Be Italian - Day Five

Our last full day in Florence wasn't quite as hectic, since we fit in so much yesterday. This was partly intentional on my part -- Dad wanted to leave for Bologna today, but I didn't want our only afternoon/evening there to be a Monday because many cultural institutions and points of tourist interest in Italy are closed on Mondays. I felt it was better to pass such a day in a place where we had less left to see.

We started slightly less early than yesterday, with tickets to see the Capelle Medici, or Medici chapels, at the church of San Lorenzo. The main portion was under restoration (par for the course given our track record of European travel, but it wasn't a huge loss, since San Lorenzo is the only part of Florence that I actually remember seeing when I was here 14 years ago.) I had to sneak pictures there, and a few other places today, as a "No Photos" sign was in place virtually everywhere we went today. I was starting to get pretty pissed with the Italian government by the end of the day -- I want my photos, damn it!

The main point of seeing the Capelle Medici, besides paying one's respects to their remains, is the quartet of Michelangelo sculptures that adorn a couple of them. They represent the four phases of a day: Dawn, Day, Dusk, and Night, which is supposed to be symbolic of the human lifespan. I liked the symbolism in them, but I think the quality of carving is better in either the David, or the Vatican Pieta. The latter is still my favorite work of his, though I can't decide if that's because I was younger and less jaded when I first saw it.

The figures of Night and Dusk from the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici.
As it turns out, the main part of San Lorenzo isn't open till 10, and Dad didn't want to wait a half hour for it, so we progressed through an open air market where I found a couple cheap scarves to bring home as souvenirs, towards the Mercato Centrale, the biggest food market in Florence. They did indeed have a formidable array of food products, beautifully displayed, and somewhat embarrassingly, I think I took more pictures there than anywhere else so far. (In my defense, there was no photography ban there!) 

Items for sale at the Mercato Centrale. Note the multiple packages of penis-shaped pasta they're trying to sell to tourists. People must buy it, if there's so much for sale, right?

Once I concluded Dad couldn't handle any more food voyeurism, we walked over to Santa Maria Novella, a large church with a beautiful facade, near the central train station. This church was also behind a pay wall, and had a no photography policy that I only partially heeded. It makes me apoplectic to have to pay to get in, and not be allowed to take photos!

Tripod photo!
Santa Maria Novella had some truly spectacular 14th and 15th century frescoes behind the altar and in the front chapels, though the nave of the church was surprisingly bare.

Take that, Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage!
I kind of wanted to take our morning purchases back to the hotel so we wouldn't have to haul them around all day, but since we were close to the Duomo, Dad wanted to press on. Once we were in the city center, we checked out the bronze and gilt doors of the baptistery by Lorenzo Ghiberti before queuing up to enter the main cathedral.

Jesus casting the moneychangers out of the temple, on the north side of the baptistery.
For 14 years, it has haunted me that the student tour of Florence I went on as a preteen only included the outside of the church, but after seeing it today, I think they may have been on to something when they cut it from the itinerary -- almost all of the ornament is on the outside of the building! It was seriously one of the plainest church interiors I've seen in Europe. Aside from a Vasari painting of the Last Judgment on the inside of the Brunelleschi-designed dome, there was little to see there. We opted to skip climbing to the top of the dome or bell tower, despite the promise of iconic panoramas, especially due to the presence of a fleet of ambulances parked next to the bell tower; not exactly a reassuring slight when you're contemplating a multi-story climb...

The Duomo is so huge, it's impossible to stand anywhere near it and get the whole thing in one picture.
By then, Dad was starving, so it was time to track down one of Stephanie's picks for lunch, Ristorante al Teatro. We only had to walk about two blocks out of our way to find it, and it was worth the modestly inconvenient walk: I had a pizza with spicy salami, while Dad had roast pork, after I imposed a moratorium on him eating pasta with meat sauce after he had it three times in the past two days.

After filling up, we did a bit more shopping before locating the Orsanmichele, one of Stephanie's favorite buildings in the city. It is an interesting structure; built in the 1330s as a grain market and storage center, the bottom was later turned into a church, which still exists, though, again, no photos allowed (though I snuck one of the beautiful altar.) Since it was Monday, I gleaned from Steph's ever-helpful notes, the upper floors of the building are open to the public (for whatever reason, it's only open on Mondays, in a reversal of the usual Italian policy), so we went up to see the original statues from Donatello and others that once graced the building's facade (copies are now in their place.)

Statues of the saints inside the Orsanmichele. My favorite was the one in the center of this grouping, which depicts the Incredulity of Thomas.
Our last stop for the day was the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo, (opera, we've deduced, means something like workshop in Italian), where most of the great works of art from the Duomo have been inexplicably moved. I can understand removing things from the facade and replacing them with  less valuable replicas, but not really the stuff from inside, unless their conservation needs were difficult, which most of these didn't seem to be.

Michelangelo on the left, Donatello on the right.

There, Dad was regaled by one last Michelangelo for the trip, the Bandini Pieta, which was intended for his own tomb (clearly, they didn't respect his wishes on that one), though I was much more captivated by Donatello's wooden statue of Mary Magdalene. It was a little Gothic, terrifically expressive, and almost foreshadows the later Impressionist sculpture style developed by Rodin. Dad was also interested in a number of architectural displays that explained the construction of the church, and how Brunelleschi had to deduce lost Roman building techniques to bring his design to fruition.

To see the entire Duomo, you have to get above the roof line. Here is the view from the Orsanmichele.
By the end of the visit, I knew I would be hard-pressed to convince Dad to go anywhere else, so it was back to the hotel for another pre-dinner rest before enjoying a lovely dinner with very friendly service at Quattro Leone, yet another restaurant gleaned from Stephanie's reservations. Thanks to her, we've eaten very well in Florence. It pays to have friends in the know!

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