I’m convinced the air in Florence hasn’t changed in the past 500 years. Everywhere you go, there’s a sense of preservation, a sense of adapting what is already present to fit the modern world, not adapting the city to be more modern. The train station, built in the fascist era (though not of fascist architecture) still has the original signs up, labeling every different area the same as it was labeled in the 30’s. Now, much of this has to do with Italian preservation laws, but I think it speaks volumes about the city that there are laws like that and they’re upheld to such a standard, even when it can be slightly detrimental to the functionality of the building.
When thinking about the “air” or “spirit” of a place, I think one need look no further than the people and their embrace of their space to see. Florentines, with their motorinos and impeccable sense of fashion seem, for all intents and purposes, to be one with the city, working within its ancient frame and adapting themselves for it, rather than demanding that it change for them. Of course, again, like the train station this is partly because of public policy, but I don’t see Florentines beating back heavily against it, as I can imagine American’s would if they were no longer able to drive their V8 pickup trucks through the downtown of a city without a permit. No, here there seems to be a sense of acceptance and appreciation for the history and gravity that you are surrounded by. When passing through the city center, piazze, where cars are no longer allowed, it’s easy to get swallowed up by the same feelings of awe and majesty that have been felt in for hundreds of years, without the constant honking of horns and smell of gas that one finds in American metropolises.
If there’s a singular place that can encapsulate the spirit of Florence, its Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the Duomo. Here, though crowded by hoards upon hoards of tourists, the cathedral still towers over any other building in the city. The bell tower serves as the only “skyscraper” that can be seen, ringing out many times a day to remind Florentines of its presence. The doors to the cathedral welcome visitors, almost challenging them to tilt back their heads and admire the domes depiction of Dante’s Divine Comedy. This structure has towered here since the 1400’s, with all its color and majesty on display just as it was then. And inhabitants of the city, native Florentines, they still find themselves here from time to time, as one fellow student told me in broken English over a drink. “There’s nothing like the Duomo”, he said, “living here my whole life it is still beautiful”.
That, I think, is the sentiment of Florentines, and of the cities spirit. That despite living here for 21 or 91 years, there is still a beauty to the city that others don’t have. It all flows together as if was always meant to be, and hasn’t even tried to change…because honestly, it hasn’t. It knows that it is the Renaissance city, and to remove that would be to remove “Florence” itself. Florence is nothing without is Renaissance art, its dome, its frescos. The fact that people know that and still continue to live here is what makes this unlike most other cities I’ve lived in or visited. It revels in the fact that, though a city with modern luxuries, Florence can’t change for another 400 years, and to me, there seems to be little reason to try.