Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Florence - Part 2

I have to say, our first day in Florence was pretty intensive.  Our Eco B&B was out of the city centre (about a mile and a half).  We thought we had left good time to walk in to visit the Uffizi Gallery (pictured above from the other side of the River Arno), but realized by the time we got to the Train Station that we might not make our timed slot (we had booked in advance, which is MUCH recommended if you ever go there - the non-booked queues were immense, even first thing in the morning).  Anyway, we ended up hailing a taxi which seemed to go all round the houses (Medieval street planning did not think ahead to cars and scooters) and cost an arm and a leg (though public transport is VERY cheap in Italy).

We made our time slot and spent the next 3 hours or so looking at the most amazing paintings.  I was a little disgruntled to find my darling daughter had NOT warned me about the steps as the Gallery starts at the TOP of the Uffizi and it was like mountaineering!  She had also not disclosed to me that there were 100 rooms of paintings.  Mostly of the Religious persuasion, and whilst I admired the skill of the artistry and that I was seeing very famous paintings I had only seen as book illustrations or parts of highbrow tv programmes until then, your eyes do tend to glaze over after you have seen umpteen renderings of the Madonna and Child or the Annunciation, or Christ on the Cross (all commissioned by the Church, hence the choice of topic).  At fifteen euros for entrance, I felt I needed to read all the information boards beside the paintings to try and understand their significance (and which artist painted them of course!), as we weren't going to be going back in again in a hurry!

At the very top of the Uffizi building is an open-air cafe, and a rooftop garden, where we were able to enjoy the sunshine (it was 23 degrees) - a view across the city here, across the River Arno.

This is the Renaissance palace of the famous Medici family, next door to the Uffizi building (which was originally the adinistrative offices).  Its proper name is the Palazzo Vecchio (oops, I got it wrong first time, but Tam has just put me right.).  It was designed by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo for Cosimo de' Medici, and built between 1444 and 1484.  There is a beautiful inner courtyard (see the Wikepedia entry for further details and photos).  A visitor described the Palazzo thus:

"decorated on every side with gold and fine marbles, with carvings and sculptures in relief, with pictures and inlays done inperspective by the most accomplished and perfect of masters even in the very benches and floors of the house; tapestrties and household ornaments of gold and silk silverware and bookcases that are endless . . . then a garden done in the finest of polished marbles, with diverse plants, which seems a thing not natural but painted . . . " (Many thanks to Wikipedia.)

View of the Duomo and Belltower from the roof garden.

This was the best view of the Ponte Vecchio bridge across the Arno.  It probably dates right back to Roman times, but was destroyed by a flood and rebuilt as we see it now, in 1333, with sturdy stone arches and supports.  In the 15th Century, the shops across the bridge were Butchers, Fishmongers, Greengrocers and I believe Tanners, but the bad smells caused Ferdinando I replaced them with goldsmiths.  The small square windows on the upper floor show the Corridor built by Vasari, where the Medici family would cross to the Pitti Palace, above the smelly crowds of city folk

Above and below, views on the bridge.

This is the Casa Guidi, where the poets Elizabeth Barret Browning and her husband (and son) lived from 1847 to 1861 (when Elizabeth died, following a lifetime of ill health).  After their elopement and clendestine marriage in London, the Barret Brownings first travelled to Paris, where they spent a brief honeymoon, and then spent 6 months in Pisa, close to the Cathedral, but Pisa proved too quiet a backwater for them, hence their move to Florence.

They rented a suite of rooms here, in this building which had formerly been one half of the Palazzo Guidi, and dates from the 15th C.  From The Victorian Web, I have copied the following:

"From Florence Elizabeth wrote excitedly to Anna Jameson in August 1847, "we are settled magnificently in this Palazzo Guidi on a first floor in an apartment which looks quite beyond our means, and would be except in the dead part of the season." From the undeniably "dreary entrance" (McMahan 15), stone stairs led up to "a suite of spacious rooms opening on a little terrace and furnished elegantly — rather to suit our predecessor the Russian prince than ourselves" (Letters I: 334). The Brownings were eventually able to take out a long-term lease on it, and soon rechristened it "Casa Guidi," a homelier, less pretentious name that suited their republican sympathies. They furnished the place themselves, redecorating the drawing room in the colours of the forbidden Italian Risorgimento flag — red, white and green (see Bolton and Holloway 508). The fireplace and mirror now in the room are original, and the paintings and furnishings are either copies of or similar to what would have been there during their residence. The drawing room was the heart of the suite."

In memory of the two great Victorian poets.  For further information about them, and the Casa Guidi,  please go to The Browning Society website.  You can even holiday in the Casa Guidi, as the Landmark Trust is now in charge of it, I believe - they lease it from Eton College, which owns it.  Ahem, NOT cheap though!

This square behind the Casa Guidi would have been well-known to the Barret Brownings, and was where Tam and I had our lunch (Pizza Napoli).  In the footsteps of literary giants . . .

More tomorrow  as the day was yet young . . .


  1. This trip must be proving a real tonic, apart from the beauty, look at those blue skies!

  2. Wonderful photos again!

    Isn`t the view amazing from the Uffizi roof garden? It was a hot day when we were there and we welcomed a chance to sit in the sun with our coffee and then look out across the city rooftops.

    Interesting to read about the Barret Browning house. It must have been very atmospheric to walk in their neighbourhood streets, which have probably not changed much in the past century or so.

  3. One of my favourite places in Italy - I have been many times over the years and never tire of it. The trouble is on a first visit you don't know about things like distance etc. We stayed far out on our first visit and thereafter found it better - and ultimately cheaper in the long run- to stay a little bit nearer to be within walking distance of the centre.
    I do agree about the Ufizzi = rather like the National Gallery in London. I usually decide on the dozen or so pictures I want to see and make for them. I quickly get satiated with pictures and don't take anything in.

  4. Lovely photos again - what a wonderful holiday you have had. Great to see a photo of where Elizabeth Barret Browning lived. A really interesting post. Look forward to the next :)

  5. Somewhere I've always wanted to visit, so it's lovely to be visiting with you!