When they ask you, "what did you say you saw in Florence?" do say, yes, Galileo's middle finger. It is a great story about a city that boasts of fabulous, mind-blowing art.
And seriously, in the History of Science Museum is a large bell jar with the long bony remains of Galileo’s middle finger an enterprising chap named Anton Francesco Gori stole.
It sits there pointing to the sky, almost laughing at us as we still look through telescopes at the stars for answers.
You smile as you begin to understand how weird and wonderful this city is. It hung and burnt Savonarola (Piazza Della Signoria), a purist priest who hated everything the city enjoyed: poetry, pubs, festivities, masked balls, gambling and dancing in the streets.
He employed urchins to snitch on these activities, they were called ‘snivellers,’ and ordered the original ‘Bonfire Of The Vanities’, burning all gaming tables, books with ‘indecent’ content, nude pictures and statues and carnival masks! Only religious processions and holidays were observed!
Thankfully the Medicis were great patrons of the arts. And so were the people. In fact, there is a home turned into a museum called the Stibbert Museum, which sort of reminds you of the Raja Kelkar museum in Pune.
Stuffed to the gills, and rafters, with art and armour. There is so much to see, you will discover Brueghel in the middle of rows of Japanese Samurai armours, and anime dolls, in glass cases. Each of the 60 rooms is stunningly decorated.
You may have to use your powers of persuasion and luck to be able to visit the underground secret room where Michelangelo was holed up (building an elaborate tomb for the Medicis) when Florence went through another religious war.
With nothing to do for months, he drew on the walls fabulous renditions of Christ and self portraits (you may not see the original because they are so fragile, but you can see copies at the Basilica De San Lorenzo).
In fact, there is so much of Michelangelo in Florence, there are proper Michelangelo trails. One will surely lead you to the most famous of his works. In the Trident room of the Academie, you will stare (as will the hoards who preceded you at David, standing in his beautiful nakedness…
And if you visit this summer, you will see the beautiful nymph Arnina. Hard to imagine so much beauty in marble.
If you avoid the queues, you can visit Dante’s home which houses his works! Imagine seeing original poetry! Here is where I learnt about the wonderful love story of Beatrice Portinari and Dante (he was married to another).
I just had to sit down and write a prayer for my unrequited love and, and once done, walked to the Dante family church Santa Margherita de Cerchi, to place it in the basket near her resting place (they say your prayers are answered!).
Dante’s paintings/sculptures show him to be old. So when you see the portrait of Beatrice - his inspiration for the Divine Comedy - you wonder what he must have been like.
If you have the stomach for the macabre, you will enjoy the taxidermy museum and realise that the taxidermists were rather imaginative when they tried to put together a hippo.
I was shooed out because I giggled too much, but then when I ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ appropriately at the Inlay Museum (Museo Opificio delle Pietre Dure) the ushers smiled. And then I stage whispered to other tourists, ‘Come to the Taj Mahal! We did some grand inlay work too!’
Anything about Florence will be incomplete without mentioning the utterly spectacular Uffizi Museum. Here is where you pay obeisance to the masters.
You cannot possibly see everything in one day, and to appreciate every colour, every expression will take a lifetime, easily. So use the audio guide and don’t worry if the tears flow. The art you will see here is priceless and the stories incredible.
Yes, I gawped at Venus emerging from her shell (Birth Of Venus, Botticelli), Venus relaxing on the daybed (Venus of Urbino, Titian), Primavera (Botticelli again), the most famous portraits in the world of art: The Duke And the Duchess of Urbino by Piero Della Francesca, Raphael’s self portrait, Fora by Titian, and then, was overcome by something mystical and holy when you see Leonardo Da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi, The Annunciation, The Baptism of Christ, Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, Madonna of the Long Neck, Raphael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch, the gold gilded triptychs.
I walked through the Boboli gardens overwhelmed by the beauty of what I had seen, and smiled at the sculpture of the creepy dwarf riding a tortoise.
I then wore my oversized sunglasses, we’re in Italy after all, an rested my feet while watching the river flow by the Ponte Vecchio, with a glass of Chianti and salt-less bread with cheese.
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.
First Published: IST