The Road Less Traveled: 7 Secrets of Florence

When visiting Florence, the typical sights include Piazza Signora, Il Duomo, the Lucky Boar, and the Ponte Vecchio. But what about the hidden gems of the Tuscan city? What about the road less traveled? After living in Florence for a year, I have collected a few secrets of the birthplace of the Renaissance.

  1. Define “good” gelato.

Italy is known for its delicious ice cream, for its gelato. When visiting this mouth-watering country, it is necessary to eat some. However, with endless amounts of gelatarias, what is considered “good” gelato? The shops that have mounds of brightly colored gelato piled high may seem appealing to the eye, but theses are the shops that need to be avoided. This type of gelato has many preservatives added into it. The preservatives are the reason why the gelato stays perfectly colored and shaped. The gelaterias that should be visited are that ones where the gelato is kept hidden in containers inserted into the counter. This method of storage maintains the integrity of the gelato without the addition of chemicals.

  1. Flight at Fiesole

Leonardo Da Vinci was not only a painter, but also an engineer. It was actually from his designs that the modern plane was modeled after. Da Vinci was born in Vinci, in the province of Florence. Most of his life work took place in the Renaissance city. In fact, Da Vinci flew his first prototype airplane in Fiesole, a town in the Tuscan hills that overlooks Florence. The engineer did not actually fly the plane himself, but it was his invention with a stranger piloting it. Unfortunately, this attempt did not end well. The pilot, along with the prototype, crashed as soon as they left the hill.

  1. Da Vinci vs. Michelangelo

Leonardo Da Vinci already made a name for himself in Florence, when young Michelangelo came into relevance. There was never a true competition between these two geniuses because of the large age gap. However, their skills were put to the test when both Da Vinci and Michelangelo were asked to paint a depiction of a famous Florentine battle. This painting would be displayed in the Council Hall in Palazzo Vecchio. The painters worked side by side in silent competition in hopes of winning. Luckily, Michelangelo’s painting never made it past the drawing stage. Da Vinci ended by finishing his painting. However, in 1565, it was painted over. It wasn’t until recently that art restorers tried to drill a hole in the painting over the battle to see if Da Vinci’s painting was still standing. (It is possible to see these drill holes.)

Da Vinci Hidden Painting Image 1

When facing the stage, the Da Vinci painting is supposedly under the farthest painting on the right side.

  1. Via dei Leoni

The lion has been a symbol for Florence and Italy ever since the Roman times. This animal is the king of the jungle and symbolizes power and strength. Many years ago, when the royalty of Florence wanted to show off its power, animals, specifically lions, were imported from around the world to the city center. Via dei Leoni was actually a street where the lions were chained to the wall for display.

Via dei Leoni Image 1

  1. Big Brother Bull

On the left side of the Duomo (right under the terrace), there is a sculpted bullhead. Legend goes that there was a bakery directly across from this point. The baker’s wife was caught cheating, and to make sure it would never happen again, the baker had the bull crafted to “watch over” the dishonest wife.

  1. Michelangelo’s (Drunk) Carving

Located on the left side of Palazzo Vecchio, there is a half carving of a man’s face etched into the wall. This strange carving has two possible explanations. First, a friend challenged (dared) Michelangelo to carve a man’s face behind his back. Naturally, the sculptor accepted and succeeded. The second myth says that one inebriated night, Michelangelo was stumbling through Piazza Signora and drunkenly carved this portrait onto the side of Palazzo Vecchio.

  1. Perseus and the Head of Medusa

Perseus and the Head of Medusa is located in the Loggia dei Lanzi, in Piazza Signora. Cellini molded this full bronze sculpture. Perseus was a feat itself alone. The whole statue was casted in one mold while the artist worked with less than qualified assistants. In the end, the statue is one of the most beautiful and most aesthetically pleasing statue in Florence. However, Cellini did not go through all those obstacles without leaving a piece of himself in the statue. Located behind Perseus’s head, in his hair, is a self-portrait of Cellini himself. Perseus’s hair acts like Cellini’s beard, while the points on the helmet acts as the eyes of the sculptor.

Leslie Diaz is a student at Marist College and an official API Blogger. Leslie is studying abroad with API in Taormina, Italy.

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