The  foldout watercolored map for Piazza Pitti, which fronts the enormous Palazzo Pitti.
Contrasts ~
     Florence is full of contrasts. The piazzas are one example, in the way they offer breathing space among the dense city blocks. This is no truer than for Piazza Pitti, where the immensity of the square stands out against the intricate network of streets and buildings that lies before it.
	The sun creates contrast too. The stone of both the palazzo and the piazza’s paving is inert, enduring and never changing, and its monotony renders it virtually colorless. Yet the piazza comes to life once the sun comes around to cast its warmth on the people enjoying the beach-like atmosphere and the majestic backdrop of the palace. There’s a play of light and shadow that isn’t possible with slick modern materials, and the stone is so tactile that people run their hands along it, and sometimes attempt to climb the palazzo’s massive stone blocks. Dwarfed by the immensity of the palace, which somewhat resembles a quarry, people bring color and energy to the piazza. Crimson banners advertise the latest exhibitions, adding another striking dash of color against the neutral stone.
	The hard, unforgiving landscape of Palazzo Pitti and its piazza softens into the pleasant refuge of the Boboli Garden behind it, providing yet another contrast. There’s a wonderful diversity of spaces in this garden—symmetrical walks, meandering paths, shady allées, refreshing green lawns, fountains, grottoes—and many spots where you can catch glimpses of the city.
The beat of the drums in the piazza ~
     The summer solstice is nearly here, and already the summer we were eagerly awaiting a few months ago feels long. Through the open windows we hear the familiar beat of drums, so we poke our heads out to look for the Florentines dressed in their Renaissance costumes. Crowds of spectators are beginning to line up along the barricades that mark off the central area of the piazza, but there’s no sign of the procession yet. ‘Let’s go down,’ Ella says.
            As we step outside the front door, we see a group of men and women, dressed in velvets and silks, and accompanied by drummers and flag throwers—a small cluster of color in the vast square. From the far corner of the piazza another group is making its entrance. For the next half hour, one by one, the members of six Tuscan towns emerge onto the piazza, each with their distinct colors, drum beat and banner held proudly at the front. Finally, the familiar costumes of Florence’s Corteo Storico file into the piazza, completing the top line of the square. Each group takes its turn pounding out a unique rhythm and showing off their flag throwers’ skills, except the town whose representatives put on a horrifyingly realistic mock joust instead.
	Being called down to Piazza Pitti for unexpected events like this, during an otherwise quiet evening at home, is another of the pleasures of living here. Just like our ritual of joining the crowds of sun-seekers for a picnic on the ‘beach’, it’s simple entertainment. I have really grown to appreciate this square’s constancy, how it graciously accommodates everyone from the locals and the tourists to the Queen of Denmark. And there’s something a little bit magical about coming home to the same piazza where Tuscany’s grand dukes and Italy’s king once lived.
Pitti ‘Beach’ ~

‘    Let’s go to Pitti Beach,’ my daughter often suggests. There’s no sign for Pitti Beach; this is our nickname for Piazza Pitti, where a hard, stark open space slopes up from a busy road to Palazzo Pitti. Ella and I have been coming to this square for years, first as visitors to the city, and then later as residents. Opposite the enormous palace, a door opens into the modest palazzo where my daughter and I live, and now Piazza Pitti serves as our starting point; from here we set off each day to my daughter’s school, to take care of errands, to Florence’s other piazzas.
	The most direct route to Piazza Pitti from the north side of the river is via the oldest bridge, Ponte Vecchio. The road leading from it takes you into the area known as the Oltrarno or, as the locals say, consolidating di là d’arno into a single breath, Diladdarno—beyond the Arno. This neighborhood to the south of the river has a dual personality—that of an intimate quarter of artigiani who have been running their artisan workshops here for the last eight centuries, and also as the neighborhood of the many wealthy families who built gracious palazzi in the fifteenth century. The grandest of theses palaces is Palazzo Pitti, which was home to Tuscany’s grand dukes for three centuries, and then to Italy’s first king, Vittorio Emanuele II, when Florence was the capital from 1865 to 1871.
	When the weather is pleasant, Piazza Pitti is always part of our Friday afternoon routine. After I pick up Ella from school, we shop for produce in the nearby Piazza Santo Spirito and buy pizza at the bakery. We then find a spot in the middle of Pitti Beach and sit on a sarong with our picnic, books and games, a ritual once recorded by a tourist who asked if she could take our photograph. In summer we breakfast in the morning shade, or enjoy a pot of tea in the late afternoon. Ella likes to jump rope and chase paper airplanes, while I enjoy the chance to let my mind wander.
	The setting isn’t very picturesque: cars and Vespas buzz down the one-way street, and the planters surrounding the sidewalk cafés provide the only greenery in sight. But to sit in the full sun, which warms up the stony environment—near to people, but not feeling crowded, as one does in much of Florence—is a good way to pass an hour. The space seems to invite everyone to spread out, oblivious to the traffic, as we simultaneously experience being part of both an impromptu audience and the show itself. Sandwiches and slices of pizza are set on paper-bag placemats, and guidebooks are put aside by tourists taking a break from historic details.
Artists Row ~
     At street level, along the palace’s northern rondò, a line of umbrellas defines the alfresco studios of a number of artists, protecting them from the sun and the rain. Each artist has a different way of interpreting the city and the countryside from which it is carved. One woman paints loosely rendered human figures and Tuscany’s signature red poppies; a character with flowing long white hair produces thickly layered cityscapes with his palette knife; another man highlights the geometry of the city’s famous buildings. I think of this as ‘Artists Row’; collectively their work seems more original than the others I have seen throughout the city.
 Palazzo Pitti, with the Boboli Garden behind  
   (seen from the Cathedral’s bell tower) .
 TOP: The stony landscape of the piazza and palace. ABOVE: The 
   pleasant refuge of the garden behind.
 Drummers and flag throwers from the Corteo Storico.

What to do

- Spend some time relaxing, reading or picnicking on the beach-like piazza.
- Visit one or more of Palazzo Pitti’s museums, which include the Gallery of Modern Art, the Palatine Gallery and Royal Apartments, the Silver Museum and the Costume Gallery.
- Explore the Boboli Garden, which lies behind the palace, then continue on to the Forte di Belvedere and the Bardini Garden if there’s time (follow the signs located in the Boboli Garden).
- Check out the fascinatingly realistic wax models of the human body (which replaced cadavers in the teaching of medicine) at the Zoological Museum, also called La Specola.
- Wander along the Sdrucciolo de’ Pitti, which is lined with unique shops.
~  Piazza de’Pitti ~
 The row of umbrellas marking each artist’s outdoor studio.
Click here for selected excerpts from the Piazza del Duomo chapter.The_Piazzas_of_Florence_In_the_spotlight_Piazza_del_Duomo.htmlshapeimage_30_link_0
Click here for selected excerpts from the Piazza Santo Spirito chapter.The_Piazzas_of_Florence_In_the_Spotlight_Piazza_Santo_Spirito.htmlshapeimage_31_link_0

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