Plan a visit to Florence', said the Art History teacher. Well, it's only taken about forty years to get my act together and travel to this beautiful city in central Italy, seat of some extraordinary achievements by artists and architects back in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.
I chose a hotel near the Duomo, which I remembered, dimly, was the Italian word for cathedral. The term 'dimly' summed up, rather aptly, my recollections of the art of the Quattrocento and the Renaissance. My daughter seemed impressed that I could tell her the dates of birth and death of Giotto, who masterminded changes in style from around 1300. Perhaps, the gloss of my achievement was lost when she discovered I remembered this from Page 1 of my text book - From Giotto to Cezanne by Michael Levey, but that this sharpness of memory did not extend much further in the book.
The Duomo did not disappoint. Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral is a stunning building, white and green marble (serpentine, they call it) and it is simply enormous, spreading across the Duomo square. It's also very tall - 463 steps to be exact, to reach the top of the cathedral dome.
On first sight, the other thing that really struck me were the enormous crowds. It was heaving. Thousands of people following guides with little flags - or puppets, marching hither and thither across the square, and queues everywhere: for the Duomo, the Baptisty and, naturally for Giotto's Bell Tower.
Giotto, 1267-1337, designed this tower that rivals the Duomo in height. There are only 414 steps to the top of this tower, but the staircases narrow as you go up and the final flights are not constructed for 21st century people to pass each other, especially if they've been indulging in too much pasta, or gelata maybe.
There are seven functioning bells, with names such as La Misericordia, which were designed to ring out at times to remind the citizens of their religious duties, I believe.
Our (very nice) room at Hotel Bigallo did not have a view over the Duomo square, although many rooms did, but we did discover just how loud those bells in Giotto's Campanile were, when they woke us after our first night. I guess we were about 50 m away! These days, the bells are silent through the night, and toll instead at 7 am, perhaps announcing to all those people who'd come to explore Florence that it was time to get up.
We also discovered there was great soundproofing if you closed the windows, should you prefer your day to start a little later!