This morning we woke up a little later than usual and headed straight for our favorite Florentine restaurant, Brać – a vegetarian’s heaven! We had another wonderfully-imaginative and beautifully-presented Vegetarian feast, along with some killer non-alcoholic drinks.
After our delicious lunch, Mandy and I headed for the Galileo Museum together. It turns out, though, that I spent the entire day there – a full six hours – while Mandy was able to go through this fascinating museum in an hour and a half. Then she went to an amazing sculpture museum and finally the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Firenze, which she adored.
The Galileo Museum “occupies the historic Palazzo Castellani, one of the oldest buildings in the city, known in the 11th century as the Altafronte Castle. The extraordinary collections of the Museum, among the most important in the world, include ancient scientific instruments dating from the eleventh to the nineteenth century, including all the original Galileo instruments that have come down to us, including the only two existing telescopes, the objective lens, the compass geometric and military and the youth.” (from the Galileo Museum website)
The first thing I was struck by in the museum was the extensive Medici collection – a collection of time-keeping and astronomical instruments dating all the way back to Arab scientists and astronomers in the 6th-century A.D.
One armillary sphere, in particular, dominated an entire room – it was probably 10 feet in diameter! “This large armillary sphere (1593 – Florence) was built under the supervision of Antonio Santucci at the request of Ferdinand I de’ Medici. The sphere represents the “universal machine” of the world according to the concepts developed by Aristotle and perfected by Ptolemy. The terrestrial globe is placed at the center. Surprisingly, it even displays territories that were still relatively little known at the time.”
From the Medici collection I continued on to my first love – maps! (I’ve loved and collected maps of cities, states, countries and continents since I was a child.) Sharing the space with all the awesome historical maps was an incredible collection of globes; globes dating from before the discovery of the Americas of the known world at that early time. There were also globes of the constellations as well; cosmography; instruments designed to time the equinox!
Maps and globes from after the time when the Americas were discovered held my deep fascination. So much detail before the availability of satellite imagery and with so much accuracy – from a time when ships surveyed the coastline and went up navigable rivers as far as possible and explorers set out on horseback to explore the interiors of these newly-discovered continents as far as they could go.
At the same time as the accuracy that physical surveying allowed, much was filled in or was simply guesswork on the cartographers’ own imagination. My favorite map of all was one that seemed to be upside down from what we are accustomed to seeing, with the north pole at the top – on this map Europe was in the center and the known portions of the African continent were up! Most of Africa and Asia stretched out from the center – with the Venetian Empire placed at the very center of the known world, both literally and figuratively. This map (1459) was obviously created during the reign of the Venetian Doges, prior to the discovery of the American continents but following the Venetian, Marco Polo’s, expeditions to the near and far East.
This map, with Venice at the center, was made approximately 100 years after Marco Polo’s final expedition to the Orient. “This profusely detailed map gives the first known representation of several lands still unexplored at the time, drawing mainly on travel narratives such as Marco Polo’s.” The Orient is very well-represented here, but other areas are hazy at best. There were even cathedrals dotting the map all the way from the near East, to Russia, to India and the far East. Wishful thinking on the Catholic church’s part? I wonder. On this map, England is identified as “Anglia,” Ireland is “Hibernia,” Scotland is “Scoti.”
On another huge map, from the early 1500’s, the Americas show up only as an outline of the coast with large river mouths drawn in. The mighty Amazon looks like a snake.
In another space, there were fascinating models from 1770’s of the fetus in various positions in the birth canal, illustrating the use of early forceps.
Out in front of the museum was an enormous obelisk that marked the sun’s progression through the days and months and the zodiac, on the marked ground with its shadow. I studied this ingenious monumental sundial for some time, watching the shadow slowly move across the ground.
I spotted my guide for the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia Galleria, mariogesu, on a built-in seat in the Loggia dei Signoria, “built between 1376 and 1382 by Benci di Cione and Simone Talenti, to house public ceremonies of the Florentine Republic.” I sat down next to him and we visited for awhile while admiring the incredible sculptures in this “open air museum.”
My favorite sculpture was Perseus with the head of Medusa, by Cellini (1554). This bronze sculpture “took nine years to be cast and it shows the mythical Greek hero brandishing his sword in his right hand and holding up the Medusa’s head in the other hand. The richly decorated marble pedestal, also by Cellini, shows four bronze statuettes of Jupiter, Mercurius, Minerva and Danaë.” (from the Loggia dei Signoria website)
“From the Piazza della Signoria, climbing the stairs you’ll find yourself between two huge lions: the one on the right dates from Roman times, the other on the left was sculpted by Flaminio Vacca in 1598 and was originally placed in the Villa Medici in Rome before being moved to the Loggia in 1789.” (from the Loggia dei Signoria website)
Another amazing sculpture was The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna (1583). “The statue is over 4 metres high and is the first group of sculptures that represent more than a single figure in European sculptural history to be conceived without a dominant point of view: it can be equally admired from all sides. It’s said it was made carving an imperfect block of white marble, the largest block ever been transported to Florence.” (from the Loggia dei Signoria website)
“At the bottom of the Loggia dei Signoria there are six marble female figures, probably coming from the Trajan’s Foro in Rome, discovered in 1541 and brought to Florence in 1789.” (from the Loggia dei Signoria website)
After dinner and dark, we walked back around the brightly-lit Duomo, to see its full majesty at night. Finally, we watched the full moon, with a bat, over the Arno before turning in for the night.