Today, Florence, but yesterday it was Lucca!
The birthplace of Puccini, Lucca was wonderful. A walled city small enough to explore in a day, though there were many closed churches I think I saw most of what the city has to offer.
On arrival I walked for about 1 kilometer round half the walls (broad and tree-lined) before descending to my first church - San Frediano... I t was clear that the Romanesque period had an enormous influence on the city and its churches remain great examples of the period. The streets, still full of tourists, were also full of exquisite little shops: it would not be true to say that Lucca ouses sophistication and taste (that would be far too common) but its there when you look. I have never seen so many independent fashion outlets, jewellers, silversmiths etc. in one place. Think Bond Street (without the brands) - and then think BIG.
By noon I had reached the Museum created from the Church of San Giovanni and Santa Reparata. There was a concert performance of Puccini and Mozart so I paid up and enjoyed an hour listening to fine music in a beautiful Romanesque church. Afterwards I spent time in the cathedral, which houses, amongst other treasures, the Volto Santo (Holy Image) - a great wooden effigy of Chris which is processed from San Michele in Foro (where Puccini was a choirboy) back to the duomo on September 13th each year. Shall I make the journey back from Florence? Its one of the great Italian medieval city-celebrations and the Volto Santo, suitably adorned in vestments, a huge 15th cent. crown, jewels, belt and slippers (all in silver etc.) is led through the streets which are strung with lamps, as are many of the buildings (I saw the preparations going on today) and the population in medieval dress.
But what really appealed to me was to be found in the Cathedral museum - a small (7" x 5") Limoges reliquary of St. Thomas Becket dating from the early 13th cent (so soon and so far away), and a perfectly formed labyrinth carved into one of the pillars outside the cathedral.
Theres so much else to record - the intricate carved marble columns on some of the vast Romanesque churches which seem as fresh as the day they were created; the museum, with its collection of huge illuminated plainsong antiphoners (I tried singing from some - quietly...). But what really cought my eye was the pair of liturgical boots which accompanied a fabulous red 17th cent. chasuble. Now when did they become necessary ... and why did it end!!
So, today I travelled to Florence. And what a contrast. My acocmodation is right in the centre (BB Republicca) and theres a real buzz about this city. But few cars. Thankfully these were banned from the centre some years ago. The journey from Pisa took an hour and, after a short rest, I began to explore. My room looks over the Church of Orsanmichele and the masterly Renaissance statues which adorn the exterior, so I visited there first. Dark and silent, the focus is on a large marble tabernacle housing a painting of the Madonna by a student of Giotto. Then on to San Lorenzo, calmly majestic and built in 1420 by Brunelleschi on the orders of the Medici over an earlier church founded in 323. Amongst the paintings (and twin bronze pulpits by Donatelli) was one of San Giuseppi by Pietro Annigoni. It made quite a refreshing change from all those by the great, and not so great, Renaissance artists. This was the Medici family church in Florence and contians their tombs, though not sure I want to pay for the privilege of seeing them (the Guidebook describes the chapel as gloomy).
But I was very moved by the interior of the Baptistry and its 13th/14th cent. mosaics, some by Ciabue. The Pantocrator (28 ft. high) overlooks all with great compassion and beuaty. The church also contains the tomb of the AntiPope John XXIII by Donatelli. How did he get here? Influential friends! Also inside were the three bronze figures by Rustici (1511) which normally stand above the north door but they were being crated up for an exhibition in the USA. Lucky me.
So ended my third day (is that all) of this Grand Tour of Tuscanny and Umbria.