The two obelisks, supported by tortoises and surmounted by beautiful lilies, in the Piazza of S. Maria Novella were used as boundaries in the chariot races held here under Cosimo I, and in the collection of old Florentine prints on the top floor of Michelangelo’s house you may see representations of these races. The charming loggia opposite S. Maria Novella, with della Robbia decorations, is the Loggia di S. Paolo, a school designed, it is thought, by Brunelleschi, and here, at the right hand end, we see S. Dominic himself in a friendly embrace with S. Francis, a very beautiful group by either Luca or Andrea della Robbia.
In the loggia cabmen now wrangle all day and all night. From it S. Maria Novella is seen under the best conditions, always cheerful and serene; while far behind the church is the huge Apennine where most of the weather of Florence seems to be manufactured. In mid April this year (1912) it still had its cap of snow.
The Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele to S. Trinita
A city of trams—The old market—Donatello’s figure of Abundance—An evening resort—A hall of variety—Florentines of to-day—The war with Turkey—Homecoming heroes—Restaurants—The new market—The bronze boar—A fifteenth century palace—Old Florentine life reconstructed—Where changes are few—S. Trinita—Ghirlandaio again—S. Francis—The Strozzi palace—Clarice de’ Medici.
Florence is not simple to the stranger. Like all very old cities built fortuitously it is difficult to learn: the points of the compass are elusive; the streets are so narrow that the sky is no constant guide; the names of the streets are often not there; the policemen have no high standard of helpfulness. There are trams, it is true—too many and too noisy, and too near the pavement—but the names of their outward destinations, from the centre, too rarely correspond to any point of interest that one is desiring. Hence one has many embarrassments and even annoyances. Yet I daresay this is best: an orderly Florence is unthinkable. Since, however, the trams that are returning to the centre nearly all go to the Duomo, either passing it or stopping there, the tram becomes one’s best friend and the Duomo one’s starting point for most excursions.
Supposing ourselves to be there once more, let us quickly get through the horrid necessity, which confronts one in all ancient Italian cities, of seeing the Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele. In an earlier chapter we left the Baptistery and walked along the Via Calzaioli. Again starting from the Baptistery let us take the Via dell’ Arcivescovado, which is parallel with the Via Calzaioli, on the right of it, and again walk straight forward. We shall come almost at once to the great modern square.