Day 6 in Italy, Thursday, began rather early, again, because we actually had to meet a person at a place.
We walked to the State Archives of Florence to meet Dr. Lisa Kaborycha who, not coincidentally, wrote the textbook that we used for part of our class. She works at the Medici Archive Project inside the State Archives, so she was able to get us inside and show us around.
All the documents of the State Archives had been kept inside the Uffizi, but one of the many floods in Florence had gotten very close to destroying a lot of precious documents from the Renaissance, so they built a special building just to keep them safe. The Medici Archive Project is a group of scholars who are dedicated to transcribing all of the documents sent by and to the Medici family into an online format so that other scholars around the world can have access to these documents. Dr. Kaborycha introduced us to the director of the Project, and he told us a little bit about what they do.
Dr. Kaborycha also showed us a massive bound book of handwritten documents from the Renaissance that are part of the records from the first catasto or income tax that was enacted in Florence. It was pretty incredible to see all the different handwriting styles that people had back then, and, as Dr. Kaborycha pointed out, most of the people that filled out this income tax “form” did it in their own handwriting, which means that they were literate. The scholars in the Medici Archive Project have figured out that a huge percentage of the population in Florence in the Renaissance was literate: more than almost anywhere else in the world, if I remember correctly.
After we left the Medici Archive we all scattered to eat lunch and spend our few hours before our afternoon activity: climbing the Duomo.
The Duomo, if I haven’t mentioned it before, is the nickname for the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in the middle of Florence, and it is so nicknamed for the massive dome on top of it. The dome (also known as Brunelleschi’s Dome, since Brunelleschi was the head architect of the completed dome) is a major landmark of Florence, and is visible from practically everywhere in the city. It was the largest structure of its kind at the time, and is still an amazing feat of architecture. The dome itself has an inner and an outer shell, and there is a staircase between them that was originally used for the workers to haul materials up and down, but is now open to the public if they want to see the view from the top. My roommate did a project on Brunelleschi’s Dome for part of the class, so she informed all of us before climbing that there were 453 steps involved to climb the dome. Let me just say that not all of us actually made the climb.
Before we went up into the dome (those of us that climbed it, that is) we all went into the Baptistery, which is a separate building just outside the Cathedral that was originally used to baptize people before they allowed into the Cathedral itself. It has an amazing ceiling, and the main doors of the Baptistery (the originals of which were in the Duomo Museum which we visited later) were designed by Ghiberti, who won against Brunelleschi in the competition to see who would design them. We split up then: some of us climbed the belltower, some explored the main part of the cathedral, and some of us (myself included) went to climb the dome.
It was surprisingly not bad! I mean, it was definitely a lot of stairs, and there were a couple places where you could feel that yes, you were definitely climbing stairs, but they were in fairly short flights, so it didn’t feel like it was a massive endless stairwell. The view from the top was also absolutely phenomenal. After having been up to Fiesole and San Miniato, it was really cool to see the extent of Florence from yet another viewpoint. My roommate and several of the other students with iPhones were able to take long panoramic views, and I felt fairly envious of that. I did get some pretty neat shots down the side of the dome and up the columns to the very top, though.
Then came the climb down, which wasn’t nearly as enjoyable since there wasn’t that anticipation any more. Also, climbing down very tight spiral staircases will make you very dizzy very quickly.
The flautist I’ve mentioned a couple times and I walked through the body of the Cathedral after we came down from the dome. We’d both been to Mass and vespers there so we knew what a good portion of it looked like, but we hadn’t really gotten a chance to take pictures before. We also went down to the crypt, which was apparently the ruins of an ancient Roman church that the Cathedral had been built on top of. We tried to go the gift shop down there to get souvenirs of the crypt, but they were closing and so they had to kick us out before we could get anything. We then walked over to the museum behind the Duomo and got to see the original Baptistery doors, which were huge and golden and made up of squares depicting different Biblical scenes.
We were all pretty tired after all that walking, so we headed back to the hotel soon after. We did go out again to get dinner, though, and a couple of us wandered around Florence after dark, which had become a habit by this point.
And thus ended Day 6 in Florence.