Moments in Time: Florence, Italy
The things that make a city memorable to some, and forgettable to others, are unique to each and every person. Some love Paris and rave about its beautiful architecture and style, others despise it because they perceive its residents as rude and unwelcoming; I confess to sitting on both sides of the fence here. But visiting the Tuscan capital of Florence, I’m hard pressed to find any reasons why someone would not love to vacation in this beautiful city where art and fashion reign supreme. It’s the perfect destination for those who love these two things as they are in abundance everywhere you look. Really, could a city get any more fabulous than with art and fashion at every turn?
Florence has the world’s highest concentration of art proportionate to its geographic size, and many of Italy’s most famous fashion houses maintain their headquarters here. Salvatore Ferragamo opened his first boutique in Florence, and has remained ever since, as have Gucci, Roberto Cavalli and Emilio Pucci. You can find markets lining many of the alleyways. Italian-made leather goods, scarves, jackets and shoes are absolutely everywhere. I scored a beautiful calf’s skin leather jacket in a dusty chocolate brown color, as well as a two-tone brown and tan leather satchel, which is perfect for work. And the prices were quite reasonable, I would have paid double or triple for the same items in North America. So if nothing else, I loved Florence simply for the leather markets, but there is much, much more to the city.
Considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, many of Italy’s most renowned artworks can be found in Florence’s museums; Michelangelo, da Vinci, Botticelli and Raphael – to name but a few of the most famous examples. In fact, there is so much artistic beauty in Florence that the city gave birth to the psychosomatic illness, Stendhal’s syndrome, sometimes also called Florence syndrome. It was first diagnosed by a Florentine psychiatrist who observed people fainting, suffering hallucinations, confusion and rapid heartbeat at the sight of multiple artworks of extreme beauty and cultural significance. So if you’re prone to these types of fanatical reactions, perhaps you should go prepared.
My time in Florence was spent exploring the entire city by foot. The central area and most of the tourist attractions are all within walking distance of one another. I love it when you can walk everywhere you need to go within a city. You don’t have to worry about buses, trains or taxis – the whole process of exploring a city is made so much easier if you can do so on foot.
After checking into my hotel on the first day, I grabbed my camera and my bag, put on some comfortable sneakers, found a map and started exploring. I made my way to the Arno River, which runs through the center of the city. The river is wide and fast-flowing and in the past it has caused devastating floods; however, the afternoon I arrived the sun was shining and warm light glistened off its surface. On one side of the river is the central area of Florence where most of the museums, galleries, stores and restaurants are located. The other side rises up to a mountain where there’s a church, beautiful garden and the Porte Sante Cemetery – the resting place of many prominent Florentines. The place is stunning yet sombre at the same time. And although it’s a bit of a hike up the mountain, the spectacular view is well worth it – you can see across the entire city. The skyline is punctuated by the huge Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, commonly called The Duomo, a huge domed cathedral in the middle of Florence. In fact it’s so large that it still remains, 600 years after it was constructed, the largest brick, domed cathedral in the world.
And, the people are friendly! The importance of this fact really can’t be underestimated. Imagine how incredible some cities would be if it its residents were more welcoming to tourists. At every opportunity locals were willing to help with directions and advice on what to see, where to go and where to eat.
And, eat we did. The food was absolutely delicious, and unique from what I’d tried in Venice, where the cuisine is more seafood-based. The food in Florence revolves around meat dishes; some of which are simply meat, nothing else. Like an entire t-bone cut, which is seared on all side but kept very rare, and shared between two or three people. Or a rich beef stew with only carrots on the side. I’m told their cuisine evolved from traditional peasant food. Cured meats and cheeses are very popular, also. I was there in April when a market fills the main square, Piazza della Repubblica, and producers sell all different kinds of cured meats, cheeses, wines, oils, breads and biscotti. Italian sweet shops and gelato stores can also be found at every turn.
As I walked around the streets, I tried to capture some of the iconic elements of the city, but also some moments from the everyday lives of Florentines. Below is a series of my photographs, which capture what I saw of the city and its people.