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Vasari Corridor - Paradise Gained
The Vasari Corridor is a corridor that connect the Uffizi Museum to the Pitti Palace in Florence. The Corridor goes on top of the shops on the Ponte Vechhio, a bridge over the River Arno. The Corridor is lined with works of art and is not always open to visitors.
Several months ago, when my husband Bill and I started planning our latest trip to Florence, I went hard to work researching to make sure that I got to see the city in a way I couldn't when I was there for four days in 2002. When I came across a reference to the Percorso de Principe, or Vasari Corridor, I flipped. I'm a lover of art, and had been fortunate to see galleries, museums, churches, and public spaces all over Europe, but this was an opportunity to see something utterly off the beaten path!
I spent hours on the phone trying to reach someone at the Uffizi who would tell me something other than "chiuso, chiuso" (closed). Then I started coming across postings on the Slow Travel message board, and elsewhere, from lots of people who were trying to get into the Corridor and had the same problem.
In early April, I booked a May 11 tour of the Vasari Corridor through Select Italy, with the understanding that no tour would take place if there weren't enough people. That was a condition I could live with; my real worry was that the Uffizi just wouldn't open the doors. After all my worry, my complaining, my distress, Select Italy confirmed the date of my tour, and I showed up at the appointed place and time, thrilled that my tour would soon be underway.
The tour began in the Uffizi proper, with a survey of the highlights of the collection. I saw galleries about four years ago, when I toured the museum without benefit of guide. What I thought was familiar, however, became new and more interesting than ever as our small group moved along from room to room. The works were not new to me, but the analysis offered by our guide brought a new life to the way I looked at each piece. Especially valuable to me was the historical perspective offered by our guide as she compared similar works of art, helping me understand the meaning of small differences in otherwise similar compositions. She also addressed the way paints, panels and canvases were prepared to create particular effects in the finished works - an area of art I had little knowledge of, but which added substantially to my appreciation.
At last our guide announced that we were about to enter the Vasari Corridor. A door I would never have noticed was opened for us by an escort, and we passed out of the Uffizi, and into heaven.
The Vasari Corridor runs from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Pitti Palace, on the Ponte Vecchio, the bridge across the River Arno. It winds its way above the famed jewelry shops on the Ponte Vecchio, with windows looking out on stunning views, often strategically aimed into the windows of nearby palazzi. By itself, there is nothing about the interior of the Corridor that struck me as beautiful. It was interesting, nevertheless, to consider it in a historical context as an architectural and political coup for the Medicis, who wanted a path between the palaces, and managed to have parts of the Corridor constructed inside the houses of several aristocratic families whose misfortune it was to live where their neighbor wished to pass.
Its contents, however, are dramatically different from what is seen in the Uffizi's galleries. The works that we found inside were not really the greatest of the great, but they're terrific, fascinating, and unique. A great surprise of the Corridor came right at the beginning, as we walked past an area damaged by the 1993 mafia bombing of the Uffizi. Within the Uffizi's public galleries, there is no remnant of the event, but within this more private space, we saw original paintings utterly destroyed by the blast, a painful sight and a reminder of the nature and extent of the damage done.
There were two very interesting collections in the Corridor that really deserve attention. One was of portraits of artists, and the other of miniature paintings. The artists gallery included everyone of importance, from many of the masters whose works appear on the walls of the Uffizi through to current artists. Woman artists are well represented (this is not always the case in galleries). The miniatures were simply charming. The works span a long period of time, and are of a quality that makes me wish I had been aware of their existence long ago.
At some point in our walk, our attendant opened up one of the porthole windows and beckoned us to look. There, beneath us, stretched the Ponte Vecchio, teeming with tourists and vendors, noisy and colorful. It was a view from a perspective impossible to duplicate from any other vantage point and it took my breath away.
I really feel lucky to have seen the Vasari Corridor, with all its historic twists and turns and its odd, quirky collections. Hopefully, my good fortune signifies a change in the booking process, and others will find the process of booking smooth and quick. It was fascinating from more than one point of view, and I recommend it to all lovers of art, architecture and history.
Walking in the Footsteps of the Duke: The Vasari Corridor in Florence, Ann J. Reavis
selectitaly.com: Select Italy offers tickets for tours of the Vasari Corridor as well as advance tickets and reservations for museums in Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice.
© Susan Tenenbaum, 2006
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