give you when visiting Florence is “remember to look up” – there are so many hidden gems underneath rooftops, faded frescoes on the exterior of buildings, emblems, heraldic symbols, feuding family crests all above eye level, added to the myriad of historical details to be found everywhere else. As you walk along the city streets here and now, they are a true reflection of what it really means to stand on the shoulders of giants:
Julius Caesar founded Florence in 59 B.C. and it became so wealthy and progressive that it was the first European city with paved streets, eventually to be walked upon by Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, Dante Alighieri, Galileo Galilei and the noble Medici family that ruled the city for generations, patronising the building of Santa Maria del Fiore which took 140 years to complete, eventually becoming the third largest cathedral in the world.
The Duomo’s designer Brunelleschi was actually a goldsmith and had never built anything before. Once a bridge full of rancid butchers, in 1593 it was decreed (true to this day) that the Ponte Vecchio could only sparkle with goldsmiths and jewellery shops – this gem was ‘too beautiful to be destroyed’ and the only Florentine bridge spared in WWII. As you cross it with a gelato in hand, remember that Buontalenti made the first frozen dessert in 1565 to be served at Medici banquets alongside theatrical performances and fireworks (close to my pyrotechnic heart).
To add incredulity to wonder, Florence is the birthplace of both opera in the 16th century and the pianoforte in the 17th century.
La Specola houses an incredible collection of wax anatomical and animal models in fantastic cabinets and is the oldest scientific museum of Europe.
In 1786, Florence was the first government in Europe to outlaw capital punishment, and is the home town of Florence Nightingale who was born here in 1820 during her parents’ Grand Tour, one we should all be making again to nurture our beings.
60% of the world’s most important art pieces of all time are located in Italy and half of those are in Florence’s museums so attenzione – some Stendhal swooning may occur when you are overwhelmed by the contemplation of the sublime influential beauty that is Firenze.
And, as we all know, David proved to be the giant, not Goliath.