Florence, Birthplace of the Renaissance

By: Olivia Berman

October 19, 2016

Last week, for my class on Dante and the Medieval Mind, we went on a walking tour through Florence with our professor and a professional tour guide. Throughout the tour, the guide pointed out various places that shaped Dante’s life, political career, and writing. We saw the streets that Dante would have walked back in the late thirteenth century, an experience that really brought to life what we had been learning in the classroom. At the end of the tour, our guide said something that really stayed with me. He said, “Love to death and completely enjoy your time here. While enjoying these months, also keep in mind that all that you know in the modern world today is because of Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance.” Ending on this note really made me think about Florence as a city and its important role in both Italian and global history.

Florence’s role in culture has certainly not diminished. Right now, Ai Weiwei, Chinese contemporary artist and activist, has an exhibit at the Palazzo Strozzi in downtown Florence. Beyond merely the exhibit inside, he chose to line the outside with inflatable rafts, to represent the one that thousands of people embark on in order to seek safety away from their homes. The decision to decorate the outside of such an old, historical building was a controversial one, but Ai Weiwei did so in order to begin a conversation about the refugee crisis and the European Union’s role in dealing with this humanitarian issue. Beyond art and history, Florence has been influential in fashion as well. Within the city, there are museums celebrating this history, between the Gucci Museum, the Ferragamo Museum, the Costume Gallery, and more. The Gucci Museum has various displays from vintage luggage to an exhibit on Tom Ford to gowns specially designed by Gucci for red carpet events. Exploring this side of Florence’s influence has allowed me to learn even more about the city.

Between the tour, the Ai Weiwei exhibit, fashion museums, and everything else in Florence, we have had so many opportunities here to really explore Florentine culture of the past and the present. With the guidance of my professors and through my own exploration, I have learned a few ways to really see the city. Although I initially depended on my phone as a navigation tool, lately I have been trying to use my knowledge of landmarks instead of Google Maps to make my way through the city. As I have put my phone away more often, I have noticed more about daily life in Florence and about how the locals interact and live. Similarly, sometimes instead of walking around and talking to friends all day as we wander through the streets, I prefer walking around and listening to the sounds of the city. Now that I have taken six weeks of Italian classes, I find myself able to pick up more of the conversations I hear around me. I am also able to communicate more effectively in Italian at restaurants and museums. Despite my limited vocabulary, I feel as though I am bridging a gap between myself and Italians every time I communicate in their language instead of my own.

The tour guide’s words really cemented the importance of Florence to everything that I know today. So much of the art and history I have studied comes from here, and I am excited to spend the next two months embracing Florence even more.

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Florence, Birthplace of the Renaissance