On Day 5 of our stay in Florence, we actually got to sleep in a bit later, so I woke up closer to 7:30 than 7. The small things in life…
Our first stop that morning was the monastery of San Marco, home to several famous frescoes by Fra Angelico and historic residence of the Dominican friar and political leader Savonarola. There was a fresco by Fra Angelico on the wall of each of the monks’ cells. They were very well painted and maintained, and despite the fact that most of them depicted the Passion of Christ complete with streams of blood, I quite liked all of them.
Since it was a Dominican monastery, every fresco had Saint Dominic somewhere in it. Since there were very few characters in every fresco, it was extremely easy to tell which one he was. (One of the guys on the trip and I joked that Saint Dominic must have been an excellent time traveller to be in all of these paintings.) I must say: my favourite fresco was the one of the Annunciation with the Virgin Mary, the Angel Gabriel, and St. Dominic lurking awkwardly in the background.
Along the hallways of the monastery there were a few glass cases holding vellum and parchment missals opened to pages of Gregorian chant. Since one of the two teachers on the trip teaches music history at my school, she gave me and a couple of the other music majors an impromptu lesson on how to read Gregorian chant and the importance of the various symbols. It was awesome.
The one disappointing thing about San Marco is that we wanted to see the library and scriptorium housed inside, but they were undergoing renovations so we couldn’t go in. This was more or less made up for though (in my mind, at least) by the fact that there were probably about 20 different reliquaries in one of the cloisters. It may seem a bit gross that there were a bunch of bits of dead people kept in ornamented boxes, but I’ve read about reliquaries all my life and never been able to see one before this trip, so I was fairly excited.
After San Marco I went with the psychology major to eat Italian McDonald’s (yes there is a difference, we weren’t just being typical American tourists. Besides, there were a ton of Italian teenagers there) and to visit one of the shops that sells handmade paper.
Apparently there’s a particular design of paper that’s a Florentine specialty, so we made sure to visit one of the shops that sold it. I got to see how it’s done!!!!!!! Apparently there’s a special glue solution that they use, then you splatter paint in, stir it around in a couple of different ways depending on what you want the pattern to be, then lay a piece of blank paper on top and voila! Instant awesome paper. Since I’d seen her make it, I obviously had to buy entirely too much. It was totally worth it.
After lunch we went to the Galleria dell’ Accademia. The Accademia is considerably smaller than the Uffizi, but it has an amazing gallery of instruments practically right after you walk in. There was a violin, a viola, and a cello all made by Stradivarius (or it might be a viola and two cellos; I’ve forgotten), a spinet (I’D NEVER ACTUALLY SEEN ONE BEFORE IT WAS GORGEOUS), and the instrument that later evolved to become the piano that we know today, built by Bartolomeo Cristoferi.
There were then a couple of rooms of paintings that we walked through (gorgeous Renaissance paintings; more Annunciations and Madonna & Childs; the most epic of the “Peace Out Jesus”s complete with coffin lid striking down soldiers; it was lovely), and we finally entered into a long hallway at the end of which…was the David. We all walked in at more or less the same time, and at first we were wondering why there was this massive hallway, then the statue appeared. The David (Michelangelo’s David, in case you were wondering) is presented at the end of a long, tall hallway with a skylight lighting it up in all its marble glory. The statue itself is huge, but it’s made even larger by the fact that it’s on top of a pedestal that’s at least 20 feet tall. The end of the hallway is built into a rotunda so that you can walk around and see the entirety of his sculpted body. The statue itself didn’t seem much more complex than some of the other sculptures we’d seen, but the presentation is what made it so awe-inspiring.
After the David, we had a short period of time on our own, so most of us went back to the hotel to rest before our evening excursion. This was the only evening that we all did something as a group. As our excursion, we climbed a hill on a different side of the city from Fiesole (I would say the opposite side but I don’t know if that’s accurate) and went up to the church of San Miniato al Monte. The climb to San Miniato had stairs rather than a straight-up mountainside, so it was considerably easier than our short climb on Fiesole.
We thought we were going to hear the monks at San Miniato chant vespers, as I and the two other girls had heard at the Cathedral, but it turned out to be an Ash Wednesday evening Mass. [Did I mention this day was Ash Wednesday? It was Ash Wednesday.] Once we’d realised it was indeed a Mass instead of Vespers, most of the class left to walk back to the hotel; a few of us remained – it turned out to be the music students who wanted to stay. The entire Mass was held in Gregorian chant, and there was lots of incense and, of course, ashes, so I’m very glad I stayed. It was a fairly incredible experience.
Our day ended at the amazing trattoria in San Lorenzo. We went there this time to celebrate the birthday of one of the other girls in the group (the girl who I went shopping with our first night, as a matter of fact). It was delicious.
We also went out for gelato afterwards, to make it a proper birthday celebration, and that was equally good.
And thus ended Day 5 of our stay in Italy.