Still enjoying Rome, though I'm especially looking forward to next week, as Caesar is actually going to give chase to Pompey and the action's going to move outside Italy and go through to Egypt. Servilia's curses were really fun to watch (oh, hell hath no fury indeed!), as was watching Octavian developing as a character and observing what a clever and shrewd young man he is already (which makes the second series very promising as to how he'll be characterised).
Pictures for Assisi and Florence here. And so my epic odyssey in Italy continues.
Assisi ended up being one of the more unexpected pleasures of the trip for me. We had a difficult journey up there, and as the town is undergoing quite a bit of construction and roadwork at the moment, we ended up in a few dead ends before we found our hotel. It's a beautiful little place though, with its winding streets and beautiful views of the Umbrian countryside.
The reason for coming here of course was Francis of Assisi. He is not a patron saint of mine, but I've always greatly admired the example he set, and I think that the church would be in a better place if there were more selfless and humble men like Francis within it. The Fransiscan brothers that we met while there were exceptionally kind men who were happy to chat and answer questions. There was this wonderful calm about them, and you couldn't help but feel it.
We stayed overnight in Assisi, which was probably sufficient time to see what we wanted to see. Rain meant we did not visit a few places such as San Damiano and the Portiuncula, but what we did get to see was wonderful in itself. The frescoes by Giotto in the Basilica of St Francis were remarkable (though I wish I could've seen them before the 1998 earthquake, which damaged the basilica), as were the ones in Santa Chiara. We saw the San Damiano crucifix in there (also a beautiful work of art) as well.
We left Assisi on Wednesday afternoon to go to Florence by train. Our hotel was more easily found this time, and so we had time to take care of little things like checking e-mail and sending out postcards. We were able to have a quick look in the Basilica di San Lorenzo as well. On Thursday we had a full day of looking around, which began by racing off early to the Galleria dell'Accademia to see Michaelangelo's David. It's interesting to walk towards the statue, because lining the hallway that leads to where it stands, are various unfinished works of Michaelangelo's. And so you have all these large blocks of marble with unfinished figures carved into them (among them an earlier attempt at the Pieta), and then you come to David, the finished product (as it were). And he is magnificent to look at, let me tell you. You realize the full extent of Michaelangelo's work when you see it up close. The veins in the hands, the definition of the muscles and bone structure. And then you consider that Michaelangelo wasn't working with the technology we have to day to achieve such incredible detail, and the achievement is all the more remarkable.
After the Galleria, we visited a few churches. The Basilica of Santa Croce was of particular interest for me, as it houses the tombs of several important Florentines, including Michaelangelo, Macchiavelli and Galileo. The Duomo too proved to be a stunning piece of counter-reformation architecture (the depiction of the Last Judgment on the ceiling of the dome is in particular to be admired). I was interested in seeing the tomb of the anti-pope John XXIII in the baptistry, but we ran out of time. We afterwards visited the old Domenican monastery of San Marco, where Fra Angelico (and the infamous Fra Savnarola) lived and painted his beautiful works such as the Annunciation (we also later saw his tomb in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva). Then there was the Ponte Vecchio (all the jewellery shops...it was so difficult trying not to give in to temptation and go inside!) and then the Uffizi.
We didn't go to the art museum until after lunch....the queues to get into the place in the morning were horrendous. There were less people by the time we decided to go in though, and so we were able to move around without jostling (unlike our later trip to the Sistine Chapel, unfortunately). Some of the best-known works in renaissance art are kept in the Uffizi, and so it was wonderful to see Boticelli's Birth of Venus and Da Vinci's Annunciation up close. Much like the Capitoline museums as well, there was a substantial collection of busts and statues of emperors and their consorts, most of which I could name without trouble (when we get up to around the Severans I start to have trouble recognizing the faces). By the time we got out, it was the late afternoon, so we headed back to the hotel for the remainder of the afternoon, and I caught up on CNN and began reading Imperium.
On Friday, we looked for the archaelogical museum, where the Chimera of Arezzo is kept. Sonya, my lecturer in Myth, Magic and Religion has many times said that this chimera (a bronze statue dating from the Etruscan era) was the thing to see in Florence ("Now David's pretty, but you need to see the chimera..."). We went to one archaeological museum, but it turned out not to be the right one (not that it mattered, we saw some wonderful pieces in there as well, including Michaelangelo's first statue of David). After a trip up to San Miniato (and a gruelling walk down), we looked around a bit more, and then finally found it. Wandered around the Egyptian rooms, and the Greek black and red-figure vases, until we finally found it. Brendan took a photo for me, since non-flash photography was allowed. I was so happy, I must've spent twenty minutes gazing at it adoringly (which was longer than I spent gawking at David). And then I finally paid attention to the other wonderful artifacts in the museum such as the Etruscan bronze work and archaic Greek statues.
After lunch, we checked out of the hotel and made our way back to the train station to return to Rome. We took the EuroStar express train to Rome, which was lovely (very comfortable). I continued reading Imperium, and by the time we got to Rome, I was well into it (oh, the joy of getting to read about Cicero in Rome, his former stamping ground) and it was about 6:30.