Travel Tidbit #3: Mingling With the ‘Masters’
Though we are a blog focusing on our travels at hand and the atmosphere of the “Far East,” we have gotten a lot of traffic and encouragement for a previous post about Italy. Since I have a wealth of other tips and photos to show off and encourage travel in all its forms and destinations, I will please the people with more.
Though overshadowed some by Florence’s other worshiped attractions, Santa Croce has gotten it’s share of exposure: any guide book on the shelf will have an entry about it and thanks to E.M Forester’s “A Room With a View,” it’s even a bit of a household name. But, the press is unfairly reserved (especially now that every destination is the most beautiful, every church the most spectacular). “Lonely Planet” didn’t think it deserved 5 stars and Forster describes it as a “cold barn.”
The Basilica is fantastic. It is cold, but wonderfully so. The frigidity hardens and makes more spectacular the building’s marble floors and facade, especially in the wet heat of a Tuscan June. The wood rafters that cross the ceiling may be barn-like, but uniquely so. It seems every other church in Italy has a Brunelleschi inspired waffled dome worth mentioning, or amazing frescoes covering its ceiling (Florence’s own Duomo has both) so any departure from the norm is refreshing. Especially when the dark, warm wood is a striking contrast to that previously mentioned ice cold marble.
Strolling around the main hall, you’re constantly surrounded by fantastic monuments and art. Many of the statues are funerary pieces, as Santa Croce is basically Italy’s Dominican version of Westminster Abbey in London. Resting at Santa Croce along side the standard stable of Saints and religious figures are Cultural celebrities like Dante, Bartolini, Bruni, Galileo, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Raffaello, and Ghiberti. Each plot seems more fantastic than the next. As you approach Michelangelo’s tomb, your astonished to find that the flanking columns, draping curtain, and supporting Cheribum you have been observing from afar are all frescoes. His coffin is a beautiful purple marble that doesn’t seem like a natural product of the earth and that glows off its pure white mount. Galileo’s tomb is not covered in planetary and pagan symbols as you may suspect (thanks Dan Brown) and is instead austere and majestic in its simplicity. Galileo’s coffin may be the most impressive at the site- it is serious, a contrast of gold and black marble befit for a funerary marker. Surrounding the coffin is a bust of the great Astronomer himself (top) and two beautiful flanking female sculptures worthy of (and probably carved by) on of Santa Croce’s master sculptors. My favorite sculpture, Dante, stands outside greeting visitors with a defiant stance and fearsome gaze befitting a man who has been to hell and back. again.
While anyone would be crazy not to see the Duomo, David, The Uffizi, or any other of Florence’s worshiped sights, make sure that if you do go, Santa Croce is not left off the list. Perhaps it will end up your favorite diversion as well, a break from the crowded superstars, of guided tours and explanations, a place where, like Forster’s Lucy, you forget the “Baedeker,” “Rough Guide,” or “Lonely Plant” and let the “pernicious charm of Italy work,” where you forget about acquiring information and “begin to be happy.”