Florence - Read This

Florence is frozen in time, but comes back to life in a novel

The copy of Michelangelo's statue of "David" in Piazza della Signoria is arguably the most famous work of art in Florence. The original of 1504, designed for the roof of the cathedral but too heavy to be put there, was moved to the Accademia Gallery in the late 19th century to protect it from damage.

Photo by Jurjen Drenth

Florence - Read This

Florence is frozen in time, but comes back to life in a novel

Florence, like no other Italian city, remains frozen in the Renaissance. That era is also the setting for the historical novel of George Eliot, Romola, whose theme of faith clashing with science, and knowledge with belief, is still relevant today.

Tara Isabella Burton
Tara Isabella Burton Travel Writer

The book is a favorite of mine for the way it captures the grandeur and drama of Renaissance Florence in its story of a passionate, brilliant female scholar – the Romola of the title. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, a key figure in her life is the historic Dominican monk Savonarola, an apocalyptic preacher whose "Bonfire of the Vanities" – in which Florentines were encouraged to burn anything that might lead to vice – ultimately led to his own execution by burning in the Piazza dei Signora.

Eliot’s city is a Florence caught between a passion for scholarship and learning – the same passion I see reflected in the perfectly geometric architecture of the Renaissance main squares, in the stuffed animals catalogued at the Specola Museum at Medici Palace – and the religious fervor so evident in the churches of Santa Croce and San Mineato al Monte.

The Bonfire of the Vanities led to his own death

One of Eliot’s least popular novels in her lifetime, Romola has recently undergone a resurgence of critical interest. Despite its relative obscurity, however, it provides a fascinating insight not only into Savonarola’s 15th-century Florence, but also into the effect Florence had on English writers in the 19th century and beyond.

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