In today’s episode, we’re going on a segway tour with Italy Segway Tours and visit some of Florence’s main piazzas: The Duomo, which is the city’s religious center, Piazza della Repubblica, the commercial center, and Piazza della Signoria, the political center.
Italy Segway Tours is one of the many companies world wide that offer segway tours and rentals. The tours are either group tours, or private tours.
Before going on a tour, there’s a 30 minute orientation session so we know how to ride one of these things! In case you’re living in the Dark Ages and never heard of a Segway, according to its inventor Dean Kamen, thesegway is the world’s first self balancing human transporter, and although it only has 2 wheels, it stays upright all by itself. To move forward or backward you just lean slightly forward or backward. To turn left or right, you just move the LeanSteer frame left or right. Riding it feels natural, safe, and you’re under complete control as the machine adapts to your pace instinctively. After a few minutes of gliding on it, you feel as though the segway and you are one.
Serena, my guide, is taking me on a private tour and we’re going to feature some of the tour highlights in this show. Like all other Italy Segway Tour guides, Serena is well educated in Florence’s history, culture, and architecture, but I won’t give away her trade secrets…you’re going to get the Simone guided tour version instead! Don’t worry, I did my homework! Although as a local, Serena knows a whole lot more! Clear the streets everyone, because here I come!! I have no idea what this is going to be like, if I’m going to love it or hate it, but I’ll let you know when we get back! As we leave the meeting point, our first stop is the Duomo.
Ah, the Dumo!! The symbol of Florence… when you look at postcards from Florence, most of them feature the Dumo! Duomo means cathedral, and typically every Italian city who could afford it, built themselves a Duomo. So the real name of this Duomo is Santa Maria del Fiore – St Mary of the Flower. And it so happens that the symbol of Florence is a flower – the lily!
Before this immense cathedral was built, there stood a smaller Duomo from 7th century, the church of Santa Reparata, which you can still see its remains in the crypt below.
Construction of the new gothic style Duomo began at the end of 13th century by Arnolofo di Cambio. The dome itself was added 2 centuries later! And the cathedral wasn’t fully completed with the green, pink, and white marble façade until the 19th century. Talk about a work in progress! Imagine someone began to build something when Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, and it was finally completed today!!In the video I reveal the ingenious Secret technique Brunelleschi used to convince the members to give him the commission to build the dome..and they did!
When commissioning any work for the Duomo, the members of Opera del Duomo guild were in charge of deciding who gets the commission through contests, and such a contest was held for the construction of the Dome. The 41 year old Brunelleschi presented them with a 12 foot tall, 6 foot wide brick model of the dome. While other architects tackled the difficulties with elaborate buttresses and other systems to support the incredible weight of the dome, Brunelleschi’s dome stood free. Obviously the members were shocked and demanded to see designs proving he COULD achieve such an impossible task.Watch in the video: to succeed, Brunelleschi would need to rewrite the rules of architecture as they knew it, and there was no guarantee of success….and the drama intensified. You think there’s office drama NOWadays? It’s nothing compared to drama of Renaissance proportions. Watch and find out…
The colorful and richly decorated facade is the collective work of several artists….because competitions for a new facade failed to produce an acceptable model, the Duomo was left bare until the mid 1800′s.
The interior of the Duomo is pretty stark and plain. The clock above the entrance was designed in 1443 by Paolo Uccello according to the ora italica, where the 24th hour of the day ended at sunset….so I guess in those days, at night, time stood still.
There’s also an interesting painting of Dante and the Divine Comedy, that depicts Dante’s inferno along side of Florence.
Close to the entrance of this prestigious cathedral is the simple and humble tomb of Filippo Brunelleschi, held in high esteem by the Florentines.
Now to make things interesting and probably to make sure Brunelleschi didn’t screw up, there was a condition attached to being awarded the commission: he would have to share the title of head architect, or capomaestro, with his archrival and nemesis, Lorenzo Ghiberti (who also created the Gates of Paradise on the Baptistry across from the Duomo).
Despite all of the ingenious measures during the construction, several setbacks took place including 100 tons of marble that sunk into the Arno River, a potentially dangerous crack in the cathedral’s walls, AND Brunelleschi sudden illness that had everyone thinking he won’t make it.
Naturally Ghiberti had to take over the dome’s construction. But because he wasn’t able to understand Brunelleschi’s incripted plans, Ghiberti proceeded to construct a massive supporting chain. As soon after Ghiberti began this project as the only capomaestro, Brunelleschi had a miraculous recovery. Upon inspecting Ghiberti’s work, he declared it worthless and that he would start the project over himself. Brunelleschi was given a raise and Ghiberti discredited, which could’ve easily been Brunelleschi’s plan all along to fake illness in order to expose Ghiberti’s incompetence. Who knows what really happened except Brunelleschi himself.
Well, no bad deed goes unpunished because soon after, Brunelleschi was arrested for not paying his annual dues to the Masons Guild, a guild in which suspiciously, Ghiberti had a substantial amount of influence. Even more suspicious, Brunelleschi was the only member of the guild ever to be arrested for failing to pay his dues. He was released from jail two weeks later.
This ongoing sparring between Brunelleschi and Ghiberti ended in Brunelleschi’s favor.
Towards the completion of the dome, Ghiberti was confined to designing the windows for the Duomo, and while Brunelleschi worked for the Opera del Duomo for the rest of his life, Ghiberti was relieved of his duties two months before the duomo consecration in 1436. I really feel bad for the guy….
The Duomo lived on to become the inspiration for Michelangelo when he designed the dome on Saint Peter Basilica in the Vatican, a century later.
Giotto’s Campanile, or bell tower, was designed by Giotto in 1334.
Standing at 277 feet, this candy cane showpiece of Florentine Gothic architecture is as richly decorated as the Duomo. Statues in the niches represent prophets and patriarchs that were sculpted at different times by different artists.
If you’re not claustrophobic or afraid of heights, you can climb the campanille’s 414 steps for an amazing city view below.
Through their combined work of the bell tower and dome, Giotto and Brunelleschi became two of the founding fathers of Italian Renaissance architecture.
Across from the Duomo is the Baptistry, and its history goes back to the Ancient Romans who dominated old Florence.
For some time a legend floated round that the Baptistry was originally a Roman temple dedicated to Mars, patron pagan god of Old Florence. Whether that was true or not, we don’t know. But what we do know through 20th century excavations is that there was a 1st century Roman wall running through this piazza, and the Baptistry was built on the remains of a former Roman building.
The first baptistery build here in late 4th century or so was also octagonal, and it was replaced by another baptistery in late 6th century. Octagonal shapes were very common for baptisteries since early Christianity. At that time, the baptistery was surrounded by a cemetery, and it was used as a tomb by important Florence families. The baptistery was finally built again in mid 11th century in the Romanesque style of that time, bringing in marble from ancient buildings and from Fiesole, a nearby uphill town conquered by Florence.
The Baptistery doors were built in 1401 when the Wool Merchants’ Guild awarded the commission through a contest to 21 year old Lorenzo Ghiberti after Brunelleschi of course dropped out of the contest instead of sharing the project with Ghiberti. The bronze doors replaced the previous doors that held votive offerings to spare Florence from the Black Death in 1348.
The bronze statues over the northern gate depict John the Baptist preaching to a Pharisee and Sadducee.
In 1425 Ghiberti got a second commission for another set of gilded bronze doors on the East Doors of the baptistry, which took 27 years to complete These had ten panels depicting scenes from the Old Testament, and are now preserved in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo inside clear containers filled with nitrogen. These doors here are replicas.
When Michelangelo first saw these doors, he was so impressed he named them “The Gates of Paradise”. The original statues above portraying the Baptism of Christ are also in the Museum. To immortalize himself in his art, Ghiberti included a small 3 dimensional self portrait on the door.
Now we’re off gliding through the side streets of Florence to our next destination, Piazza della Repubblica. One great thing about being on thesegway, it makes getting from one place to another much faster and fun, without my poor feet pounding Florentine cobble stones!
Please continue with by watching the next episode, Part 2 of Florence on A Segway tour.
~ Snackbar Anna
If you miss bagels and coffee for breakfast in Florence, this is the place for you!
Via dei Genori 26R
Exquisite hand crafted chocolates!
Via Ginori, 55/57r
For many people who are short on time or not up for the physical challenge of DIY travel, having the benefit of a private vehicle and personal driver allows them to make the most of their day, not have to deal with transportation, and it minimize walking from place to place. For larger groups up to 8 persons it can be quite economical way to tour and sightsee in comfort.