Florence: Gaining a New Perspective on Old Art

My trip to Florence the summer after my freshmen year of college was my first big trip abroad, and I often look back at that trip through a very, very heavy fog of nostalgia: what a magical time, what a wonderful thing, to be this group of 19-year-olds bumbling our way through Italy, having all sorts of mishaps but having an absolute blast at every turn. I look back at that trip with very fond memories and very few regrets, but one thing I do realize and regret now is that I totally did not appreciate how lucky I was.

While in Florence, we took an art history class. Our professor was fabulous, and she took us on lengthy tours of all the city’s essential art spots (of which there are, of course, many). The thing was, at the time, I – and most of my classmates, I think – just kept finding ourselves bored. We saw so much art, so frequently, and had such lengthy lectures at each spot that it became something like art overload: oh, great, another fresco?!?! Groundbreaking.

And so, despite the fact that I saw every piece of art of any significance in Florence, I didn’t really appreciate it all that much. When I returned to Florence last fall, then, I was determined to approach sightseeing with a fresh attitude. I wouldn’t try to see everything, I would go at my own pace, and I would attempt, this time around, to soak it all in. What I found was a greater sense of awe for the city and its treasures.

Palazzo Vecchio

What I Thought in 2005: Will this guided tour ever end? Is our Professor going to tell us every detail of every room in this huge palace? By the time we got to the wall where da Vinci’s lost work, Battle of Anghiari, once was, I was daydreaming about when I could get my hands on some gelato.

What I Think Now: This building is still huge, overwhelming, and slightly boring when compared with the city’s other treasures, but wandering around on my own allowed me to appreciate it more – I lingered where I wanted to, and I breezed by those rooms that weren’t doing anything for me. Palazzo Vecchio is home to some gorgeous frescoes and paintings on the ceilings, as well as a few stunning views out toward the Duomo. It is also home to a lot of stairs, which is something I do not remember thinking in 2005.

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Loggia dei Lanzi

What I Thought in 2005: Oh, look, sculptures! More importantly, here’s a great spot to take shelter when it starts raining or the sun gets too hot. Alternatively, here’s a great spot to sit with your friends after midnight, water bottles filled with vodka, and drink before heading off to a semi very sketchy Florentine nightclub.

What I Think Now: This remains an excellent spot to take shelter from the elements or to rest tired feet, but what truly hit me this time around is what a wonderful testament it is to public art. These huge, majestic sculptures are right there, right in the heart of Florence’s main, central piazza, open 24/7 to the public. I adore that about Florence – how the art is everywhere, all around you.

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Bargello Museum

What I Thought in 2005: More sculptures! All the sculptures! In all honestly, I have few memories of touring this museum, though I know we did – there’s a picture of my friends and I sitting on its steps, looking bored, disgruntled, and overheated.

What I Think Now: I love this museum – small, accessible, but lots of treasures to soak up. The Bargello is known for its sculptures, which are wonderful, but I enjoyed the museum’s ceramics collection even more. The Bargello’s inner courtyard is also, quite simply, lovely – a beautiful, peaceful space to relax.

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Uffizi Gallery

What I Thought in 2005: Where’s the Birth of Venus?!?! Take me to her! Beyond that, I…didn’t care that much.

What I Think Now: The Birth of Venus remains a stunner, but there’s plenty more to see here as well. I lingered for a while at the Uffizi, perusing the artwork and then relaxing with a cappuccino at the onsite café. The crowds remain a beast, but they’re worth braving.

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Accademia Gallery

What I Thought in 2005: How can I take a picture of David without getting yelled at by a security guard? Outside of that, this was possibly the one place I did truly appreciate; I loved the David, of course, and Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures as well.

What I Think Now: I can take all the pictures I want! (They’ve abandoned the no photographs rule). And the David remains as impressive as ever, as do the other Michelangelo sculptures, the unfinished Prisoners, which look as though they’re still trying to escape from their marble slabs, centuries later. I also listened to an audioguide on my phone while wandering around the Accademia (thanks, Rick Steves!), and it really increased my appreciation for the place and its treasures.

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Palazzo Pitti

What I Thought in 2005: One of our professors set up an optional group excursion here, and the option I chose was…not going. The time was likely spent on other super useful endeavors, e.g., checking my email and surfing the internet.

What I Think Now: While I’ve been to more impressive grand palaces (Versailles and Schonbrunn come immediately to mind), this was well-worth the trip; I can’t believe I completely skipped out back in the day. I enjoyed wandering through the palace’s decked-out rooms, but was disappointed by one thing: the Boboli Gardens, just outside, were closed during my visit.

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A decade later, Florence remains one of my favorite cities in the world, and its artistic masterpieces are one large part of that allure. I thoroughly enjoyed re-exploring the city’s great museums with fresh eyes, because I realized this: the me of now knows that the me of then had no idea how lucky she was. This city is a treasure.

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