First Impressions of Florence

Dome of the Florence Cathedral
Dome of the Florence Cathedral

Rome’s heyday was back in the days of emperors and gladiators. While many of the current structures in Rome were constructed around the time of the Renaissance, most of that talent and money to create those structures came not from Rome but from the north of Italy, in particular Florence. While Florence’s history does trace back to the Romans, it earned its place on the map as the center of the Renaissance. This is the city of Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante, Machiavelli, the Medici Family, and hundreds of other artists. Compared to Rome, Florence is a relatively modern city.

The moment I got off the train I was able to sense a difference between Florence and Rome. Florence is much smaller. The pace here seems slower. The people and the stores seem a bit more…..classy. There isn’t as much graffitti. While it clearly makes a living off of tourism, it doesn’t seem nearly as overrun with tourists as Rome.

Putting the art back into street art
Putting the 'art' back into street art

After finding a place to stay, as is my normal routine when I arrive in a new city, I set off with my pocket camera to get a feel for the place. While I was able to walk to most of the attractions in Rome, it would often take a while and at the end of the day my feet would be killing me. Walking around Florence is easy. You can get to all the major attractions in just a few minutes time. While there is car traffic, you get a feel that the city hasn’t changed all that much in the last several hundred years.

The biggest feature of the city is the Florence Cathedral. Its reddish/orange dome dominates the city skyline. It is said to be the 3rd largest church in the world after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. It is however much older than either of those churches with construction having begun in the 13th century, as opposed to the 16th and 17th century for St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s. The interior is downright bland compared to any of the major basilicas in Rome. Given how many artists came out of Florence, I expected it to be filled with art. The most notable artwork in the building is the painting on the dome which shows a scene from the last judgment.

Rub the snout for luck
Rub the snout for luck

From there it was a quick walk to the Piazza della Signoria where you really get the feel of being in a Renaissance city. The clock tower, the coats of arms and the sculptures, including a replica of David, thrust you back into the 16th century. Even though I’m a big fan of ancient Roman history, I got a bigger thrill being here than I did anywhere in Rome.

A few blocks further and I was at the New Market where they have the famous bronze statue of the pig. You can rub his snout for good luck, which given how shiny it is compared the rest of the body, it gets rubbed quite a bit.

There are two food items I was told to try while I was in Florence: Florentine steak and gelato. I’d had plenty of gelato in Rome and elsewhere, so I didn’t think it could be all that different in Florence, and it isn’t. The only thing I noticed is that the gelaterias have giant mounds of the stuff which look like something Richard Dreyfuss would have built in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I did order and eat a Florentine steak, which I learned is just another word for “porterhouse”. Nonetheless, it was one of the better steaks I’ve ever had and it was HUGE. I’m now sort of curious to find out how a steak became associated with the city.

Tomorrow I’ll be seeing the sites properly with more time and taking photos. The next few days I plan on taking day trips to Pisa and Sienna. From there I’ll figure out how to get to San Marino and then Venice. My first impression of Florence are very positive. There are many things to do in Florence I can see why so many people have fallen in love with the city and have been so vocal about it on Twitter.

6 thoughts on “First Impressions of Florence”

  1. i know little about Florence ,but very interested in the Florence Cathedral.Thanks for y our information

  2. I loved the friendly vibe of Florence. Pisa too touristy but hey you gotta see it. Maybe 2 hrs worth of seeing it will do you just fine. I think you’ll enjoy Venice — it’s friendly, romantic and charming. Enjoy! And, yes, I wish I were there.

  3. Out of all the cities that I visited in Italy, Florence is my favorite. Enjoy your time there!

  4. I highly recommend you also see Pompeii and Herculeneum. Stay in Sorrento – there are charming places there, and although it is touristy, it’s absolutely lovely. Do go to Naples, even though it is a troubled city. The architecture is stunning and there is a great art museum there with a wonderful erotic art collection. Take a tour down the Amalfi coast and perhaps a ferry to Capri. And do sit outdoors and sample the fresh seafood near the small fishing boats at water’s edge at sunset; they do it (the seafood) simply in olive oil and garlic. There nothing better.

    Have fun!

  5. I like your assessment of Florence (it’s very similar to mine – but don’t tell my Roman wife that), I hover between Rome and Florence but work and commitments see me spending more time in Rome. I hope to change that though, because just between you and me, I prefer Florence, Ahem….

  6. Like your photo of the street artist, I haven’t been to Florence since the 1990s, so it’ll be time to go again soon… you have whet my appetite.

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