My Trip To Europe. Day 18. Tuesday, October 21. Florence, then off to Naples.

The Uffizi, one of the greatest art museums in the world.

The Coin of the Day is ancient Neapolitan.

Coin of the Day:  Didrachm of Neapolis, 340-241 BCE

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Obverse: Head of Nymph
Reverse: Nike and a bull.

Neapolis, of course, is now Naples.  Since I am going there tonight, the coin fits.  (It would fit tomorrow even better, but I have the perfect coin for tomorrow, which would make little sense at all today.  So stay tuned.)

Florence

Duomo, the Cathedral.

Our day began at the Duomo, the titanomondobodacioginormous cathedral of Florence.  This was built over a span over a century, 1296-1418 and they ran into a problem.  They had left a hole in the center for a dome, but it was going to be a bit of a problem building such a huge dome.  They held a design competition, and Filippo Brunelleschi won it.  Somehow he succeeded, finishing by 1436.  People today are unsure of the methods he used.

The exterior of the Duomo is almost fractal.  The closer you zoom in the more detail you see.  Anyway, here’s a photographic “dump.”

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Then to my complete astonishment, we did not go inside.  Paola assured us it would be disappointing, and we were taking her tour.  She did urge us to go on our own and climb up into the dome.  (If I had known that yesterday…)

Loggia

Then we walked all the way back to Piazza della Signoria (where the copy of Michelangelo’s David stands, as seen yesterday).  Another side of the square is a covered loggia loaded with statues, some ancient, some Renaissance, but all having ancient or mythological themes.  We spent some time here.

Rape of the Sabines:
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Menelaus holding the body of Patroclus (Trojan War)

21-015 21-016This is a Roman copy (Flavian era, so about 80 CE) of a Greek original from 240-240 BCE.  Restored in 1640 and 1830.

Hercules and the Centaur.  Giambologna, 1546?

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Roman art, Barbarian Prisoner “Thusnelda” from the era of Trajan/Hadrian (thus early second century CE).

21-018There are a number of sculptures of women identified only by category here (e.g., Sabine Woman, etc.)

Santa Croce

Then we walked over to Santa Croce, a Franciscan church.  Just another church, right?  Well this one seems to be “special” to the Florentines. And its a bit unusual, in having a six pointed star as a major decoration.  (I don’t know if it was intended to be the star of David.)

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Dante Alighieri was also from Florence.  According to Paola, his dialect of Italian is what the Italian government chose to standardize on when they picked a local dialect to be the official language of the entire nation of Italy.   Others dispute this but it was certainly a Tuscan dialect.  (And incidentally some of those “dialects” are different enough that they should be considered separate languages.  Unlike Danish/Swedish/Norse, which are similar enough to each other that they ought to be considered dialects.)

This time we did enter the church.  In some ways it seems a bit more Gothic inside with the very tall stained glass.  (There is one in England somewhere where entire walls seem to be stained glass.)

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And a lot of famous people are buried here!

How about…Dante?

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Michelangelo?

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And even Galileo!  (His body was moved here centuries after his death.  They even removed a couple of fingers from his corpse and they are displayed in room Vii of the Galileo Museum.  My photographs didn’t come out.  I understand the middle finger faces Rome.)

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Machiavelli

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Gioachino Rossini, probably most famous (thanks to Warner Brothers) for the Barber of Seville, though he is also responsible for the William Tell Overture (used as the Lone Ranger theme).  He’s known as the “Italian Mozart.”  I can’t resist pointing out that Mozart is not known as the Austrian Rossini, so we know who’s top dog in orchestral music, the standard by which others are measured.

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Leonardo da Vinci?
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Whoops.  False alarm.  He’s in France.  But the Florentines decided to honor him here anyway.

The purplish-red background is made out of purple porphyry, which can only be obtained from one quarry in Egypt.  It was regarded as a luxury item in ancent times as a consequence.  It’s also very hard material.  The Romans knew where the quarry was, and also how to work the stone.  Both these items of knowledge were lost during the Middle Ages, and porphyry was sometimes looted.  The quarry has been found fairly recently, and it’s almost played out, so this stone continues to be an extremely valuable luxury item.

And here’s a shot of the dome, with a mere hint of the frescoes.

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The Uffizi

Now we walked back the way we came, past that loggia…

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…And into the Uffizi.

The Uffizi has the largest collection of Roman imperial busts, a “complete” run of emperors.  (I don’t know what they mean by “complete,” since I don’t imagine anyone ever made busts of some of those emperors who were proclaimed by their legions out on the frontier, and then had to be crushed by the emperor in Rome.  Also I doubt some of the very late emperors like Romulus Augustulus got sculpted, and I also doubt many in the Eastern Roman Empire got here.)

If I ever exhibit these “five good Emperor” coins again, I don’t have to grab their portraits off Wikipedia any more.  In fact, some of the busts I photographed are the ones Wikipedia shows!

Perhaps the most famous single painting in the Uffizi was a surprise to me.  “Oh, this one is HERE?!?” strikes again.  Sandro Botticelli.

21-031The Birth of Venus

And here’s their other Botticelli.

21-032Primavera.
Left to right: Mercury, the Three Graces, Venus, Flora, Chloris, Zephyrus

And their sole example of a Leonardo da Vinci painting:

21-033Annunciation

Other parts of the Uffizi.  No, I don’t remember what they are, my information bucket was filled by then.

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Now here is a rather different view of the Ponte Vecchio.  Through those archways is where I stood to take a picture of that bridge yesterday.

21-038Note the row of windows along the top, higher than the shops, etc, along the street.

21-039We took a break here and found ourselves on a raised deck, and could take a different shot of the Duomo from here.

Then, we got the special tour, available for a lot more money.  And don’t even think of being late for the opening of the doors into this place; they won’t wait.

That upper story of the Ponte Vecchio, it turns out, was a corridor (the Vasari Corridor) that the Medicis, and guests, could use to cross all the way from the Pitti to the Uffizi.  There was even a balcony inside a church so that the Medicis could watch Mass without having to mix with mere commoners.  And now, it’s full of more artwork.  We walked through in the opposite direction (Uffizi to Pitti) with guards opening and closing doors ahead and behind us.

To be honest there was less of interest here than in the main museum.  Some paintings of mythological themes, and about half of it was full of self-portraits of artists.  Often obscure enough I didn’t know them (admittedly not too high a bar).  Also yet more Roman Imperial busts for me to add to my scrapbook (extras from the Uffizi’s collection).

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Looking back up the stairway that descended into the Vasari Corridor.

21-041This one is famous, Doubting Thomas prodding the risen Jesus’ wound.

21-042Looking out through one of those windows

21-043The Rape of Europa, by Albani (1578-1660).  Yes, this is Europa being carried off to Crete by Zeus, who has taken the form of a bull.

21-044I couldn’t resist one Imperial bust, this one of Marcus Aurelius (see the coin of the day from two days ago).

21-045Another window, this time looking out over the Ponte Vecchio itself.  I didn’t realize until now the camera focused on the bars…grrr.  But you get the idea; the common scum on the street below often didn’t notice the muckeymucks looking down on them through these fairly small windows above, back in the day.

After looking at hundreds of artists’ self portraits (which frankly bored the living daylights out of me) we emerged at the Pitti Palace end of the thing, and that was the end of that tour.

And now, it was time for me to move on.  I finally split from the group that had come here to celebrate my dad’s 80th.  I took an evening train to Naples, to return to my investigation of the ancient world.

Digression

As an aside (and warning for anyone who wants to try this), if you are American, the automated train ticket selling machines in Europe probably won’t work with your credit card!  Europe has shifted over to cards with chips in them, authorized by entering a PIN.  Even the chip cards in the US generally require a signature, not a PIN, which in turn requires a human being to (supposedly) look at the signature and compare it to the back of your card.  Mostly they don’t bother, but the automatic machines will often still refuse to accept a card that needs the signature.   I have one of those cards, and it usually wasn’t a problem at restaurants; just hand them the card, and they are used to those American tourists with the quaint card that still has to be signed–though I don’t think they expect it when the card has a chip in it.  An automated machine was another matter.  I fortunately was forewarned, and had the bank assign a PIN to the card.  That way, if the machine couldn’t accept a signature, it defaulted to the PIN.  (Personally, I’d prefer it worked the other way, PIN given preference over signature.  But oh well.)

Expect to see a lot more chip embedded plastic in the US within the next couple of years.  It’s far more secure against some forms of credit card fraud.  For one thing, each use of the card generates a unique code.  So if Target or Home Depot get hacked again, the numbers they grab for chip enabled cards will be worthless to the hacker/thieves.  Walmart already is using the new chip card terminals (you insert the card into the terminal and wait while the computers do their business).  Other places have them installed but aren’t yet enabling the chip reader.

This should not be confused with RFID cards (which were and are a horrible idea from a security standpoint); the chip on these cards has to be in physical contact with the reader and is actually powered by the reader; it’s inert when not in contact, unlike RFIDs.  So you won’t need a metal-lined wallet for these cards.  (If your card can be waved in front of the machine and register a payment, then it’s not quite the same thing, and you can disregard this.)

OK, I’m done with the digression now.

So off I went to Naples, on a high speed train.  There was a TV screen mounted on the ceiling and visible throughout the cabin that would alternate between ads for Trenitalia and showing the speed.  I’d often see it display 289 kph, then climb and climb, and get to 299, then just as you think it’s going to break 300, it cuts to the ads.  Arrgh.  I didn’t get a picture of it this time, but did later in the trip.

I got to Naples and it was dark.  And the neighborhood near the train station is *scary*, my hackles went up.  I had to walk four blocks to my hotel, expecting to be mugged at any moment.

This hotel was the first one I dealt with on the trip with the toilet and shower down the hall.  Sometimes it can be a considerable money saver, but it can be a pain in the butt too if you have to wait on others.  (Solution:  wake up early, beat the rush.)

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