Florence: Palazzo Pitti
My random wanderings on my day trip to Florence brought me to Ponte Vecchio, an old bridge which crosses the river Arno. It is believed that Ponte Vecchio was built in the Roman times, though it doesn't make an appearance in historical documents until 996. Since then, it has been destroyed by the river and rebuilt a number of times. What makes Ponte Vecchio unusual are the shops that run along each side; they used to house butchers and blacksmiths, but today are occupied by jewelry shops.
The shift from dead cows to diamonds can perhaps be attributed to Cosimo I de'Medici and Giorgio Vasari (remember Vasari from the last post? He painted part of the Santa Maria del Fiore frescoes). The Medici were Florence's reigning family during the Renaissance. They rose to power as bankers and over the years produced several important Florentine figures, including a couple of popes. Of course, the fact that a wealthy banking family secured the papacy more than once absolutely does not mean that the Catholic church was corrupt. But I digress.
In 1565, Cosimo de'Medici had Vasari build a corridor above Ponte Vecchio so that he could travel from the Palazzo Vecchio, which was Florence's town hall, to the Palazzo Pitti, his residence, without mingling with the commoners. To heighten the corridor's prestige, he made it illegal for butchers to sell on the bridge, and their shops were taken over by gold merchants.
Ponte Vecchio is great for people watching, gelato eating, and apparently, for ensuring everlasting love. In several different spots you can see clusters of padlocks, part of a growing trend in which star crossed lovers write their names on a lock and toss the key into the river.
Once you get to the other side of the river, it's a short walk to the Palazzo Pitti, or Pitti Palace. The heart of the palace dates back to 1458, when it was the home of Luca Pitti, a Florentine banker. The Medici bought the palace in 1549 and expanded it to the size it is today. It housed generations of powerful families until the late 18th century when Napoleon rudely stormed in. He used it as a military base for a few years, but it lay empty for almost a century after his departure. It was donated to the city of Florence by King Victor Emmanuel III in 1919 and today houses several art collections, including that of the Medici family.
The interior of the palace is, as one might expect, lavish and beautiful. Visitors can walk through the royal apartments, which consist of 14 gorgeously decorated rooms covered in art collected by the Medici. Walls are lined with colorful satin, the ceilings are covered in frescoes, and enormous chandeliers cast sparkling light all around. Of course, photography isn't permitted. The horrendous photos below are the result of my attempts to inconspicuously snap a few shots.
The Boboli Gardens are a massive expanse of Alice in Wonderland-esque statues and shrubbery. They stretch far beyond the palace and you could easily spend a few hours walking through the entire thing.
I got lost for awhile and found myself going in circles, but eventually made it to the other end of the garden. I was greeted by a murky green pond and a statue of Titan topped off with a crane posing casually atop his head.
You can see all of Florence sprawled out beneath you, as well as a gorgeous view of the back of the palace.
If you're lucky, you might run into Cosimo de'Medici himself, reincarnated in the form of a shabby cat.
By the time I was done at Palazzo Pitti, it was dark out and things were beginning to close. I had spent nearly four hours wandering around the palace and the gardens! If I had another day in Florence, this wouldn't be a problem, but if you're making a day trip there, budget your time better than I did. You shouldn't miss out on the palace, but I'd suggest skipping the gardens unless the weather is really nice and only spending an hour or so inside the palace, otherwise you'll find yourself out of time like I did. Then again, Florence is just as charming by night!