Seven nights in Florence and a day in Padua

As I was saying the other day, this summer I had the opportunity to visit Florence. Florence, alongside Rome from two years ago, has always been one of those lifelong dreams, and I was very fortunate that this year I managed to make it a reality.

Walking into the Uffizi Gallery and facing Michelangelo’s Tondo just before the next room where I was flanked by Botticelli’s Birth of Venus to my right and La Primavera on the left were moments I have looked forward to since childhood (ok teenagehood). Also seeing the David up close and personal was a moment beyond anything I can describe. It was like meeting old pen-pals face to face and realizing they’re better than your wildest expectations.

Michelangelo's David in the flesh
Michelangelo’s David in the flesh

But I digress, the minutiae of my holiday aren’t the point here. Part of the reason I chose Florence this summer was the fact that it is close to Padua which is where a small part of Vampire Edifice is set. Padua University, in fact, is rumoured to be the second oldest university in Europe with an anatomy school that rivals none in prestige and history. It was home to several prominent figures like Galileo, Andreas Vesalius (father of modern Anatomy) and William Harvey, who discovered blood circulation, to name just a few. On a side note, in the hall of the forty I noticed a drawing of a man called Stephano Bathory (King of Poland) 1533-1586 who I am more than intrigued to research at some point for obvious reasons.

Padua University
Palazzo Del Bo

I can honestly say that the trip to PU was going to be as much of a highlight of the trip as the Medici Mausoleum or the David and at €5 for an hour tour I was very excited to make the three hour journey to Padua from Florence and back. Thanks are owed to my kindle and A Song of Ice and Fire for hours of entertainment.

Anyhoo, the first blow of the tour came in the fact that we were not allowed to take pictures of the rooms. Big bummer, ‘cause I’d planned a detailed blog post of the bloody thing. Secondly the tour guide lady was very economical with the details of the place. In fact, when she was asked a question about certain inscriptions on the walls she promised to come back to it later but never actually took the time.

The biggest bummer of all however came in the form of the Anatomy theatre, which I’d been looking forward to seeing all summer long, in anticipation of the trip. For those not in the know, an anatomy theatre is an inverse conical space, think upside down traffic cone, where students of anatomy would collect in order to watch the dissection of corpses in the name of science. PU’s Anatomy theatre was built in 1594 by Gerolamo d’ Acquapendente and was made world famous by some of the aforementioned historical personalities.

Were we allowed to see that? Oh no, that would’ve been too normal a thing to do on a specialist tour. Instead we were led in under it, picture the eye of the cone, and made to look up through the hole. Though there was a level of geeky coolness in the fact that this was the way the corpses got to see it, by way of practicality, it was next to useless. Atmospheric? Yes! Pointless? Also yes!

Whatever the case, though I was disappointed by the tour experience, I did love the location and of course the History of the place. What I did get to see and ask about satisfied my research needs for the book (I like to have visited the locations I write about wherever possible) and hey, I got to stand in the same rooms that Galileo and Harvey et al did almost five centuries ago. Can’t fault that.

On another note, whatever satisfaction I didn’t get from the tour at PU, I got in spades from the Museo La Specola in Florence itself. The museum holds one of the largest collections of wax anatomical aids from the 18th century and is an incredible sight for all lovers of medical history and the macabre.

Little Wax Massacre
Little Wax Massacre

The museum itself is not that well marketed and is home to series of other random exhibits which suddenly lead to the wax models in a slightly surreal shift of mood. It is an amazing place, with incredibly well-crafted pieces which marry the worlds of history, sculpture and medicine into an unforgettable experience. I know I sound a bit tourist guide-y but think of the fact that these models were sculpted from life (or death to be precise) in the days before refrigeration. Chew on that for a moment…

To my good fortune, due to its lack of promotion no doubt, there were only two families in the entire museum along with me, which gave the space an added air of sobriety. At times it felt as if the whole place was mine.

Flayed Man
Flayed Man
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