The first full day in Florence was perfection. It began with a refreshing bite of gelato in the warm Tuscan sun on our way to the Arno River. While we were headed towards the Ponte Vecchio, we had to keep stopping to admire the buildings across the river. The light blue sky with pockets of pure white clouds was a beautiful backdrop for the riverside structures. These buildings were not limited by the river bank – they bravely stretched out leaving solid ground to be supported above the water.
The bustling Ponte Vecchio was better than I imagined and it is hard to find words to capture its essence. This historic bridge was a war survivor that was spared destruction from the Nazis in World War II. Much of its charm came from the worn exterior, with its gently faded paint and crooked window shutters.
Crossing Ponte Vecchio, we escaped the busy crowds and began a winding uphill climb along the narrow roadway of Costa di San Giorgio. We crossed paths with friendly, wandering travelers all in search of the many hidden treasures in the area. As we walked, we were able to catch incredible views of the rolling hills around us. On this road we also passed (and very happily snapped a picture in front of) one of Galileo’s old homes.
At the top of the hill we crossed through Porta San Giorgio, the city’s oldest surviving gate built in 1260. Standing under the gateway, there were pale frescoes blended into the archway above. The walk continued along a stone wall with fresh greenery in all directions (something hard to come by in Rome). After this brief downhill reprieve, we climbed the “Way of the Cross” made of more than 100 stone steps leading us to the truly breathtaking views at San Miniato - one of Florence’s oldest churches.
Founded in 1018 and holding a special place in Florentine hearts, this church has been used as a fortress and a hospital. It has been a place of safety, salvation, and healing for Florence. The church shone radiantly in the hot sun with its colored marble façade. Crossing the threshold into the cool interior, I was amazed. The unpretentious designs were beautiful. The church was lit from natural light streaming through windows and the open doorway. Sunbeams cut across the substantial open space within the church resting on and highlighting the tops of the circular columns, the archways decorated with geometric grey and white patterns, and the bare stone walls. Giant decorated trusses supported the roof structure.
The church was sublime, and I took refuge in its shade and reflected on its history. I have seen multiple churches while in Italy, but this building was the first to leave such an impression on me. I wondered what it would have been like to be a part of building such a wonderful piece of history. To contribute to designing a place where people feel safe and protected from war, plagues, and destitution. The church of San Miniato further solidified for me that designing a structure is much more than solely finding the correct member size, the most appropriate lateral system, and the most economical material to use. Every structure created leaves a mark and an impression – what do we want that message to be?