Sunday, September 5, 2010


This is the big cubical building that sticks up between us and the Duomo in the view from our terrace.  The books explain that the name comes from Orto San Michele, the vegetable garden at St. Michael's.  The place went through a bunch of changes from about 1300 to 1400, when it went from a wood structure to a stone loggia (a roof supported by pillars, open sides), grain storage, headquarters of the guilds, and finally a church.  One interesting thing is that the books tell about all the changes without emphasizing that they all took place over a period of 100 years or so, reaching the present state 600 years ago.

The big thing about the inside is that it looks pretty much as it did back then, no major remodeling as most churches have had.  It has just three floors.  The ground floor has a 50 foot ceiling, and the next 2 floors have 40 foot ceilings.  The windows that you see in the picture from our terrace are on the third floor (or, as the Europeans say, the the second floor).

This is an entrance.  There are several, used at different times for different purposes.  This one is used for concerts.  Around all four sides (it occupies its own, odd-sized block) are niches with a lot of famous old statues.  Actually the ones outside are all copies, and the originals are inside up on the first floor.  The second floor is going to be a museum, but right now it just has a lot of small, old, badly weathered, unlabeled statues.

Back to the ground floor, the medieval church.  The primary attraction inside is a magnificent painting, itself inside an incredible tabernacle as tall as the ceiling.

The picture was painted in 1346 and the plague struck in 1348.  There were reports of miraculous appearances of the Madonna, it became a site for pilgrims, and the tabernacle was built in 1350.

This shows the top of the tabernacle, with its delicate stonework.  The next shows the lower part better.

The carving of the base includes one of the nicest Annunciations I have seen, the two characters clearly respecting each other and communicating, but the guards don't like people taking pictures and I would have had to cross a rope to get close enough to poke my camera through the fence, so I didn't.  The two figures are in a simple setting reminiscent of the Fra Angelico Annunciation (the one with simple background) except that they are more leaning toward each other, and the woman is higher than the angel, implying (to me) less worshipfulness on her part and more attention to the actual content of the message.

The other side of the ground floor of the church has an altar of Sant' Anna.  The stained glass windows go all around the church, and are the oldest in Florence.

The sculpture shows Jesus, his mother, and his grand-mother Sant' Anna.  (Or, in English, St. Anne).  It was added to the church in 1526.

Upstairs are the originals of most of the outside sculptures.  I say "most" because the original of Donatello's St. Francis is in the Bargello.

The ceiling has been cleaned, and shows the state of brickwork 600 years ago.  It is fascinating to try to figure out how much of the variation is brick size and how much is laying patterns.

The top floor has famous views of the city, which are not much different from the view from our terrace.  In this  next picture, from the upper floor of Orsanmichele, our penthouse apartment is right in the center of the picture.

The tower of the Palazzo Vecchio can be seen well from this vantage point, which shows a staircase up to the very top.  Savonarola was imprisoned up there, before being hanged and burned in the square.  He had ruled the city for four years before that.  He was a preacher from the convent of San Marco, invited into town by Lorenzo the Magnificent, but he took over and instituted a strict religious rule, including the Bonfire of the Vanities.  He was inspired by the corruption of the church and wealthy, and by the Medici take-over of the formerly republican form of government.  Actually, the politics are too complicated for a quick summary.  Or maybe I just haven't gotten it straight in my mind.  It is one of those things that, the more you know about it, the more complicated it becomes.

Anyway, here are the pictures.

And one last picture showing some of how the architecture has all kind of grown together over time.

The tower is the Badia, which is undergoing reconstruction and we have had no luck trying to figure out when it is open.  We saw it open one time and didn't realize that we were seeing the entrance from a side building because the main entrance is closed off.

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