Teenage Mutant Ninja Tuscans- Michelangelo, the Renaissance and Tuscany

Itinerary: 

  • Day 1: Venice
  • Days 2-3: Florence
  • Days 4-6: Naples
  • Days 7-12: Rome

RTW Trip 2014: Peru→ Chile → Argentina → Antarctica → Argentina → Uruguay → Argentina→  Chile→ England → Morocco → Spain → France → Belgium → Netherlands → Germany → Czech Republic → Austria → Hungary → Croatia → Italy → Thailand → United States → Thailand → Laos → Vietnam → Cambodia → Australia → Taiwan

Dates: July 20-31, 2014

Our Odyssey: 

Tim and I are woefully unappreciative of fine art. We try to be interested in it, but most of the time we just get bored. Even so, visiting Tuscany, and specifically Florence, the birth place of the Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries, opened our eyes up to what this time period meant in the greater picture of cultural and societal development. After all, the Renaissance was not exclusively about art, but also philosophy, science, mathematics, and literature (and those are things I definitely enjoy).

The Renaissance in Florence was largely spurred by wealthy families, such as the Medici family, which was the ruling family in Florence at the time. They were art fans and commissioned great works of art from the masters of the time (Michelangelo, for example, was a favorite of theirs). The Renaissance was a return to Greek and Roman art- celebrating a more human element to art (showing emotional facial expressions, showing people as they are rather than idealized representations).

One of the best exampels of Florentine and Renaissance optimism is the story behind the dome on Florence’s grand cathedral. Construction started in the 13th century, and the designers had a vision to top it off with a grand dome, although they did not know how to do so at that time. They moved forward with building plans anyway, leaving a hole where the dome would one day go, having faith that one day soon, someone would figure out how to make the dome. Sure enough, in the 1400s, Brunelleschi, after studying the dome of the Pantheon in Rome, was able to contruct the dome that now tops this massive cathedral.

Tim and I thought this cathedral was one of the most beautiful we have seen in Europe- the facade is a beautiful design of green, pink and beige. Disappointingly, it only dates from 1870, in celebration of the unification of Italy, and most locals don’t love it.

Just a ten minute walk from the Duomo (as the cathedral is called) is Piazza Signoria, which was the political center of Florence. In the plaza is the Palazzo Vecchio, or old town hall. It resembles a fortified castle, which makes it pretty unique among other city halls we have seen in Europe. The plaza today is filled with statues from some of the biggest names in Renaissance art, including a replica of Michelangelo’s David. We did not go see the real thing (again, we are not so great at appreciating great art), but it was impressive to see the scale of the statue and the emotion in David’s face. Most of the statues in this square sit atop the Loggia, a raised platform to the right of the Palazzo.

Now a symbol of the Renaissance, the plaza was once the location of resistence to it. A very pious and much too serious monk by the name of Savonarola held book and art burnings here in 1492 and exiled the Medici family, claiming that the Renaissance was anti-Christian. Eventually the people rebelled against him and burned him alive in the very square in which he hosted book burnings.

Just around the corner is yet more art, inside the Uffizi gallery. We did not go insidea, but we did listen to Rick Steves’ audio guide that featured pictures of key works and a load of educational information that really helped us understand the progression of art at the dawn of the Renaissance (flat, impersonal), to the height of it (dimensional perspective, humanist).

Aside from famous art, the region, Tuscany, also has a beautiful landscape. Picturesque landscapes dot the area, which is quite rural soon after leaving the city.

On our last day in Tuscany we had to be out of our apartment at 10am but our train to Naples was not until 5pm. We decided a bit spontaneously to take advantage of Florence’s proximity to Pisa to make a super quick trip to see the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. The tower is situated on a grassy area called the Field of Miracles, along with a cathedral and baptistry. The tower is actually the bell tower, or campanile, of the Pisa Cathedral. It has had a tilt since its construction, which was completed in 1372, due to inadequate foundation and soft ground on one side. The tower is stable, but forever tilted. We spent a total of only 30 minutes in Pisa before heading back to the train station, and we took the goofy touristy pictures of us holding the tower up, leaning on it, or being crushed beneath it. It was one of the hokiest things we have done all year, but it was a lot of fun to get to see this symbol of Europe of that we get introduced to from such a young age.

All in all, our time in Tuscany was really educational for us. We learned more about art than we have previously and were even able to appreciate it a bit more than we usually do. I guess the birthplace of the Renaissance can turn even the most disinterested tourists into Michelangelo fans after all!

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