The Magic of Florence

by Garrett Lemons

Florence, the majestic birthplace of the Renaissance, is an obvious must-visit when planning a trip to Italy. The stoic tower atop the Palazzo Vecchio signals the location of one of the most important buildings in history. The Uffizi holds masterpieces studied in schools around the world, and the Gallerie dell’Accademia houses Michelangelo’s brilliant David, one of the most iconic pieces of art ever created.

Florence. Photo by Troy Peden

Lorenzo Ghiberti’s bronze doors of the Baptistry catch the eye of every tourist who passes in the shade of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, home to Brunelleschi’s staggering dome. The Ponte Vecchio bridges the brisk Arno, a small break in the sea of burnt orange roof tiles.  

Tourists flock to these places – and for good reason – but they are not where the magic and heart of Florence lie. After a day spent sightseeing and shopping the Straw Market, there is only one place that perfects an already perfect day. Across the Arno from the heart of town, heading away from the Ponte Vecchio and the Palazzo Pitti, lies a piece of Florence that opens up understanding as to why this place inspired so many world-renown artists. 

The Best View. The Piazza Michelangelo hosts Florence’s best view, even better than from the 463-step summit of Il Duomo in the center of town – because that architectural wonder stands stark against the backdrop of Florence. During the day, the piazza is home to many vendors – some with more legality than others – hawking the traditional tourist wares of Florence: David boxers, Italian scarves, and leather objects. Tourists trickle in and out, but not at the pace seen down in the heart of the city.  

Sparkling Nightlife. The approach of evening ushers vibrant nightlight into the piazza. The capital of Tuscany is home to multiple universities and study abroad programs, and students and locals slowly find themselves arriving at the top of the stairs, rounding the corner, and smiling as the city opens before them. A stone stairwell becomes the focal point of people meeting up with friends, a bottle of wine in hand.People gather, laughing and talking, all while waiting for the perfect moment of sunset.

The clouds begin to reflect the orange seen around the city in the skies, mingled with pinks and purples. Sun rays glisten off the Arno beneath the many bridges, illuminated in the final light of the day. People dot the tall structures of the city, getting their last sight-seeing in for the day. Ancient walls and brand new cars alike can be seen, but tranquility hangs in the air. In Italy, the land and the people flow with the day and time as it comes, and this piazza is the best blend of metaphor and life in Italy.

Fontaine de Neptune

Fontaine de Neptune

Liquid Gold Sunsets. There is a moment where the sun rests right at the tree line above the Boboli Gardens when the city looks drenched in liquid gold. This is when Florence imprints itself in your heart and mind forever. You can understand the perfect lighting found in Florentine masterpieces when you’ve seen the exquisite lighting of this sunset. The word beautiful seems trite, but attaching the adverb astonishingly to it certainly helps. The further the sun sinks though, the magic doesn’t die. The colors in the sky continue to swirl as dark descends towards the western horizon.

Linger ... Some tourists begin to leave to go experience some of the delicious dining opportunities the city affords, but the educated know that there is one more moment of magic that awaits. There is the sound of the occasional car passing on a nearby road, but other than the sound of soft conversation, the city begins its transformation in silence. The lights in the landmarks flicker on in time with the lights that line the Arno. The golden glow of Florence reemerges in the night and a new layer of beauty is added. This is a city that lives up to its billing, power, and history.

Mother Nature Wins. While this would be the ultimate romantic experience, the unique atmosphere created in Piazza Michelangelo is one that is welcoming to all. Lovers kiss leaning against the stone wall that lines the piazza, while friends laugh together, tourists take photos, and solitary people soak up the last rays with a smile on their face. A sunset is not your typical sought-out international experience while in Italy, where monuments of man are strewn across the land to admire, but this is one of the best locations on earth to experience one of life’s daily joys.  For as the old adage goes, “Nature bats last,” and this priceless moment is the most rewarding Florence has to offer.