Florence - a flourishing city

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By Luci Lizares


Thursday, July 10, 2014

FLORENCE is 290 kilometers from Rome and so we were there shy of three hours with all the pee stops along the way. We had a very able Filipino driver, Arjo, whose business is renting out his van and driving usually for Filipinos. Arjo’s hometown in Italy is Florence so we were in safe hands who knew exactly where to take us.

First, he brought us to Piazzale Michelangelo. The Piazzale Michelangelo is a large, pedestrianized square where you have one of the best unobstructed views of the city. The Square is dedicated to the city's most famous Renaissance artist, Michelangelo Buonarroti. At the center of the square stands a replica of his most famous statue, David.

The bronze statue is set on a large pedestal, decorated with replicas of allegorical statues depicting day, night, twilight and dawn. The original marble statue of David can be seen in the Galleria dell’Accademia; the original allegorical statues are in the Medici Chapels at the San Lorenzo Basilica. Quite touristy with market stalls but nonetheless breathtaking!


Florence is an old city founded in 59 BC by Julius Caesar, who named it Florentia, meaning flourishing. Florence is situated on fertile, farmable land, and located on a major travel route between northern Italy and Rome. It grew steadily from a small Roman settlement to a bustling commercial center.

By the third century AD, it was established as the capital of Tuscany. The population continued to increase under the rule of Charlemagne in 774 and more so by the 10th century during the reign of Margrave Hugo.

By 1252, Florence minted its own gold currency - the 'florin.' The city became a powerful banking hub, with many Florentine banks opening branches across Europe.

This economic strength fostered the growth of mercantile guilds and attracted an influx of immigrants, setting the stage for the creative movement known as the Renaissance. There were a dozen artists' guilds throughout the city, and Florence exported massive amounts of high quality wool and other textiles to Italy and Europe.

Some of the migrants were the era's most influential artists. They flocked to the city to create their masterpieces, including locals like Michelangelo, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Leonardo da Vinci. Their frescoes, sculptures, architecture and paintings are still preserved throughout the city and are major points of interest to visitors.

In the city, our first stop was at the Basilica de Sta. Croce or the Basilica of the Holy Cross. It is also called the Temple of the Italian Glories because this is where Michelangelo, Galileo, Foscolos, Gentile and Rossini are buried. Florentines come to the basilica as a place of worship but it became popular for honored Florentines to be buried or commemorated there. Some chapels are "owned" by wealthy families. Over 500 years, space was also granted and erected to notable Italians from elsewhere.

The Basilica de Sta Croce is the largest Franciscan basilica in the world and legend says that St. Francis founded it himself. Mae, Dido and I decided not to take the tour inside the basilica but only to pray. Churches and Basilicas now in Europe have an entrance fee. However, for those who just want to pray, there is a separate entrance and a limited area for viewing.

There are 16 chapels in the Basilica and in the cloister is a monument in honor of Florence Nightingale who is also a child of Florence and was named after the city.

Near the steps of the Basilica is a monument to the poet, writer and politician Dante Alighieri. He is considered the Father of the Italian language. His Divina Commedia, "Dante’s Inferno”is one of the most important works written in Florentine vernacular, and is today a classic in world literature.

Connected to the Sta. Croce Basilica is the Scuolo del Cuoio. Looking through the grills, I realized that it was a Leather School. Scuolo del Cuoio was created after the Second World War. The mission was to give orphans of the war a means to learn a practical trade and earn a living. The friars converted their old dormitory for the school.

The first students were taught the differences between the various kinds of leather, the methods to cut the leather by hand and to create a variety of leather items like handbags and brief cases. The more gifted students learned to make artistic objects like jewelry cases and the art of gilding leather using 22 carat gold. By the end of 1950, the school offered courses to inmates inside Florence’s Murate prison and in juvenile centers.

Scuolo del Cuoio remains the largest genuine laboratory in the city and clients can witness artisans create leather goods in the traditional way. Mayors continue to commission Scuolo del Cuoio for guest books, albums and writing pads with the coat of arms of the city for official ceremonies. The Ritz in Paris and the Hassler in Rome order their leather goods from this school.

Walking straight down from the Piazza de San Croce, what we see before us is the Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace), the city hall of Florence. This fortress-like building is one of the city's most famous landmarks. A large bell tower was added later and the bells tolled to announce public meetings or to warn on imminent danger.

(to be continued)

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on July 10, 2014.


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