|Tuesday, May 25, 2004, Livorno Italy|
After about a 90 minute bus ride we arrived in Florence. It seemed like you could see the dome of the Duomo from almost anywhere in the city. From where the bus dropped us off we walked over to the Accademia where the statue of Michaelangelo's David is located. We had to wait in line for about an hour before we could go in. While we were waiting a number of people in the group used the time to check out some of the local merchants. There were a number of street vendors selling very funny shorts and aprons that had David's crotch on them. Bill bought some that he wore on kariokie night which I thought was really funny.
Once we finally were admitted into the Accademia, we stood by Michaelangelo's Prisoner series where the tour guide told us the history and ideas of how and why Michaelangelo created these pieces. After looking at the four sculptures we finally walked over and looked at the statue of David. The statue of David is very large at 17 feet tall and carved out of a single block of stone. The detail is amazing. You can see almost every muscle and vein. Unfortunately they no longer allow photographs in the Accademia, so I wasn't able to take any pictures. We spent a few minutes looking at David and then we rushed into the gift shop for a few minutes before rushing out.
Once the group had gathered, we all walked over to the Synagogue of Florence. We knew we were getting close when someone noticed a building that said Habad House in Hebrew. We also passed by a kosher restaurant. The synagogue is very large and beautiful. It took a while for us to get in since they don't allow cameras or large bags which we had to leave behind in a locker. One by one we each went through a metal detector and any of the women who were wearing shorts that were considered too short or shirts with open shoulders where give something to cover themselves. Once all the group was through we proceeded inside the synagogue.
The synagogue has a mixture of moorish and Christian styles. It is laid out much like a cathedral, which we were told was due to the fact that architects of the time knew how to build cathedrals, but didn't know exactly what a synagogue should look like. Because of this the bima looked more like an alter and there was a speaking tower towards the middle. The decorations had a very moorish style. There was a jewish star design all over the walls and there were a number of phrases in Hebrew that wrapped around the upper portion of the walls. It's amazing that this synagogue still survives. During WWII the nazis used it as a parking garage and knocked down some walls to allow the cars to enter. They also tried, unsuccessfully, to destroy the ark. A few decades after the synagogue was repaired it was again attacked, but this time due to a flood with water four meters high that destroyed several torahs. It was nice to see that building had survived through all of this.
Instead of waiting for the guide to take us to the meeting spot, Aaron, Leah, and I decided to head out since Leah said she knew how to find the meeting spot. We ended up at a cafeteria (not like what American's think of as a cafeteria, it was really just a small restaurant.) The food was good but since it was a sit-down meal it used up a lot of time. Afterwards we walked around the outside of the Duomo a little bit and then tried to look for a street market we had heard about. Unfortunately the market wasn't what we were really looking for. Most of the merchandise they were selling was the same stuff you could get anywhere and wasn't very good. By this time we needed to get back to the meeting spot, but of course we had time to stop and get a gilato. At the meeting spot I took a few photos of the Duomo and Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise before we had to start walking to the bus.
On our way to Pisa I snapped this picture of the Ponte Vecchio. Unfortunately this was our only chance to see it.
After about an hour bus ride from Florence we arrived at Pisa. Other than the tower and cathedral there really isn't much in Pisa. The town itself looks like a lower class area with many immigrants. The main square where the tower and cathedral are located is much nicer. When we got off the bus there were a lot of street merchants selling the usual stuff. A lot of it I've even seen at art fairs in Chicago.
The leaning tower is located in a very nice green courtyard. The tower itself looks a lot like the replica on Touhy in Niles but much larger and more intricate. Our tour guide told us that Pisa used to be a very marshy area with a river running through it. At the time construction was started on the tower the river had changed it's course away from the area but the land was still very marshy. Shortly after construction began the tower started to lean. The architect fled Italy never to return and never built another tower again. About one hundred years later another architect decided to complete the tower but adjusted the angle of each floor to lean the other way to help level the floors. Because of this the tower has a slightly banana shape to it. She also told us that there are many other buildings in Pisa that also lean due to the soft soil.