Who knows why, after such a simple day that we enjoyed yesterday, but neither of us slept well last night. We finally fell asleep around 2:30 AM and woke at 7, but even those few hours were restless. We are both grateful for the sofa bed mattress, but still quite tired of being generally uncomfortable.
Sunday morning in Firenze is a wonder of bells, with the calls echoing all through the city and reverberating in all directions. It was a lovely way to begin our day, in spite of the lack of sleep. Reading our trusty Rick Steve’s Florence guidebook, we decided that this Sunday would be a good day to visit some of the less popular sites in the main part of the city.
Santa Croce was big on the list, not only for its beautiful facade, but for viewing the tomb of Michelangelo, which he designed for himself. Tucked away in Steve’s book was a little tidbit of information that turned out to be incredibly helpful. Crossing the river once again, we took the back roads toward the Santa Croce, where we had seen the entrance to Casa Buonarotti, one time home of Michelangelo.
The Basilica de Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross, is the principal Franciscan church in Florence. There is a fee to enter this church, and from the main square, the lines are long even on a quiet day. Just to the south of the church however, is a convent, and tucked away to the rear of the convent is the famous Scuola del Cuoio “School of Leather”. Rick Steves suggested that one should visit the school, buy entry tickets to Santa Croce there, and enter the church through the back door from the school, no lines.
Great advice! Except the church wouldn’t be open until later in the day and we would have to return to the school to buy our tickets and enter. No problem. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting the school and reading about their world class leather training. Even bought a few small leather pieces for presents for our kids and grandkids, and I found a purple wallet as soft as butter.
Leaving the school, we walked a block or so to enter Casa Buonarotti. Once again, there was an entry fee. I never managed to track just how much we spent on entry fees in Florence to see all that we did, but it wasn’t a small amount.
Although Michelangelo lived in this house as a young man, most of the art was added later by his descendant, Michelangelo the Younger, more than a century later. We did see a pair of shoes and a walking stick that supposedly belonged to the great sculptor and several paintings of him. The beautiful frescoes on the ceiling were completed in the 1600’s.
Two special pieces made the visit worthwhile, both sculpted by Michelangelo when he was only 17 years old.
Madonna della Scala, Madonna of the Stairs reflects a traditional form of sculpture for the time, with the influence of Donatello and the use “stiaccato” relief which allows a sculptor to create a recessed or relief sculpture carving only millimeters deep. The illusion of greater depth is created by decreasing the thickness gradually from the foreground to the background. It is more like a 2D image rather than a 3D sculpture. It stands in sharp contrast to the other relief carved by Michelangelo at Casa Buonarroti.
“The Battle of the Centaurs is a writhing mass of figures three-dimensionally carved into a marble block. The figures are layered in overlapping positions adding to the spatial depth of the work. We can see the artists interest in the massive bulk of the naked male form, a theme that would serve Michelangelo well in future commissions, including his work in the Sistine Chapel.”
Detail of ceiling in Casa Buonarroti
After visiting the leather school and Casa Buonarroti, we still had some time to kill before we could enter Santa Croce due to Sunday mass services being held there. We decided to walk to the Bargello, a museum we had passed several times on our route to and from the Duomo Piazza. The Bargello is a small museum, with a few hidden treasures and some obscure art that was nonetheless outstanding.
We loved the majolica pottery
The city was still fairly quiet as we emerged from the museum to head back toward Santa Croce. But first we needed sustenance. We found another little cafe for cappuccino and a pastry, and laughed together about the truly snotty waitress. She was so harsh and somewhat rude that it was actually funny. I guess this happened to us less than we had expected during our Italian visit.
It was around 2 when we meandered back to the rear of the great church, smiling to each other as we looked at the long entry lines. The shopkeepers smiled as they sold us our entry tickets, remembering that we had made some purchases earlier. They are very friendly at the Scoula, and directed us to the entrance to the church where there wasn’t a single person in line.
Entering Santa Croce was just a bit overwhelming. There are sixteen family chapels that compose a large part of the Santa Croce Basilica, considered the largest Franciscan church in the world. Well-to-do families typically had chapels built and decorated in their honor and dedicated to a favorite saint.
In addition the the chapels filled with art, and the beautiful crypts on the floors, it is the tombs that make Santa Croce so thrilling. The list of the famous artists and scientists of the Renaissance that are entombed in this basilica reads like a history of art and science. Here lies Michelangelo, Michiavelli, Marconi, Galileo, and Rossini.
We spent a long time wandering through the church, admiring the art and sculpture, until at last we came to the tomb of Michelangelo. Silly me, somehow this place brought tears to my eyes. I was looking up and another woman near me looked at me with tears in her eyes as well. She only spoke Italian, but we laughed and smiled at each other and with hand gestures and eyes we acknowledged that this was somehow an incredible moment for each of us. I have no idea why, not a clue. But being here still got to me down deep.
Michelangelo, crazy man, wild artist, genius of sculpture, legendary personality. It was good to see his work in person and to stand at his tomb and honor him.
We left the church and walked back across the river, reaching our little apartment by 4. By this time the city was incredibly crowded, and the streets were shoulder to shoulder with tourists. The big tour buses parked along the Arno River just across from where our apartment is located and we saw them lining up and filling with hordes of people returning from a day in the city center.
Florence is truly wonderful if you know to get up early before the crowds, find the quiet neighborhoods, go out in the evening when the tour buses have departed. Also, often short walk to another street will open up space where no one has ventured to go because it isn’t on the main tour walking route. Still, it is very important to get the heck out of downtown before 4pm!
Once again, no fancy dinner out for the two of us. Are you surprised that Deanna cooked a great supper for us of pasta with veggies, tomatoes, zucchini, and some of Sara’s tomato sauce? We enjoyed a glass of wine, a bit of chocolate for dessert, and hopefully we will be rested for the next big adventure.
Tomorrow we travel from Florence to the medieval town of Sienna, little over an hour south by bus and a world away from the Renaissance and back into the Middle Ages. We have a hotel reservation and an idea of where to catch the bus. Both of us are a bit excited about this one, so hopefully we can sleep tonight.