LivornoLivorno, Italy's third-largest seaport, stands as the gateway to the mighty Toscana. Long a principality of the Republics of Pisa and Florence, and the Duchies of the Medici and Lorenesi, the city has since suffered the loss of many of its finest landmarks. The Medici of the 16th and 17th centuries erected many buildings, but most of these were destroyed by Allied bombings and by Germans retreating northward during 1944.
Nevertheless, the port offers some points of interest, among them ruins of the 14th-century Tower of the Fanale, built by the Pisans, and the Fortezza Nuova, commissioned by Ferdinand I in 1509. A monument to Livorno's founder features Ferdinand in full armor, surrounded by four chained Moors. Via Grande is the city's main street; at its north end is the district of Venezia Nuova (New Venice), named for its many canals. This lively area, teeming with fishermen and boats, has inspired many paintings.
PisaTwelve miles from Livorno lies the city of Pisa, first settled by the Romans in 180 B.C. Strangely enough, at that time the sea washed right up against the city; by the 12th century, Pisa had reached its glory as a maritime republic. The city was known for opening up trade with the East, as well as for its fervent support of the crusades. Defeated by its arch-rival Genoa in 1284, Pisa went into gradual decline. Under the Medici, Florence gained control of the city in the 15th century. During World War II, Pisa was badly damaged by bombings.
Nearly all who visit Pisa today remark on its quiet, stately air. The city's prized attraction, the Piazza del Duomo, features the famed Leaning Tower. The Duomo's Romanesque cathedral is built in the shape of a cross, capped by an elliptical dome over its intersection. Restored in the 16th century after a fire, the building is decorated in white and colored marble. The Baptistry, also clad in white marble, was begun in 1153 and completed in 1278; here, children from neighboring lands came to be baptized.
The Campanile (Bell Tower), now known as the Leaning Tower, was also begun in the 12th century, but not finished until 1350. Disastrous complications caused the delays; foundations sank during the course of building, for which architects tried to compensate by weighting the third story in the opposite direction. The strategy didn't work.
FlorenceFlorence's rich and prosperous history, particularly under the rule of the Medicis, has given it a favored place in the annals of art. Because of powerful patronage, this once purely commercial community became fertile soil for some of the greatest names in Italian arts and literature. Giotta, Piero della Francesca, Dante and Donatello all lived in Florence, and it was here that the great Renaissance triumvirate--Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael--launched important phases of their careers.
If you have time for nothing else, save at least a few hours for the Uffizi Gallery, the most celebrated art museum in all of Italy. Highlights are the Greek sculptures of the Venus de Medici and the Dancing Faun, and Botticelli's Birth of Venus and his Primavera. My personal favorite in the Uffizi, is Michelangelo's painting "The Holy Family". Mary, Joseph and the Christ child are in the center of a circular painting surrounded by a ring of Cherubs. The definition of the muscles in the limbs and faces of all the subjects give the impression of a three-dimensional "sculpture" and only add to the genius of, in my opinion, the "greatest" artist who ever lived.
For a look at where the Medici family lived and ruled, travel to the far bank of the Arno river, across the famous Ponte Vecchio. The Pitti Palace includes three magnificent paintings of the Madonna by Raphael.
And a "shopping time-out" on and surrounding the Ponte Vecchio should lead you to 18 carat gold and cameo treasures at reasonable prices. Be prepared to bargain and "hunt" a bit for antique jewelry. Each time I return from Florence, I have to call my insurance agent to "up the ante" for jewelry coverage!
Florence's Cathedral (Il Duomo) is the third largest in the world, behind St. Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in London. Done in the Gothic style, it took 140 years to complete. Next to the cathedral is the beautiful 14th-century Campanile (Baptistry), designed by the artist Giotto. The "fit and adventurous" of you may wish to climb the hundreds of steps to the top of the Duomo. Yes, I did it many years ago, and the view of Florence from this vantage is absolutely incredible.
Great BuysFine antiques are sold in many shops around the Pitti Palace and beside the Excelsior and Grand hotels at Piazza Ognissanti. As mentioned above, for jewelry, visit the tiny stores around and on the Ponte Vecchio. Other suitable gifts include Florentine-style (marbled) printed and blocked papers, and museum cards and reproductions.
Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli are all buried in Santa Croce Cathedral. In 1977, I had the opportunity to sing in a concert in this Cathedral. The experience left such a great impression on me that I will never forget any part of it . . .
Nor any part of Florence, my favorite city in the world. A day in port cannot do it justice and you will most likely find yourself wanting desperately to return for days or weeks or months!
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