Contemplating Florence

Florence: A Map of Perceptions By Andrea Ponsi University of Virginia Press, 2010

Editorial Staff
June 3, 2010

Andrea Ponsi's Florence: A Map of Perceptions takes an unusual and innovative look at the birthplace of the Renaissance through the eyes of an architect. Ponsi, who has lived both in Florence and in the United States, takes both a personal and professional view of a city in which he settled many years ago but has yet to fully comprehend its ‘magic and mystery.'


Ponsi's ‘perceptions' of Florence are made of both geometry and personal memories. Of the city's geometry, he says, ‘The square, the triangle, the octagon, and the circle: the architecture of Florence can be reduced to these four geometric shapes. Like no other city that I know, Florence is the place of geometry.'


His personal memories are of what Florence once was and what he was as a young man: ‘While sitting on a stone bench in Piazza Santa Croce, I think back to the past and all the times I have sat on this same bench. As a small child, I used to sit here when my parents brought me to Florence to visit some distant relative. In the middle of the piazza the statue of Dante rose from the mass of parked cars...Then I see myself in the early seventies, dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt. I'm not so much seated as draped over this stone bench-a suntanned student watching his friends slice pizza in diagonals with a frisbee. This was possible because Dante had been banished to the damp ground behind the church, where he lay supine. Later, by popular demand, he was cleaned and restored to his pedestal, but moved to a new site right beside the church. I remember a small crowd watching the crane lift him through the air, where he hung suspended, resembling an unskilled tightrope walker, or a vulnerable invalid being helped to a seat.'


 In the book, the author analyzes the city's angles, symmetries and asymmetries, piazzas, palazzos, churches, bridges, green spaces, but he also considers Florence a city of shifting light through the day that changes one's perspective: ‘A certain slant of light. There is a specific time when one should stop to admire the facade of Palazzo Vecchio. This is the moment when the sun's rays strike it from the side, highlighting to the utmost the pattern of its stone blocks. In those few brief moments, the facade, accentuated by the shadows cast by its rough surface, takes on a dazzling three-dimensionality.' For Ponsi, Florence really is a city where ‘every moment is a different moment,' as noted on the book's jacket.


Ponsi likens Florence to a living and breathing body, through whose veins its inhabitants course: ‘Piazza della Repubblica. Downtown Florence is like the torso of a human body. Following this analogy of urban anatomy, Piazza del Duomo corresponds to the heart, the centre of the soul and spirit. Like a heart, its red dome pulsates with life. The head is Piazza Signoria: rational in the clear geometry of the Uffizi buildings; ambitious and powerful in the rocky mass of Palazzo Vecchio and its tower. The belly is what is now Piazza della Repubblica: a place that feels only the stimulus of trade, impregnated with the smell of pastry shops, nineteenth-century cafes, the ice cream of today.' Without a doubt, Florence: A Map of Perceptions is the perfect walking companion to take on a stroll through Florence and is sure to please both long-time residents and new visitors to the city.




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