Florence cathedral visit: travel planning in the Dark Ages, Renaissance and pre-industrial age!
But can you imagine the hurdles that people had to face when the horse was the fastest means of land transport and low cost flights didn’t exist even in the most bizarre Leonardo’s dream? The history of the making of the Florence cathedral itself is influenced by extraordinary travels: travels of people, travels of ideas, and… travels of stones.
Book a flight, jump on a train: you are already there. Florence is very easy to reach, and to reach the Florence Cathedral - the Duomo di Santa Maria del Fiore - at the very center of the city - is easiest.
But can you imagine the hurdles that people had to face when the horse was the fastest means of land transport and low cost flights didn’t exist even in the most bizarre Leonardo’s dream?
Nevertheless travelling was possible: difficult, indeed; but not impossible at all. The history of the making of the Florence cathedral itself is influenced by extraordinary travels: travels of people, travels of ideas, and… travels of stones.
Florence in an “international” Medieval period
The concept of the Medieval period as a “dark age” between the glory of the Roman Empire and the new world started with the Renaissance, an hostile swamp with no culture and plenty of nothing else than plagues and wars dominated the historiographical critique in the XIX Century.
Works such as La philosophie au moyen-âge by Etienne Gilson or, later, the research of Jacque Le Goff, demonstrate that the Medieval period is not a river dividing Classical Antiquity from Renaissance but the bridge between the two of them.
And the Medieval period is an age of travels: slow travelling indeed, but still travelling! The Roman road system hadn’t been destroyed and it was the backbone of the medieval net used by saints, scholars and - quite often indeed - armies.
Florence was not far from the Via Francigena, and a city already important in Roman age: it has a long history of distinguished visitors, who sometimes spent in Florence the rest of their life. An example? Donatus of Fiesole, an Irish monk who visited Rome in 816 AD and then, according to tradition, led to the Cathedral of Fiesole (now a suburb of Florence) by Divine Providence.
The Florence cathedral has its own “exotic” flavour as it was begun in Gothic style: Giorgio Vasari talks about the “German style” which spread from Northern Europe to Italy, and “German” is Arnolfo, the architect of the cathedral.
Rolling stones in the Medieval period
So: people and ideas had a lot to stroll in the Middle Ages.
To move the huge amount of stone and marble to build the cathedral has been an epic adventure, but: Michelangelo used to personally choose the marble blocks of the Apuane mountains, but that marble had to be moved on oxcarts. It was a slower life, for sure. But that slow movement of people, ideas, and even stones, set the basis for one of the most fascinating period in the history of mankind.
Photo by Antonio Ficai