The Edmond Sun

Arts & Entertainment

September 6, 2013

ON TRAVEL: A trip down a Florentine memory lane

EDMOND — I just finished reading Dan Brown’s latest book “Inferno.” It’s not my favorite — the threat in this one is just a bit too close to reality for me. But what I did love was the detailed tour of Florence. Brown did his research and his descriptions are vivid. And so are my memories of last fall’s trip to that glorious Italian city.

The Duomo, the Baptistry, the Uffizi, the Ponte Vecchio, these all figure in the novel. These are sights every tourist must see. Here are some more of my favorite Florentine spots.

To me, no stop gives more of a sense of place than a market. The San Lorenzo market is made up of two components — the Mercato Centrale, an indoor food hall, and a street market selling leather goods, clothing and souvenirs.

The Central Market is a symphony of sights, sounds and smells. Aromas of cheeses, salamis, fruits, vegetables, cooking pizza and paninis and fresh flowers all blend in olfactory overload. Products are displayed with all the art of the Renaissance masters. Their booths specialize in condiments and spices. We bought sea salt blended with truffle bits — a nice souvenir and small enough to bring several home for gifts.

Outside, Jack was tempted by a soft leather coat, while I bought a pair of good leather gloves. This isn’t a place noted for high quality, but if you shop carefully, you can pick up a good bargain.

Close to the San Lorenzo Market is the Church of San Lorenzo with its oddly naked façade. Beside the church is the Medici Chapel begun in 1520 by Michelangelo. It was designed to be the mausoleum of the Medici family. After completing the New Sacristy, Michelangelo turned his efforts to the sculptures and sarcophagi that were to be installed in the chapel. He completed a number of the works, which are on display here.

Adjacent to this area is a veritable jewel box known as the Chapel of the Princes, another mausoleum. This room is highly colored with a variety of marbles and semi-precious stones. The effect was stunning adding to my frustration at the total ban on photography. You will truly have to see this one for yourselves.

Often overlooked by tourists is the Convent of San Marco. I was anxious to see it because of its paintings by Fra Angelico, an early Renaissance artist. I particularly wanted to see his “Annunciation,” a painting long familiar to me from pictures.  

The convent is old — what isn’t in Florence? It sits on a site that has housed religious buildings since the 12th century. The present building only dates back to 1437. Fra Angelico and his assistants decorated with walls between 1439 and 1444.  

We could see little of the church as we approached; the façade was covered with scaffolding. Inside, we wandered through a courtyard into another part of the complex. Following signs, we turned down a hall and up a staircase. There, at the top, we were face to face with this marvelous painting. Pictures don’t do it justice. We took in all the details: Mary and her heavenly visitor with wings like a rainbow; the arches and columns of the building where she sat — a small window, like those in the monk’s cells, visible in the interior of the structure; Italian cypress trees behind a wooden fence; small flowers blooming in the grass. Magnificent!  

Every visitor to Florence goes to the Duomo (cathedral), the central landmark of Florence. Its heavily ornamented façade and the adjacent campanile are familiar to tourists, but the interior of the church seems oddly empty. Many of the treasures have been moved to another of my favorite places, the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo behind the famous church.

Here is the last of Michelangelo’s four Pietas. Unlike the detailed, silky finished Pieta in St. Peter’s, this one is roughly fashioned. It actually was broken during the sculpting and discarded. Later repaired by others, the statue evokes more emotion than the more polished early work. The figure supporting Christ, perhaps Nicodemus, bears the likeness of the aging sculptor.

Among the other masterworks in the museum are the original doors to the Baptistry (the doors on the Baptistry now are copies). The Museum of the Duomo is frequently missed by tourists — giving those who venture in a chance to see the real doors without the crowds of people who swarm outside the cathedral.

My list of favorite places in Florence is long — longer than this article permits. And I haven’t begun to tick off all the treasures the city has to offer. Until I can return, I’ll enjoy the city vicariously with Dan Brown — glad that when I go again, my trip won’t be as harrowing as that of his hero, Robert Langdon.   

ELAINE WARNER is an Edmond-based travel writer.

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