Florence: the cultural mother lode, culture overload

“Firenze” – to give the city its far cooler Italian name – is one big open air museum (© Florence Tourism), its components smaller museums, them seemingly made up of smaller museums which in turn contain smaller museums still, a huge Babushka museum doll, a thousand wonders contained within the ancient city walls.

The sprawling cobbled pedestrianised centre is packed with architectural marvels – grand streets, magnificent palaces, extraordinary churches and cathedrals, extravagant town and banqueting halls, grandiose bridges and piazzas.

Numerous one or two person musical (mainly Classical/Operatic) performances take place regularly and publicly, and there are many “proper” shows in marvellous settings.

Cock your ear and you can hear strains of violins and arias from anywhere and everywhere.

Aiming to see as much as possible we purchased a “Firenze Card” for the princely sum of €72. It promised us free entry to 72 museums and galleries for 72 hours, including all the major/famous ones. It seemed good value.

It was a bit ambitious.

Florence proved beyond doubt there’s only so much art, architecture, history and culture – and statues – an average human being (me) can take.

The Firenze Card is probably worth it if you have an extremely – preternaturally – high threshold for Renaissance and Classical art. But it nearly killed me.

We started energetically at the majestic Palazzo Pitti, an imposing building replete with the huge sculpted Boboli Gardens, which contained five of the 72 institutions.

[Understandably] giving the Porcelain Museum a wide berth we took in the other four, admiring various ornately decorated state rooms, classical artworks, and oh so many statues, with reasonable enthusiasm. The views from Forti di Belvedere, containing modern installations curated by Ytalia, were spectacular.

We spent about three hours there and immediately realised the folly and futility of a list of 72. Whilst never intending to attempt anywhere near all of them we’d already seen about a thousand things after only one site, and were already a bit statue-d out.

Florence has over 1 million pieces of Renaissance art, so this wasn’t a good start.

My camera was already full of photos of ornate gold ceilings, artistic masterpieces and of course statues but I’d lost track of where they taken, let alone what they represented, or which grand master created them.

After being refused entry to Santa Maria del Fiore (females need covered shoulders), and the Cathedral Dome “Duomo” (fully booked for the next two days), and something else which I can’t even remember (closed on Thursdays) we called it a day after photographing the Ponto Vecchio from every conceivable angle and a brief visit to the Oblate Library and Museum of Prehistory, which contained disappointingly few dinosaurs (zero).

After we’d slept off the statues we hit the remaining 67 sites with renewed vigour ticking off Basilica Santa Maria de Novella (massive church), Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (massive church), Museum Del Duomo (rubbish), the Palazzo Vecchio (superb panoramic views from the top, but after the hour long queue I know how pizzas feel in wooden ovens) and finally the Uffizi Gallery (enormous).

By the end of the latter I was striding past masterpieces by Leonardo, Caravaggio, and Michaelangelo with barely a glance.

Florence broke me. Their culture overpowered me. I’m seeing the world through an Instagram-style Renaissance filter. Bodyless busts haunt my dreams. I would wake in a cold sweat after nightmares of headless statues chasing me, Dan Brown style, around Florence. But it’s 35 degrees.

Better men and women than me can, I am sure, take more. But everyone must have a limit, only be able to admire and appreciate so much, only gaze at so many paintings, frescoes, and statues. Florence has more than whatever that limit is.

It isn’t just about the arts. There are fantastic cafes serving wine and Italian street food – I had the most incredible, probably best of my life, sandwich from Antico. The restaurant and culinary scene is up there with the best. There’s exceptional shopping and haute couture. There are loads of great bars – I had a couple of excellent Old Fashioneds in Mayday, and the French 72 comes highly recommended.

Florence wins “Best City” awards left right and centre, and it’s easy to see why.

We saw out our trip watching French interpretative dance to the beats of a fake David Guetta for Bastille Day in Piazza Ognissanti, not so much culturally enriched as culturally overloaded.

Fortunately it’s Rome next which should be a nice break, I don’t think there’s much to see there.


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