Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Antiquity to Modernity

Text: The American in Europe
Influences of the Ancients

“Hail to thee, Italy! Land of sun and beauty—land of liberty and despotism—of slavery and freedom—of vices and crime—home of the arts!”
“Life in Florence is always a luxury, when it is not actual wretchedness. Wander about the town, and here the sculpture gallery, the painter’s studio, the student’s chamber, are open for you.  To all of these, in turns, a stranger soon finds his way."

 Travel through Italy is a celebration of art and culture just as our visit to Paris.  From Milan to Rome, the ancient cathedrals and ruins, artist’s galleries and museums, the fertile countryside rich with history as well as vegetation celebrate the pervading antiquity. From the first sophisticated civilization, that Grand Roman Empire, Italy has been the forefront of cultural movements. 

Interior of Florence Duomo, engraving from The American in Paris
In an effort to explore the renaissance days, we stopped off in Florence for the galleries and museums of artists such as Botticelli, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, and other famous figures.  The city bleeds inspiration, much like the banks of Paris, but the countryside life slows down the pace here in Florence, allowing for a more relaxed exploration.  The Uffizi Gallery is consistently filled with the works of famous renaissance men.  My eyes could not even fathom the sheer volume and magic of the paintings and sculptures here.  Michelangelo’s marble work is perhaps the most famous, as the statue of David was in popular demand.  Religious tradition is heavy in Italy, as it is in much of Europe, especially in the historic and cultural centers.  The Duomo cathedral in Florence, hundreds of years old, is easily the most spectacular building in the city.  Striped and colored marble rise toweringly into the sky, and the shafted ceilings give way to the largest rotunda of all.  The most impressive part about viewing the Duomo or any of the works of art in this city is imagining the struggles of those building them, who had no modern technology or machinery to assist them.  Each piece of art is a true labor of love. 

The true feel of a city is best achieved when you can see the city as a whole.  We gained special access to climb the Campanile—the bell tower just next to the Duomo in the main piazza.  Climbing the hundreds of narrow stairs to the top of the tower felt like climbing back into history, and when we finally ducked our heads around the huge iron bells and out the little square windows, it was like seeing the city for the first time.  Each little narrow cobblestone street, snaking crookedly through shops, neighborhoods, and groups of people reminded me of the effort of ancient construction.  The lives of each simple individual seen all at once helped mold the city into a living, breathing object right there in the dizzying bell tower.

We could explore the crooked corners of Florence, or any other Tuscan town, for days upon days.  Of course, our train to Rome awaited us and we departed, further into the history of ancient Rome, but back into the bustling modern world of the city. 
Modernity is questionable now, what with all these hundreds of century of history with so many glorious contributions.  Where would we be without the map of the ancients? 

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