Firenze

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The weekend before last was spent a short train ride north of Rome in the Tuscan city of Florence. It’s a quaint city with a medieval charm; thick towers and heavy ramparts, rickety shops and narrow streets. It’s Firenze. The city of Dante, the Duomo, and the David.

Many Davids, actually, the most notable being those sculpted by Donatello and Michaelangelo. These sculptures, particularly the latter, are in an artistic league of their own. Like the Mona Lisa and La Pieta, they’re the sorts of things that you just know about. You’re not really sure when or where you first heard of them, let alone what’s so special about them, but you know they’re important. You know they’re good. So good that they’ve been bastardized countless times by kitschy replicas and gimmicky souvenirs. So good that, in spite of the fact that you walk into the museum knowing you’re about to see something magnificent, you leave with a loss for words, relying on trite accolades like “awesome” and “amazing.”

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My visit to the “Casa di Dante” was a bit of a disappointment. It’s a museum dedicated to the great Italian poet, located in what may or may not have been his house. I had read that a few early manuscripts of The Divine Comedy — probably my favorite piece of literature — were on display there, but, alas, nothing. Instead, the casa essentially amounted to a history lesson on Florence in the time of Dante; interesting, no doubt, but I could have gotten more or less the same experience on Wikipedia.

There was, however, one particularly memorable Dante-related experience that came from this. As it turns out, the remains of Beatrice Portinari are interred in a small church just down the street. For the Dante fans among us, you’ll understand the specialness of being able to visit her grave. For those unfamiliar, it’s hard to put into words what Beatrice was for Dante, and to do so is to run the risk of tainting the perfection with which the poet characterized her. Many will be quick to say that she was his “muse;” and she certainly was, but she was also so much more. Suffice to say, Dante was captivated by this beautiful Florentine, and when she died an untimely death Beatrice became for him the embodiment of the most virtuous, spiritual love. Indeed, it is Beatrice that intercedes for Dante in the Comedy, guiding him through Paradise and setting him back upon the straight path. It is Beatrice that Dante appealed to, through his poetry, when he “awoke in a dark wood” after being expelled from Florence. Thus, in a very real sense, Beatrice unites Dante, his poetry, and the city that, despite its rejection of him, he never stopped loving.

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And then there’s the Duomo. First, let’s set the record straight: Duomo does not mean dome. It’s derived from the Latin domus Dei, “House of God.” Thus, it’s a church. Any church is a Duomo, though it tends to be reserved for Italian Cathedrals. Incidentally, the Duomo of Florence does have a massive (and architecturally innovative) dome on top of it, and for six euro, you can climb to the summit.

Emphasis on climb. I believe it was something like 463 steps to the top, up seemingly endless spiral staircases and through cramped passageways. These are, mind you, the original passageways used during the construction of the dome in the early 15th century. And when you reach the top…

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…it’s worth it. Very worth it.

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1 Response to “Firenze”


  1. 1 Jamie February 22, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Didnt I tell you the climb would be worth it??


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