Today we had intended to look at the cathedral. Once Mirinda was up and about we headed down. We walked all the way around it. We spotted the queue which was snaking down the surrounding streets like so many tentacles. We decided to give the cathedral a miss.
The thing about Florence is that it’s a delightfully compact little city. It’s not like anything is very far from anything else. Because of this, it’s never too big a problem to change the itinerary of any tourist type day and go somewhere else. So we went and visited the Medici instead.
Mind you, it didn’t stop us discovering Bob’s Italian clone, Bobolini, a Florentine door manufacturer. While Bob doesn’t do metal doors, Bobolini definitely makes up for it. He made a copy of the door on the baptistery showing the life of St John the Baptist. As a little tip of the hat to his Australian counterpart, Bobolini included a quokka in the border around the story panels.
Dragging Bob away from the master craftsmanship inherent in the door, we headed north to the Medicis. On the way we spotted a Santa Claus bike gang who were intent on riding around the streets terrorising everyone. I do wonder how parents explain the number of Santas when there’s only supposed to be one and if you see him you’ll not get any presents.
I’m not sure if the Medici family regularly dressed as Santa but they ruled Florence off and on for about 300 years. They were bankers. They were also great patrons of art and partly because of them, the art of the Renaissance flourished in Florence.
I have been a fervent admirer of the Medici family for ages. I reckon anyone who can become a banker and still manage to avoid the worst excesses of the Catholic church have to be pretty canny. Of course, being a money lender is firmly forbidden as far as the Catholics are concerned.
Jews usually did the money handling and were then run out of town once the interest payments became, shall we say, unacceptable. Then along comes the Medici family who loan the Vatican a lot of dosh and then begin to live off the interest. It worked very well and they became incredibly wealthy and, as result, powerful. Even so far as to include a few Popes in the family. You have to admire them for that.
And so, first up, we visited the San Lorenzo Basilica where the first Cosimo is buried. Now, the first Cosimo Medici should not be confused with Cosimo I who was the first Duke of Florence a few hundred years later. The first one is, according to Mirinda, “That spunk off the telly.” Mind you, he wasn’t quite so attractive if the representations of him are to be believed. Unless you are a great admirer of very big noses, of course.
But don’t let me decide. Here’s the original…
…and here’s the one off the telly
But enough of shallow good looks and large facial appendages and back to the basilica…the original church on the site was consecrated in 393 but eventually was replaced by one of Medici financing. It thence became the Medici family parish church and, eventually final resting place.
Incidentally, as well as dead Medicis, Donatello is also buried there because he and Cosimo the Spunkrat were very, very good friends. (I spent some time trying to decipher the inscription on Donatello’s memorial stone only to discover shortly afterwards, an English translation of the Latin text.)
The church itself is delightfully and unusually bright and spacious. It absolutely drips Renaissance with restored Donatello pulpits and paintings of Joseph in his carpentry shop showing Jesus how to build a Thunder House.
The best thing about the basilica was the fact that there was no queue. Straight in and around without any waiting. Bloody brilliant if you ask me. And, to be fair, the basilica was the original Florence cathedral so it could be said that we went after all.
Another thing I particularly liked about the basilica was the small ceiling in the sacristy with the constellations painted on it. This is a beautiful combination of science and religion co-existing and speaks volumes about how the Medici family was all about forwarding human knowledge even though confined by religious straightjackets.
It was then time for lunch. It was my choice so I chose the closest place which turned out to be the Trattoria San Lorenzo. The food was delicious but the service a bit omnipresent. Talk about hover. They were like vultures waiting for their turn at the corpse. Still, as I said, the food was delicious. (I can particularly recommend the marinated artichokes. In the interests of balance I should add that Denise didn’t like the grass that came with her chicken.)
Eventually we managed to lever ourselves out of the restaurant and headed for the Medici house not far away. There was a lot of confusion with the attempted acquisition of a guide in English. Mirinda managed to buy a Spanish one and when Denise went back to exchange it she was told there were no English versions.
This did not put Mirinda in a very good frame of mind and she fumed for a bit, heading for the exit before realising that the rooms were actually upstairs.
Her bad mood, however, was quickly replaced with joy as we encountered the amazing fresco in the Magi Chapel. It depicts the three kings heading for Bethlehem to visit Jesus and Mary in the stable. The procession is long and windy and somewhat more than one expects given the usual depictions. The Bible seems to have forgotten the number of wild cats, falcons and monkeys that attended.
The whole place held some amazing contradictions (over the top luxury with the worst taste Baroque and bare austerity) but that could be because the place was, at one stage, a government building before being restored to some its former glory.
It was also rather chilly.
There were quite a few tapestries throughout the building (as you’d expect) but none so thrilling as the discovery of a dwarf in a representation of the moment the rapidly made Christian Emperor Constantine embarked on his fight to win back Rome. So, especially for Fiona, here he is:
By the time we left the palazzo we were about ready to have an ice cream so we stopped at a coffee shop and had strange coffee. To explain the reasoning behind this decision would be difficult so I don’t think I will bother. Suffice it to say that Denise and Mirinda did not get what they thought they had ordered which caused a lot of kerfuffle. Then, a short while after not drinking their drinks, we wound up at an ice cream place eating ice cream anyway. It was an odd little episode.
It was then back to the apartment to try and warm up before heading out for dinner at a jazz club called The Golden View, on the banks of the river, overlooking the Ponte Vecchio. And how brilliant it was.
Our waiter was an excellent entertainment with a fine head for fine food. And wine. I have to say that my meal was superb, easily the best so far. The sausage and truffle crostino to start and the tuna in hazelnut crust for main were, as the waiter described, “Crazy good!“. And the chianti was beyond lovely.
The jazz band, as well, was worth the cost of the meal. In fact, it was an excellent night all round.