Three Swiss in Florence – enjoying more museums and palaces

Again to recapitulate: The architecture timeline  of Florence from Proto-Renaissance to Baroque


Let us now look at more museums, namely the Palazzo Pitti, the Uffizi and the Accademia.

Palazzo Pitti – Palace of the Pitti, then of the Medici, then of the king of Italy – and now a museum

With Leni, I crossed Ponte Vecchio admiring the Vasari Gallery that leads from Palazzo Pitti to the Uffizi. Vasari built this Gallery in 1564, after the Medici (now dukes reporting into Spanish Habsburg) had moved from the Palazzo Vecchio into the larger Palazzo Pitti. Using the Gallery they could walk from their new home to their offices and – at his point – even attend the service in Santa Felicita.


The Medici named the Palazzo Vecchio “Palazzo Vecchio” after having moved to their new Palazzo Pitti, and they enlarged their new residence.


1813 – 1821, Napoleon had a bathroom here.


And from 1860-1865 the king of newly founded Italy resided in this palace, for five years, until Rome became the capital of Italy.

The gardens behind the palace are called Boboli gardens. They are huge. We climb the stairs and reach the fountain with hercules.


We climb farther up and look back to the fountain, the palace and the town.


The Palazzo Pitti includes the Gallery Palatina that extends over several halls that are decorated with frescos by Pietro de Cortona (17th century). This is the allegory of war on the ceiling of the hall of Mars: It praises the Medici, as their emblem shows.


The halls are decorated with silk wallpapers. The paintings are arranged on them according to esthetical considerations – as if the Medici would like to come back any time and live in these rooms. In each hall, there is a panel pointing out the outstanding oeuvres. And there are outstanding oeuvres such as this painting by Raffael (the “Mother with Child and St. John the Baptist”)…


.. and this is “La Bella” by Titiano. I am impressed with her sleeves – not very practical, but she obviously did not have to do a lot of housework.


The Palazzo Pitti is also playing a role in Magdalen Nabb’s Marshal Guarnaccia Investigation stories. Guarnaccia works in the police station of the Palace and from here he uncovers the crimes that happen in the small streets around Santo Spirito. I have read “Death of an Englishman” and “Death of a Dutchman” – two great criminal stories with a lot of humor.


Stunning and not digestable in one visit: The Uffizi

The dukes of Medici had the Uffizi built as an administration center. I feel like in a dream when walking up the large stairs to the top floor. There is a long corridor with many, many doors.  For citizens, this maze must have been terrrifying. I remember Mani Matter and his song about such governmental corridors: “Är isch vom Amt ufbotte gsy, am Fritig vor de Nüne, by Schtraf, im Unterlassigsfall, im Houptgebäud, Block zwo, Im Büro 146 persönlich go z’erschiine, Und isch zum Houptiigang am Halbi Nüüni inecho.” – “He has been asked by the government to appear in the main building of block two in office 146, on Friday before nine and risking punishment, when not coming.”  The poor guy gets lost in the corridors with all the many doors and never finds a way back. Perhaps, Mani Matter was in the Uffizi, when he invented that song.



Fortunately the Uffizi are now a museum and panels clearly show the way. Behind the first door I say hello to the duke and duchess of Urbino, portrayed by Francesco (ca 1470). Why are you so pale, Lady?


In one of the next rooms there is this highlight of Botticelli, called “the Birth of Venus”. A lady enters the room, walks directly to her Botticelli, opens her chair, sits down and just looks at the painting. Via email I share this foto with the godfather of my Ernst. He is also called Ernst and was a priest. Now he his 90 years old. He guides cultural tours to Florence and Rome. Enthusiastically he writes back: “Look at Botticelli’s wonderful painting. The name is wrong… it is not ‘The birth of Venus’, but it should be called ‘Arrival of Venus onshore’. Look at Zephir. He is blowing to push Venus to the shore and he makes flowers follow her.” Uncle Ernst plans his next tour to Florence in spring. I am sure that his guests will enjoy his lively explanations!


One of my favorite artists is Leonardo da Vinci. Well, I know, he was not just an artist, but also a scientist. Dumont says that both paintings in the Uffizi have been completed in the workshop of Verocchio and that Leonardo took part in them. In the “Annunciation” Leonardo must have participated in painting the angel and Maria.


And in the “Baptism of Christ”, Leonardo painted the left angel that is much softer than the other angel.


We looked at more paintings of Botticelli,  of Ghirlandaio… and then there was also Michelangelo Buonarotti: “the Tondo of the Holy Family”.


This painting by Lippi is very charming: “Madonna with Child and St. John.”


After a coffee we take the next level of the Uffizi, until we feel dizzy. I think I will have to come back. It is not possible to see and digest the Uffizi in one visit of half a day.


Also stunning and not digestable in one visit: The Galleria dell’Accademia

There is one highlight in the Galleria dell’Accademia that all tourists look for – the original sculpture of David by Michelangelo. The copy stands in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, where a committee of town representatives had decided to place it, after Michelangelo had completed it. Originally the statue of David was planned to be raised to the roof of the Duomo. Michelangelo cut  his David out of one block of marmor and it weighs 6 tons. It was impossible to lift David up to the Duomo. And this is why he ended up in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. This is also why his hands are oversized – seen from the ground below the Duomo the hands would have been perfectly in perspective. But on the same level they look huge. Florence knows what their David is worth. Rome wanted to take it (if not kidnap it), but Matteo Renzi, then mayor of Florence, could convince the Italian government that David belongs to Florence.


There is much more to be seen in the Accademia. Here is another example, the crucification of Bonaguida in 1310: Each fruit on the twelve branches is said to be a gift to mankind.


And I also liked this crucification of Bernardo Daddi, 1340, which shows so much suffering in the face of Christ.



 So much for the culture in Florence

With the Accademia, I am rounding off the cultural highlights that we visited in Florence. Fortunately, we did not end up in a hospital with the diagnosis “overdosis of literature”. We took our time in the churches and museums and we also relished the atmosphere in this lively town – in markets, restaurants, coffee houses and shops or just strolling through the streets.

Three Swiss in Florence – overwhelmed by so much culture and history

My old dream – Florence – a mysterious town full of culture and history

Florence has always made me dream, in particular the Uffizi – one of the greatest museums in Europe. Then the Ponte Vecchio has always impressed me – topped with houses and crossing the Arno.


I knew about three Renaissance artists that worked in Florence – Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raffael. I knew that Catharina de Medici had married the French king Henry II and later, Maria married Henry IV – they became the grand-parents of Louis XIV. Here is a painting showing Maria (Uffizi).


Obviously, Florence played an important role in European history. Yes, it was an old dream of mine to visit Florence. But I have never made it there so far.


Ursula organizes a trip to Florence for us three Swiss ladies

Ursula has spent many weeks in Florence before. I had told her about my dream. Now she makes it come true: For December 2014 she organizes a trip to Florence for her, for me and for her mum. Zurich – Milano using the Swiss Railway SBB and Milano – Florence in the high speed train Frecciarossa. She reserves rooms in the hotel Minerva at Piazza Santa Maria Novella, close to the main railway station.

When we are about to leave for Florence, I hear news about “scioperi”. The Italian railways on strike? No problem for us. SBB takes us to Milano without hesitating. And Frecciarossa is a private railway organization that does not participate in the strikes. We arrive in Florence on time, more precisely than on “normal” days, when our trains would have competed for track capacity with the public trains. After having arrived in Florence, we reach our hotel within five minutes.

Here is the view from the roof of our hotel to the Dome with the Campanile and Palazzo Vecchio.


And this is view of the tower of Santa Maria Novella taken from one of the balconies – we are close.


When we leave the front door of the hotel we stand in front of the renaissance facade of Santa Maria Novella.



Trying to get an overview of all this culture – my simplified map of Florence

Ursula enthusiastically tells me about San Lorenzo, the Baptisterium, the Palazzo Vecchio, Santa Croce, San Miniate al Monte, the Palazzo Pitti and… and… I feel overwhelmed. There is much, much more to be seen than just the Uffizi and the Ponte Vecchio. I hear that sometimes tourists end up in the emergency department of the local hospital, and the diagnosis is “overload with culture” – it is said to be a well-known phenomenon. I believe, if it is not true, it is well invented (or in Italian: si non è vero, è ben trovato).

I try to get some order into my head and draw a simplified map of the town with their places of interest. Except Fiesole, they are all within walking distance.


The center of medieval Florence is the area around the Dome square (with the Dome, the Baptisterium and the Campanile). The Roman Decumanus and the Cardo  can still be noticed in the rectangular street pattern (they cross at today’s Piazza della Repubblica). Grouped in the center are the Palazzo Vecchio (the old townhall in Piazza della Signoria), the Bargello Palace (formerly the residence of the “Bargello”, the head of the police), Badia (a monastery, Brothers of Jerusalem), Orsanmichele (the center and curch of the trade- and craft guilds) and the Uffizi (the administrative center of the dukes of Medici, now THE museum). The center ends with Ponte Vecchio that connects to “Oltrarno” (the area “beyond” the Arno).

To the west/north west are Santa Maria Novella (belonging to the Dominicans), San Lorenzo (where the Medici dukes are buried), the nearby Mercato Centrale and the Palace of Medici-Ricasoli (with the chapel hosting gorgeous frescos of the kings traveling to adore Jesus).

To the north there are the monastery of San Marco (each cell decorated with a fresco), the Accademia (highlight: David by Michelangelo) and the Ospedale degli Innocenti (forming the harmony of Piazza SS Annunziata with the namesake church).

On a hill farther away to the north, the town of Fiesole can be reached using bus number 7 (archaeological center with Roman ruins).

To the east we find the beautiful church Santa Croce and – still farther more to the east – Sant’Ambrogio with its markets.

Beyond (or south of) the Arno (Oltrarno) is Santo Spirito (the small streets are the scene of Magdalen Nabb’s detective stories). Nearby is Santa Maria del Carmine with the Branccacci chapel (highlight: the fresco “expulsion from the paradise”). The Palazzo Pitti was home of the dukes of Medici (“hidden” in the Gallery they walked to the Uffizi, sometimes stopping by behind Santa Felicitá to attend the service; today the Palazzo is another art museum). Behind the Palazzo Pitti are the Boboli gardens (climbing uphill) and the Bardini gardens (with a wonderful view of the city). San Miniato al Monte on top of another hill is the oldest church in Florence  (church and monastery belong to the Benedictines).

These are the cultural highlights that we visited. We also spent wonderful hours eating in exellent and friendly restaurants, shopping in the markets or leather -, dress -, gem – and book stores (Florence is famous for its design culture) or just enjoying the atmosphere in the small streets where each individual house/palace has a story to tell (such as Palazzo Strozzi, Davanzati or Antinori). It is good to be in Florence in December: There are less tourists now and the temperatures seem moderate to us (15 degrees during the day) – even if some dog owners would not agree, as this snapshot taken hastily illustrates.


The shining nose of the Porcellino indicates that most tourists want to come back to Florence.


I feel the same – After having spent a week here, I would like to come back. However, I do not touch this nose that so many people have touched before.


This is the literature that I used to understand more of Florence

  • Loney Planet: “Pocket Florence & Tuscany”, Feb 2014
  • ADAC Reiseführer: “Florenz” (extremely practical guide with a pull out map that my eyes could read – each place of interest has a number that allows to find the related explanations quickly and the depth of the explanations is exactly right, when walking around)
  • DuMont Kunstreiseführer: “Florenz”, 1988 and 2012 (in depth information to  dig deeper)
  • DuMont Reisetaschenbücher: “Florenz”, 1996
  • Merian Porträts: “Florenz, eine Stadt in Biographien”, 2014 (Franz Kotteder explores the biographies of 20 celebrities, including Dante, Giotto, Brunelleschi, Guccio Gucci or Magdalen Nabb)
  • Magdalen Nabb: “Death of an Englishman” and “Death of a Dutchman”, A Marshal Guarnaccia Investigation, Diogenes, 1992 and 1999 and Soho 2007 and 2001
  • Various information sources on the Internet, in particular the useful official website of the museums in Florence.


Let me pick out some memories of this rich and enticing trip to Florence

Thank you, Ursula, for organizing and guiding us and thank you, Leni, for the great company.  It was good to travel with you, as all three of us loved to stop, watch and take our time to think and digest, when visiting the churches and museums of Florence. And we all enjoyed to do shopping and recover in comfy coffee houses or restaurants.

I want to pick out some memories and think about the history of Florence that played an important part in the European history.