Honors Italy: The Grand Tour - Days 4-5 - Florence & Pisa

Perseus with the Head of Medusa
On Day 4 after breakfast, we said goodbye to Venice as we departed for Florence on a 5 hour bus trip that gave some of us some time to catch up on sleep.  Unfortunately, the weather during our first day in Florence matched the weather on our last day in Venice - lots of rain.  As we met our local Florence tour guide Allesandro, we took shelter in the Loggia dei Lanzi on the Piazza della Signoria.  The Loggia consists of high arches that open towards the piazza, offering shelter from sun and rain, while an open air gallery of sculptures from the Renaissance.  Included among the artwork in the Loggia were Cellini's "Perseus with the Head of Medusa" (1554),  the "Medici Lions" (one of which was created in the 2nd Century AD and the second completed by Vacca in 1598) and Giambologna's "The Rape of the Sabine Women" (1582). 

Dante image in sidewalk
Florence Cathedral bell tower
After visiting the courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence, we walked through the colonnade of the Uffizi Gallery on our way to the Arno River, admiring the statues of Florence residents that we had only read about in books - Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Galileo, Donatello, Machiavelli and Amerigo Vespucci, to name several.  We continued walking to the Ponte Vecchio, the most famous arch bridge in Florence, the top of which contains part of the Vasari Corridor, the passage that the Medici family used so that it did not have to walk among the public.  Our walking tour continued to  the Piazza della Repubblica, the location of our hotel, and then to see the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, also known as the Duomo.  As we walked to our leather-making demonstration, we passed by Dante's House, with our tour guide informing us that it is unknown where Dante actually lived, but the house was recreated with a medieval architectural style similar to which Dante would have lived in.  He then challenged us to find the image of Dante in the sidewalk outside of his house.  After the leather-making demonstration, we enjoyed a group dinner in Florence and some of us returned to the Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo at night to admire the lighting of these buildings.

No caption needed here!
Day 5 began with a morning trip to Pisa.  Many of us had the impression that the Leaning Tower of Pisa was a stand alone structure from the images that we had seen throughout our lives, but in actuality it is the bell tower for the Pisa Cathedral and the Pisa Baptistry is another significant building in the area.  All 3 of these structures lean in different directions, due to the soft ground upon which they were built.  We first entered the Pisa Baptistry, the building of which was completed in 1363.  The pulpit inside the baptistery was sculpted by Nicola Pisano in the 13th Century and includes a nude sculpture of Hercules, the first nude sculpture inside a church building.  Next we entered the cathedral which contains a chandelier that Galileo supposedly may have used in his studies of pendulum motion.  The building of the Leaning Tower of Pisa began in 1173.  After the first 3 floors were built, the tower began to lean and thus an attempt was made to correct this.  Our tour guide Veronique noted that the tower actually has a "shape like a banana." 

Students at the top of the Duomo
Upon returning to Florence, we had some free time, so some of us decided to climb the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo to see breathtaking views of Florence.  While the climb was a physical challenge, we all agreed that the views of Florence were well worth completing the challenge. 

Again, no caption needed!
While the official tour did not include a trip to the Accademia Gallery in Florence, I decided that a trip to Florence could not be complete without seeing the original Michelangelo's David.  (We had already seen a replica outside of the Palazzo Vecchio.)  The Accademia Gallery turned out to be much smaller than I expected, but another highlight was seeing Michelangelo's 4 unfinished Prisoner that were intended to be used for the tomb of Pope Julius II.  I personally thought this was a highlight given Michelangelo's quote, "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it."  It was interesting to see these statues that were only part way discovered.  Another highlight of the museum for me that I almost walked by without noticing was Leonardo Pisano's manuscript Liber Abaci.  Leonardo Pisano is better known as Fibonacci and this is the manuscript that contains a problem about rabbits that introduced the world to the most famous sequence in mathematics - the Fibonacci numbers.
We returned to our hotel for a group dinner and then our tour director Gesualdo led us on a walk to one of the most elevated points in Florence, the Piazzale Michelangelo, from which we experienced a panoramic view of Florence (and another replica of David).  It was a fitting way to say "Arrivederci" to Florence as we would depart for Assisi the next morning. 

Panoramic view of Florence at night from Piazza Michelangelo


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