To the viewer taking in the panoramic views from piazzale Michelangelo, tones of pale tan, burnt amber and earth brown blend the city of Florence into the old-world charm of the Tuscan landscape. Against the neutral buildings, an almost turquoise dome immediately attracts the eye. This color contrast serves as an insight into the entire city.
Although it is most often identified as a ‘favorite color,’ blue has not, historically, been widely evident in Florence. When built in the late 1800s, the Great Synagogue, influenced by Moroccan and Byzantine style, became the only building in Florence with a cerulean-hued top. When something is blue, it draws attention; it exudes a feeling of change and innovation. The lone blue dome evident in the cityscape, therefore, seems a bridge between historic Florence and the future, representing open-mindedness and advancement towards a more modern lifestyle.
To be fair, personal and corporate choice may have nothing to do with why the Florence has such little blue: Italian law dictates that buildings must be warm earth tones to harmonize with the cityscape. In addition, the relatively expensive cost of the pigment makes it a less popular option. Thus, its rarity, combined with my love of the color, makes the blue pop into sight whenever I walk around Florence.
In the painted art on Florence’s buildings—whether directly on the wall of a church or a home, or in one of the centuries-old 1,000-plus tabernacles—the navy and cerulean in biblical scenes, shields of arms and decorative patterns immediately stand out. Cool blue tones are evident in the continued tradition of street art and graffiti as well as in the pasta makers’ uniforms seen in the early mornings, a link to the culture of guilds and artisans.
In 1952, Italy became a founding member of the European Union, signaling an unprecedented stride towards outside perspective. While the green, white and red Italian flag freckles Florence, the azure European Union flag often rests alongside it.
Italians are a highly mobile and active people, and blue is the color of most traffic signs, bicycles and motor vehicles. Even rowers in the Arno River enjoy a cobalt platform floating near the Ponte Vecchio.
Preservation and restoration is central to the ethos of the city that gave birth to the Renaissance. As this mindset expands to include sustainability of the Earth and its resources, bright blue recycling bins now line street corners.
In time, it will be interesting to see what else in Florence is marked by the color blue.