Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Boboli Gardens, once a private playground of the powerful Medicis

It was another very hot, humid day in Florence as we made our way to the Boboli Gardens, which lie behind the Pitti palace, home of the Medici. The massive gardens were laid out for the Medici in 1550. Our first view was the amphitheater that was created from the hollow left after the stone for the Pitti Palace was quarried. Behind this are stairs that climb higher and higher into the gardens providing wonderful views of the city including the Duomo and the colourful buildings all along the Arno.

The gardens themselves provide wonderful examples of box hedges and contrasting groves of cypress trees. Interspersed among the avenue of cypress trees are huge marble statues. Once at the top of the hill we took a side trip to Fort Belvedere, the beautiful Renaissance fortress that has just reopened this summer after being closed for five years. In addition to being a fortification, the Belvedere was meant to be a sign of Medici prestige. The elegant villa inside the fort was used by the Grand Duke during times of unrest or epidemic. It was built as a luxurious palace, a sign of the Medici dominance of Florence.

The Belvedere is now used for exhibitions, and currently features the work of Chinese artist Zhang Huan. It was a little bit incongruous for us looking at giant Buddha statues in the grounds, while overlooking the city of Florence. However, it didn't stop us from having a freshly squeezed orange juice looking out at a giant bell with a golden man hanging down acting as the bell's clanger.

Back in the Boboli gardens we walked through the cypress trees ending up at a beautiful lagoon with a huge island of lemon trees in plant pots. We meandered our way past the back of the Pitti Palace to the exit passing a grotto with wonderful gargoyles with their mouths filled with moss and spewing water.

After lunch we made our way to the church of Santa Croce,  built in the 1200s. The church houses the tombs of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Marconi, Galileo and Rossini. There is a memorial to Dante but his sarcophagus is empty. Beautiful frescoes decorate the church and there is a magnificent crucifix by Donatello.

In the evening we stopped at a local bistro for a simple  pizza with cheese, tomatoes and basil accompanied by a glass of prosecco. Once again we ended our day walking past the Duomo ending up the vast Piazza de Republica, where we enjoyed listening in as an opera singer sang well known Italian songs at one of the restaurants. Everyone in the square gave him huge applause. What a lovely way to end an Italian evening.

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