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Arrival on the Lung’ Arno 05/03/2011

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c. 1880

We stayed in Rome until 27 April, when we left for Florence. We had intended going round by the attractive town of Perugia, but the morning of the 26 was wet, and, delaying our departure for a day, we gave up Perugia, partly because to have gone upon a Friday would have involved spending a Sunday there. The latter part of our journey was interesting. On arriving at the outskirts of the town the railway circumnavigates it, so that we had an opportunity from the very first of seeing the cathedral dome and campanile, and the other towers and spires of Florence, which lies beautifully situated in a luxuriantly verdant valley, enclosed by the Apennines and other hills, and intersected by the river Arno, which, seeing for the first time in the soft moonlight in the course of the evening, looked so lovely. The Lung’ Arno, or bank of the river, where most of the principal hotels are placed, is considered the best situation, at least for winter residence. Some of the hotels are unpleasantly near a waterfall or wear stretching across the river, the incessant din of which is troublesome at night. We spent a few nights at one of the hotels there, and afterwards a fortnight at the Pension Molini Barbensi on the left bank of the river, where we found pleasant society and some former travelling acquaintances. The house is a good one, and the rooms are large, but a very little expenditure on sanitary arrangements would improve it as a residence. Living seems not to be expensive at Florence, and lodgings can be procured at a moderate rate. Florence lies upon the same river as Pisa, but I suppose fifty or sixty miles farther up, and the town bears some resemblance to it, but is far more picturesque and far more lively and populous. In fact, Pisa is quite a dull, quiet, dead-alive town beside it. The population of Florence, at present about 170,000, is four times as great as that of Pisa, and it has been a royal town as well as a provincial capital. The river is crossed by six bridges (three, or rather four of them, of very old date) connecting the north and south portions of the city, which, however, lies mainly upon the north shore. Of these bridges (all strongly buttressed against the force of the river, which no doubt occasionally descends in floods with great power), the Ponte Vecchio is peculiar and picturesque, and a remnant of old times, being covered on each side with houses, and on one side, on the top floor, by the long gallery which connects the Uffizi and Pitti Palaces. These houses on the bridge are very curious. Next the street they present to view on both sides small booths or stalls, principally occupied by goldsmiths or jewellers, which very likely much resemble what the shops of Old London were, but at the present day do not, for jewellers’ wares, inspire confidence.

Vasarian Corridor and Facchini 29/01/2011

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c. 1905

Many of my readers will have taken the wonderful walk along this corridor. The limits of the Uffizi galleries terminate with the beginning of the Ponte Vecchio, where, having paid another franc at the turnstile, we enter upon our long covered seemingly endless walk. The corridor is lined on both sides with pictures, in the main portraits. Some of them are bad, but all of them profoundly interesting. There are also some thrilling pictures of popular festas. This is the place to learn history and to study heraldry, flags, crowns and costumes: but I usually see people racing along here, red book in hand and with such an odd fixed look on their faces, eager to get from one surfeit of masterpieces to another.

Do not believe Baedeker when he says: ‘Those who have left their sticks or umbrellas at the entrance to the Uffizi must, of course, return for them after visiting the Pitti Palace on the other side of the Arno.’ For the modest fee of 25c. you will find your stick waiting at the exit of the Pitti or the exit of the Uffizi, whichever you happen to want. The one gallery gives you a countermark to claim it from the other gallery, and the facchino carries it round through the streets. The corridor is closed on Sundays.

Visits to the Uffizi and the Vasarian Corridor 16/12/2010

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c. 1910

Infirm and languid visitors should get it clearly into their heads (1) that the tour of the Uffizi means a long walk and (2) that there is a lift. You find it in the umbrella room at every Florentine gallery and museum is an official whose one object in life is to take away your umbrella and it costs two-pence-halfpenny and is worth far more. But walking downstairs is imperative, because otherwise one would miss Silenus and Bacchus, and a beautiful urgent Mars, in bronze, together with other fine sculptured things. One of the quaintest symbols of conservatism in Florence is the scissors of the officials who supply tickets of entrance. Apparently the perforated line is unknown in Italy; hence the ticket is divided from its counterfoil (which I assume goes to the authorities in order that they may check their horrid takings) by a huge pair of shears. These things are snip-snapping all over Italy, all day long. Having obtained your ticket you hand it to another official at a turnstile, and at last you are free of cupidity and red tape and may breathe easily again and examine the products of the light-hearted, generous Renaissance in the right spirit.

One should never forget, in any gallery of Florence, to look out of the windows. There is always a courtyard, a street, or a spire against the sky; and at the Uffizi there are the river and bridges and mountains. From the loggia of the Palazzo Vecchio I once saw a woman with some twenty or thirty city pigeons on the table of her little room, feeding them with maize.

Except for glimpses of the river and the Via Guicciardini which it gives, I advise no one to walk through the passage uniting the Pitti and the Uffizi unless of course bent on catching some of the ancient thrill when armed men ran swiftly from one palace to the other to quell a disturbance or repulse an assault. Particularly does this counsel apply to wet days, when all the windows are closed and there is no air. A certain interest attaches to the myriad portraits which line the walls, chiefly of the Medici and comparatively recent worthies; but one must have a glutton’s passion either for paint or history to wish to examine these. As a matter of fact, only a lightning-speed tourist could possibly think of seeing both the Uffizi and the Pitti on the same day, and therefore the need of the passage disappears. It is hard worked only on Sundays. The drawings in the cases in the first long corridor are worth close study covering as they do the whole range of great Italian art: from, say, Uccello to Carlo Dolci. But as they are from time to time changed it is useless to say more of them. There is also on the first landing of the staircase a room in which exhibitions of drawings of the Old Masters are held, and this is worth knowing about, not only because of the riches of the portfolios in the collection, but also because once you have passed the doors you are inside the only picture gallery in Florence for which no entrance fee is asked. How the authorities have come to overlook this additional source of revenue, I have no notion; but they have, and visitors should hasten to make the most of it for fear that a translation of these words of mine may wander into bad hands.