A prolonged stop in Milan delayed my Florentine dreams by a few hours, but upon arrival I hit the ground running with a walking tour of the city with Walks of Italy.
I met Paul, the Walks of Italy guide, in front of the Accademia di Belle Arti. Even though I’d postponed the tour for two hours, Paul, an American, was eager to show me the city he’d called home for the last twenty years. Born and raised through his early teen years in Florence, he spoke Italian fluently and had a firm grasp of all things Florentine. After studying art history in the United States, Paul returned to Florence. I knew I was in superior hands.
The Accademia di Belle Arti, home of Michelangelo’s famous David statue, was not as crowded as I expected. Given that it was late on Saturday afternoon in the low season probably contributed to that fact. Paul gave me the Cliff’s Notes version of Michelangelo’s life and his role in politics and religion in Italy.
Head and shoulders above even the best artists, Paul explained that Medici family plucked Michelangelo from art school and used him to create countless masterpieces, some of which reside in the Accademia di Belle Arti.
Michelangelo started his art career at an early age and lived to be 88, thus there are more of his works than other artists of that time. In addition to working for the Medici family, pieces were commissioned by the pope of the moment. Michelangelo saw many popes come and go and was a master of doing just enough work to buy more time. Michelangelo was a very rich and wanted man, even the mayor of Florence commissioned many pieces from Michelangelo, including David.
In the grand hall of Accademia di Belle Arti, David dominates. After the short history lesson, Paul and I moved closer to the famous statue. I’ve seen photos of David, and although impressive, I hadn’t really given it a second thought. It’s safe to say that Paul and I looked at the hero who defeated Goliath for at least thirty minutes. Paul’s passion for the history and techniques behind creating this masterpiece was evident. His speech became more rapid, his hand gestures more prevalent, and his face more expressive. Paul’s excitement was contagious. I wanted to know everything.
The mayor of Florence commissioned and gave Michelangelo about a year to complete David. It would have taken a year to get a piece of marble from the quarry to Florence, so he used marble that other artists rejected due to the veins present. He stared at the chunk of marble for two weeks without sketching anything then simply began sculpting. Much like the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo didn’t have any help and wouldn’t let anyone see his work until it was finished.
Paul talked about how brilliant and multi-talented Michelangelo had to be in order to create David. Weighing as much as five cars, the statue’s mass had to distributed evenly or it would break. That takes knowledge in math. To depict the muscles accurately on David, Michelangelo had to know about anatomy, which he learned by paying priests to let him dissect bodies at night.
My curiosity was fed by Paul’s stories and I soaked it up like a sponge. More than just a piece of rock, David has a storied past. Paul told me that the statue was outside for many years until the mayor of Florence decide that the city needed to attract tourists and their money, thus David was cleaned up and brought into the museum. Millions of people have seen Michelangelo’s masterpiece, but I would imagine few saw it like I did…through the eyes of someone with a true passion for art and its history.
Paul and I left the Accademia di Belle Arti and continued our walking tour. The sun was down and the city looked differently from when I first went into the museum. Gone were the hoards of tourists following their guides and out were the Florentines. We made our way to the Duomo, the fourth largest church in the world. Paul again peppered me with facts and stories about the crown jewel of Florence.
We looked at the doors on the Baptistry and Paul explained that it was one of the first examples of perspective during the Renaissance. He talked about the biblical stories depicted within the panels and the history of the statues above the doors.
Rain started to lightly fall, and we continued to walk to Piazza della Republica and Piazza della Signoria. Stories of the Medici family, Florentine history, and works of art poured from Paul’s mouth. I could tell that he’d forgotten more about Florence than most people will ever know.
Before I knew it, we’d arrived at the Arno River and the famous Ponte Vecchio. Paul explained that the bridge filled with priceless works of art by the Medici family was spared during WWII. Hitler had previously seen and enjoyed the art in the private passage way and didn’t want to see it destroyed. We didn’t walk through the corridor, but I could imagine why it was spared without even stepping foot inside.
I could have stayed with Paul for hours more. I’d only scratched the surface of the city and its offerings. My fervor for Florence had grown exponentially with just three short hours of listening to Paul. The tour might have ended, but the education had just begun. We said our goodbyes and I made the short walk back to my Go with Oh apartment. I couldn’t think of a better start to my Florentine trip.
I was a guest of Walks of Italy, but as always, these views are my own. Seriously, if you’re looking to get something more than a few pictures from your trip to Florence, I’d totally recommend taking the Florence City Stroll tour, but I’m not even sure I’d call it a tour. It was more like an education. Thanks, Walks of Italy and Paul!