Before starting to see FLORENCE one should first look down from the top of one of its grey stone towers at the red sea of roofs lying between the hills, scattered with villas, cypresses and olive groves. The natural setting of the city is superb. From Porta Romana climb up the Bellosguardo hill to Piazzale Michelangelo. From this point go up the monumental staircase of San Salvatore to San Miniato, with its facade of inlaid polychrome marble; this is more than decoration, it is colour serving to express the architecture; the serene beauty of this facade is a foreshadowing of the Renaissance. In the interior this quiet expression of beauty in marble is continued. In the nave the Chapel of the Crucifix by Michelozzo, in the north aisle, the fine tomb by Manetti for a Portuguese Cardinal. In the Sacristy there are frescoes by Spinello Aretino, a pleasing minor master of the late 14th century.
From here we can go down to Fort Belvedere (late 16th century) which houses detached frescoes from various parts of Tuscany. Beneath is the Boboli Garden. Going through the rusticated Porta San Giorgio, we come into the almost country lane of Via San Leonardo down which we walk towards the monumental complex of the Baptistery and the Cathedral.
The Baptistery is of the 11° century and has the same clean and linear architectural lines as San Miniato; it is the most ancient building in Florence. The interior is an- elegant octagon with a glittering Venetian mosaic m the dome. On either side of the altar stand the impressive Mary Magdalene and the Papal Tomb by Donatello. The bronze doors are of different periods; that facing the Cathedral, which Michelangelo called << the Gate of Paradise >>, is the masterpiece of Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455).
Opposite is the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. The facade is 19° century, but the interior impresses by the simple harmony with which the Florentines adopted (or perhaps adapted) the Gothic style. Giotto tookpart m the building of the Cathedral, which was completed by that genius of the early Renaissance, Brunelleschi, with his mighty dome. In one of the transepts there is the most dramatically eloquent of the four Pieta carved by Michclangelo, the one that the sculptor intended for his own tomb. In the north aisle there are the fresco portraits of Dante, by Domenico di Michelino, of two captains of the Florentine army, the Essex knight, Sir John Hawkwood ("Giovanni Acuto") by Paolo Uccello, and Niccolo da Tolentino by Andrea del Castagno. Leaving by the door at the end of the church, in the south aisle, we note the sharp curve of the apse and the rich shape of the Campanile, or bell-tower, which Giotto planned at seventy years of age. In the Opera del Duomo Museum, there is some important sculpture, including the Choir, with its garlands of putti and the realistic statue of the Prophet Habbakuk (known to the Florentines as lo "Zuccone", or "Old Baldpate" by Donatello.
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