Florentine Fancies

Falling in love is a curious thing. Falling in love with a city, even more so. And falling in love both with a city and in that city? Well, that’s pure magic.

Florence – the birthplace and cradle of the Renaissance. A living, breathing museum of architectural splendour and one of Europe’s greatest cultural jewels.

It’s a city shaped by wealth. Its founding families were not only the architects of modern Florence, but also of art, culture and modern capitalism.

Golden domes reflect the sunlight giving everything touched by it other-worldly golden warmth. We walk the city at dusk, when it’s at its most glorious. Narrow streets and crumbling courtyards stand steeped in the smoke of time. Sculpture is everywhere, bodies and cherubs drawn in shadows.

Much of the architecture in Baku is inspired by this grand renaissance style. Most famously, the building which today houses the Azerbaijan History Museum was inspired by the Italian renaissance style, designed by Goslavski, the chief architect of Baku, as a home for the oil magnate Haji Tagiyev. The State Oil Company is another of the city’s iconic landmarks – a paragon of renaissance grandeur and beauty. Plans for it were approved in 1893, making it one of Baku’s most magnificent and beautifully preserved 19th century buildings.

Dadashov and Huseynov are amongst the most recognised Azeri architects of the 20th century. Their work peppers the city. Antiquated Florentine style architectural confections sit in disdain alongside their uncompromising Soviet neighbours. Unlike in Florence, the tapestry of Baku is not woven in just one thread, there’s no over-arching theme or feel. The spirit is rebellious, the city refusing to conform to type.

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By way of contrast, everything in the Tuscan capital is harmonious. Even the Arno river is the same pale sand of the surrounding buildings, with khaki lowlights from the vine-covered hills. After flexing our cultural muscle around the Uffizi Gallery the sky beyond the endless corridors of Da Vinci’s and Boticellis, is a deep passionate azure, as if straight out of a Giotti fresco.

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My thoughts turn to Michelangelo’s David – a life liberated from cold white stone. His pale unblemished flesh as real as any, a face that forever dwells in thought. The haunting sense of time stood still surrounds one in this city. Statues trapped in the ember of eternity amid a sea of people, all on their way to somewhere else.