Michelangelo, Galileo and Dante! Oh, My!

Ponte Vechio on the Arno River

I have never been one for big cities. The crowds, the smells, and the massive amounts of commercialism are just not my thing. Although, I must admit how enamored I am with Florence, Italy. It is truly my favorite city in the world. The perfect blend of the modern and the ancient. Not only in the architecture and art, but also with its inhabitants. There is a flow of modern culture weaving its way through its ancient, reluctant, yet forgiving predecessor. The people are some of the friendliest I have ever encountered, the men a little more than the women… from my point of view, anyway. Always greeted by passersby with a “Buon giorno” in the mornings, then sometime after noon it transitions into “Buona sera”. The people here are simply lovely.

One of the first things I always do when I arrive, is to spend the day alone in Florence. Da sola. Just me and a city that once intimidated me so much I was afraid to get a coffee on my own. I always feel the need to get myself reacquainted with the culture and the language. I visit my favorite and familiar spots, and stroll down unfamiliar streets looking for something new. My comfort must show, as I am consulted for directions quite often, even if I am always addressed in English. It’s amazing how much Americans stick out.

With something to see at every turn, my choices are unlimited. If I want to people watch, I go to Piazza della Signoria, just off of the River Arno and next to the Uffizi Gallery. Here, I find statues that reek of power and artistry, including the Fountain of Neptune and a replica of the Statue of David. I sit and gaze out upon a square that once held regular hangings, and in 1497, it was this square where the famous Bonfire of the Vanities was held, and in 1498 where Girolamo Savonarola was hanged and burned. I watch as tourists stand in awe as they witness the breathtaking show of art for the first time.

Piazza della Signoria

There is no shortage of food for the senses here. The sounds of cameras clicking fill the air, mixed with the bells that chime from the cathedral. I can smell the aroma of roasted hazelnuts coming from a nearby vendor. Romantic lovers draw from the passion that surrounds them, an artist attempts to emulate and replicate, a tourist to document and a scholar to pontificate. This is a spot in Florence you do not was to miss.

I have mixed emotions about the commercialism here. As with any city, there are offerings at every level, depending on what part of town you are in. I walk past Fendi, Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci and the like; taken by the window dressings, but with no desire to step inside.

Dolce & Gabbana

I understand that without the commercialism, Florence would not be able to maintain as it does. Although, it is the more remote parts of town that I prefer, the smaller shops owned by the locals. It is not unusual to find a child behind the counter or the chatter of normal family conversation coming from the back, which is likely their home.

If I am looking to be inspired in a spiritual way, I head over to La Basilica di Santa Croce. Protected by an imposing statue of Dante, it sits with its beautiful facade in front of a modest piazza with fewer tourists and the occasional child chasing pigeons.

La Basilica di Santa Croce

The Santa Croce was built for the common citizens of Florence, just a 15 minute walk from the much more grand Duomo di Firenze. It houses tombs of the likes of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile, Rossini and the empty tomb of Dante. For this reason, the Santa Croce is also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories (Tempio dell’Itale Glorie).

Galileo Galilei’s tomb

Michelangelo’s last wish was that he be entombed in Florence, specifically in Santa Croce. It was his roots and he wanted to spend his enternity with his own people, within these modest walls. Above the tomb are three sculptures representing the personifications of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, all saddened by his death.

Michelangelo’s tomb

There has been a centuries long battle over Dante’s remains with the city of Ravenna, the city that currently holds them, and Florence, as to where his final resting place should be. Dante loved Florence and was exiled for his work, a decision the city would later regret. Florence keeps the empty tomb in hopes that one day it shall be filled with Dante’s decayed remains. I believe that this is a case of possession being 9/10ths of the rule.

Dante’s empty tomb

As much as I am left in awe while standing in cathedrals like Florence’s Duomo or St. Peter’s, it is the smaller, more unassuming churches that I am drawn to. I appreciate the simplicity of the architecture and the lack of gaudy decor in an attempt to show wealth and power.

I’m back out wondering the streets, turning down unfamiliar alleys looking for something new. This time I find a vintage antique shop, Antiquariato il Cancello. This is truly a find for me. For some reason, antique shops are incredibly uncommon here. I had a discussion with the shop’s owner and she definitely agrees, it is such a shame to not have more shops to showcase these beautiful relics from the past. It is not uncommon here for possessions to just be thrown away when someone dies.

My next plan is to find a quaint cafe to have a coffee. Sure enough, I see this man turn into a cafe. I’m thinking he definitely knows where to go, and I follow him in. It’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon. “Un cappuccino, per favore.” I have no shame. I sit with the locals and soak it all in.

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Next blog will be about getting lost in Rome!


  1. 7 New Reasons to Go Visiting Cathedrals - A Traveler's Library - August 4, 2013

    […] might also see an empty tomb – Florence and Ravenna have an ages-old dispute over the remains of Dante. If you’re in Florence, you can see an empty tomb reserved for Dante (hope springs eternal – I […]

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