>Viva Italia!Posted: August 7, 2010
A few years ago I read a somewhat fictional biography of Michelangelo Buonoratti entitled, The Agony and the Ecstasy. The author may have taken a few liberties, but the book enthralled me, detailing the artist’s struggles with the politics of popes, benefactors and other artists as well as his artistic processes and inspirations concerning his many great works of art. After reading it, I concocted the idea to do a tour of Italy via the works of Michelangelo. Unfortunately, on this trip I had merely a week, and therefore not as long or as exhaustive as I had originally envisioned. I certainly made the best of my one all-too-brief week though, splitting my time between Rome and Florence.
In Rome it is an absolute must to visit Vatican city. (Read More…)
With one look at the massive line to get inside I caved into paying 35 Euro for a tour guide and getting to skip the line. It was an excellent decision in the end, having a guide to direct me through all hundreds of pieces of art; tapestries, statues, sarcophagi, paintings, an artistic overload really. Eventually though, you muddle through the maze of artistic wonderments, through a small hallway, down some inconspicuous stairs and through a smallish door into a room crowded with people whose heads are all curiously cocked back looking at the ceiling: Then you look up. You are in the Sistine Chapel and gazing up at the ceiling panels that various artists turned down the chance to paint because they thought it would take a team of people 15 years to fresco: Michelangelo, despite the fact the fresco was not his favorite artistic medium (he was truly a marble sculptor), did it by himself in four years. He painted the ceiling when he was 31 and would return at the age of 60 to fresco The Last Judgement on the back wall of the Sistine. I do not claim to know much about art or fresco painting, but I knew enough to be impressed. In the Vatican there is also the imposing St. Peter Basillica where you can view Michelangelo’s Pieta; but only from a distance. The audience is now kept back from the emotionally charged statue and behind glass because a vandal once took a hammer to it, damaging it substantially.
Also in Rome, a visit to the Colosseum is mandatory, and practically inescapable as you will probably run into it if you just walk directionless around the city for long enough.
Most of alll the sights in Rome are within walking distance of each other which is good because the metro system is a bit lacking; They have an excuse for this though: Everytime they tried to dig and build a new metro line or station, they discovered more ancient ruins that can’t be disturbed! But it’s nice to walk around. Even the summer heat is made bearable by the free water fountains that are fed from the aquaducts and which produce cool, delicious and perfectly safe drinking water: Speaking of wonderful fountains, you should also see this one, the Trevi Fountain:
And these things I have mentioned are but the tip of the iceberg. There are ruins galore and more piazzas than you can shake a gelatto cone at, including the Piazza de Spagna, where you can see the beautiful Spanish steps. Oh yes, and the Italians love a good piazza, (different from a pizza, but they love those too!) even though this may be little more than an open space between buildings floored with concrete or cobblestone. I can appreciate a good piazza though, because usually they are dotted with impressive statues, fountains and monuments. Walking around the piazzas of both Florence and Rome I was struck at the age of everything. In the U.S. we nod with respect if a building is over 100 years old. In Italy and Europe they chuckle and ask if the paint is still wet.
The ancient piazzas though still sparkle with life as they are frequently used by the locals as evening gathering places: In Florence the bars are usually for tourists as the locals tend to simply grab a seat on the steps of a piazza. I was doing just this one evening; sitting on the steps of the Santa Croce piazza, (where stands a huge statue of Dante Alighieri) and chatting with my new Italian friends when a bachelor party approached. The groom to-be was dressed in a long, white, men’s night gown and had a wreath of leaves adorning his bald head. Dressed much like the statue he stood in front of and carrying a sign that read “I’m getting married!” his friends in the party then had him read an excerpt from The Divine Comedy, much to the amusement of the audience including myself. This is how Italiens tease and send off their bachelors. Kind of classy isn’t it?
Florence is really something, as the above story might suggest, it is a place with a classy, but relaxed and cozy sort of atmosphere. And we are saying the name completely wrong. Italians spell it Firenze and say it like this: Fear-in-zuh. Give it a try. Just pretend that you are in an Italian mafia movie and then you will probably get the emphasis and inflection, basically right. This is Firenze from the Ponte Vecchio bridge in the evening:
As wonderful as the atmosphere in Florence/Firenze is, and as delightful as I found the cafes and piazzas, far and away, the crowning glory of the city, and perhaps Italy, even . . . is Michelangelo’s David.
You stand in line for perhaps half an hour, enter the museum, buy your ticket and are at first sidetracked by a small room on the right. But there is nothing really in there. The entire museum is really just an excuse for the David, and everyone knows it, so you quickly pass through the room and under a doorway, where all of a sudden the person in font of you has turned right and stopped dead in their tracks. You manage to avoid running into them and then turn to see what has given them pause. Looking right, you are then frozen as well, and if the person behind you doesn’t run into you, you simply stand for a moment and stare in utter awe at the statue at the end of the hall: The David stands 17 feet tall, carved from a massive block of Carrara marble. The statue is so impressive that I had to simply find a place to sit and stare. An hour later I left the museum barely having glanced at anything else, but having examined the perfection of the statue from every angle I could get at, from the far corner of the room and up close. I left, but not without one final awestruck, gaze. Now without trying to brag, I have to say that I have seen some pretty impressive things, (not least of which have been on this trip) but The David has surpassed them all. It is truely mindboggling how one man, in 3 years managed to carve out of rock such a masterpiece. But of course, my words hardly do it justice. You will just have to trust me and go see it for yourself.
The same can be said for Italy; so amazing you just have to see it for yourself. And I never even got around to talking about the delicious food and coffee!
~Marie DeAeth, World Affairs Council Intern Abroad