After the natural wonder that was the Cinque Terre track, we headed down the country a little further to start soaking in some of the many man-made wonders tha Italy has to offer in beautiful Firenze.
Our hostel had a roof top terrace with a slice of view of the magnificent duomo, so after admiring it from a distance, that seemed like a good place to start.. This thirteenth/fourteenth century cathedral is like no other.. and I'm amazed that we can still say that after all the churches in Europe we have seen :) But with it's distinctive nineteenth century façade of white, green and red marble, and amazing octagonal brick dome, it realy does look like nothing else. The dome is still the largest masonry dome in the world. The interior of the cathedral is relatively sparse and simple, but there are some fantastic pieces of art adorning the walls, and the interior space is simply massive. The cathedral forms such an amazing centrepiece in a city overloaded with exceptional architechture and sights. The eleventh century baptistery building with it's ornate bronze doors and the campanile looming overhead right beside the duomo help make the cathedral square area even more imposing and impressive.
Next stop: Piazza della Signoria, with the awesome Fountain of Neptune outside Palazzo Vecchio - the town hall of Florence, with a copy of Michelangelo's 'David' at the entrance. The square also functions as an open air museum, and as our time and funds were both limited, was our only chance to spy the gems of the Uffizi Gallery, one of the world's great art collections. In the square we could get up close to original sixteenth century sculptures such as Cellini's "Perseus with the Head of Medusa", and Giambologna's "The Rape of the Sabine Women"... it was so fantastic that these works of art were available for free public view!
The next must-see sight in Florence was the Arno river, and the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge spanning it. This fourteenth century bridge is one of only a handful in the world to still have shops lining both sides, as was common in medieval times. They were once butchers but now the bridge sparkles and shines with high class jewellers and gold merchants. Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge to have survived bombing of Florence in World War II, and it feels like you are part of history to cross it.
We also visited a small museum claiming to be built on the site of Dante Alighieri's home, and the church [apparently] which he attended, and where he first spied his muse Beatrice. Authentic or not, this was a great experience for me after spending years reading his works and hearing tales of his history...
Finally we felt we had to view Florence from above to get a real overview of this amazing city, and made our way up towards Michelangelo park up on a hill above the city, where we saw the beginning of sunset over the historic skyline.
It makes so much more sense now, why so many have fallen in love with this city, and we still have so much more to see and do here that we will certainly be back... one day...