Florence, birthplace of Michelangelo, is full of stunning architecture, most of which is from the Renaissance era of the 15th & 16th Centuries. There are no glittering new high rises to interrupt the skyline of this exquisite Renaissance city as seen from the top of the campanile (bell tower) of The Duomo. The historic Arno River winds its way through the old city dotted with bridges.
The Duomo, the main church of Florence and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a showpiece of Florentine Gothic architecture. It took almost 150 years to build, starting in 1296. Its beauty can be seen from the pedestrian streets that radiate out from it.
It’s almost Pasqua (Easter) and the city is bursting with international tourists. Many school groups from America on spring break cross my path daily. Winter temperatures are over; my jacket stays permanently off during the numerous sunny days that are upon us. My favorite hang-out place is a pizza shop where I can sit outside in the long shadow of the cathedral and watch the world go by.
I start each day with a brisk walk along the riverfront, along with various joggers and bikers. I make a quick stop at one of my favorite patisserie shops for a couple of fresh croissants, then pass through an arched gateway of the old city walls. As I walk over one of the bridges that spans the swift Arno River, I revel in the beauty of the Renaissance buildings that line both sides, one of which is the US Embassy (see photo).
No bridges on the Arno River are more colorful than the old stone Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge that the retreating Germans left standing in 1944. Ponte Vecchio dates from 1345 and has housed jewelry shops since the 16th century.
My morning walk invariably turns into an afternoon walk when I get sidetracked by leather goods for sale everywhere. A special favorite is an outdoor leather market which spans a square under a beautiful arched stone canopy. Leather factories abound in the surrounding hills of Tuscany, making the price of leather goods in Florence reasonable – with hard bargaining.
I love being surprised with a stunning, historic fountain or statue in one of Florence’s numerous hidden squares. A favorite is the Fountain of Neptune in front of Palazzio Vecchio, the impressive fortress-palace Town Hall of Florence. The fountain was commissioned in 1556 and is the work of the sculptor Bartolomeo Ammannati.
Maneuvering through crowded pedestrian streets is a delightful challenge while trying to get the best composition and lighting for creative photos. I dodge bikers, baby carriages, tour groups, outdoor cafes, street performers, artist’s beautiful pavement drawings (which change daily), and roaming peddlers.
* Servas – A non-profit international peace organization of hosts and travelers – http://www.USServas.org
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