Our walking tour of Italy didn’t stop at Santa Maria Novella. Once we finished exploring there, we dashed off through side streets and wandered through little avenues to our lunch destination. I was excited – not only was this our first big meal in Florence, it was housed in a restaurant converted from Donatello’s original workshop! As we wandered through the streets, we suddenly came upon an area where I could see the imposing dome peeking out from above the buildings. It was a rush I will never forget. I couldn’t believe that this beautiful structure that we had studied so intensively was looming in front of me. The Duomo complex was huge. I didn’t know where to look first on the façade of Santa Maria Del Fiore – the colors, the statues, the stained glass, the pillars, the pointed arches, it was an imposing creation of Gothic architecture! As we continued to walk briskly to our lunch destination, we stopped briefly to look at a statue of Brunelleschi, his eyes gazing up at his dome. His face showed an awe that I’m sure we all felt, but his was all the more powerful: he was looking at his own creation from centuries ago, completely amazed that he had created something that withstood the testament of time.
As we entered the restaurant, I was grateful that we would have a chance to sit down and enjoy some food. I was getting hungry on our tour of Santa Maria Novella, and now was our chance to try some amazing Florence food! Sitting in the little café, the Duomo outside the window over us, I excitedly took my first sip of wine and dug into the fresh, colorful salad that was in front of me. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything so delicious in my entire life. I could tell right away that not a single thing on this plate had been touched by harsh chemicals or was processed. The lettuce, the tomatoes, the carrots, the olive oil dressing, all of it was made of the best ingredients Italy had to offer. It’s safe to say I was hooked.
And it didn’t just stop there. No, the amazing food kept on coming. The bread, still warm in the basket, had a flaky crust and soft center that instantly made my carb-loving heart happy. The pasta had an amazing tomato sauce on it that tasted of pure happiness (sorry, mom and grandma, infinitely better than your homemade sauce), and the wide noodle pasta was wheaty and cooked to perfection. Even the water was fussed over; it came from ice-cold bottles, crystal clear and refreshing. The surprise of the day was the wild boar with the pasta. We all kind of gasped and said “WHAT?!” to Dr. Aronson, looking worriedly at the meat in front of us. But, as much as we hated to admit it, eating such a strange food was…good. Not just good, fantastic. It was a bit gamey, but bathed in the tomato sauce with the pasta, and filled with the protein-tasting goodness that one could expect from pork. So began my love of culinary adventurous-ness, wanting to try everything Italy had to offer in its wonderful meals. We topped off our great first lunch with panna cotta. That’s when the real love affair began. Made of heavy cream and gelatin, usually topped with chocolate sauce, or, in this case, wild berry jam, it tasted like a soft cloud of bliss and contentment, making your brain and stomach sigh with serenity at every bite. I actually think I sighed out loud, trying to make every spoonful of the delicious dessert last. I would get my hands on as much panna cotta as I could during the week, believe me.
By the time our hour-long, three course meal concluded, I was feeling drowsy and ready for a nice, long nap. But, no such luck. We still had churches to go to and art so see, and I was shaken from my post-food coma by a brisk, cold, rainy walk to Santa Croce across town.
On the outside, Santa Croce reminds me of great European churches, it stark whiteness and pointed tops similar to many I have seen in pictures and on the Internet. I loved how a large plaza was situated between the buildings around the church, so a person walking up to it could appreciate its size and magnitude over the city. As we approached, I took special note of the statue of Dante. He’s one of my favorite writers and stole my heart with his turn of phrase when I had to read the Divine Comedy in high school, and I can look back now and fondly think of the fact that he hails from the city that also stole my heart.
Upon entering Santa Croce, safe from the downpour outside, I found myself the most overwhelmed out of every church I had been in. There was just so much stuff in there. There were frescoes on the walls, sculptures and tombs scattered about, memorials laid in the floor, paintings placed haphazardly, a huge altarpiece, numerous chapels lining the front of the church. Even though the church itself was breathtaking, I was a little alientated from it by the sheer number of things to look at.
My two favorite parts were seeing Galileo’s tomb and Donatello’s Annunciation. Galileo’s tomb, designed by Guilio Foggini, houses the famed scientist and astronomer himself, as well as a female figure, most likely his sister, a nun. I loved the figures of Astronomy and Geometry, looking up mournfully at the bust of Galileo, who looks to the heavens with a telescope clutched in his hands. I think its interesting that, because of the inquisition and Galileo’s excommunication from the Catholic Church, that this tomb was finally able to be added and that it is so beautifully done. Galileo is one of my favorite famous Italians, right up there with Dante, and even though I didn’t get to see his fingers at the History of Science Museum, I will always hold this close to my heart as my chance to see his final resting place.
Dontello’s Annunciation, a high relief done on a beautiful gilt grey stone, is a work of true Renaissance art. Donatello was influenced by his time in Rome with Brunelleschi, his longtime companion, and used this work of art to bring the Renaissance to life. Using functional drapery and posing that reminds me of classical art, Donatello also brings emotion to the piece: a startled Madonna is beginning to register just who the angel Gabriel is before her, and she is forever captured in the transition from surprise to reverence. I especially love the terra cotta putti angels at the top. Dr. Wilkins told us they had found them in storage following the flood of Santa Croce, and they cleaned them and added them to their original place!
Added bonus: I got to see the crucifix that Brunellschi was so outraged by, and thought that Donatello’s was much better done. I love art that interprets Christ as a human figure, a normal looking man who came to earth to share his extraordinary teachings and die for us. I think that figure is much more relatable, and Donatello’s crucifix definitely strikes that chord within me.