A Palatial Lunch in Florence, a Renaissance City

by Michael Popescu

Duomo Cathedral in Florence
Duomo Cathedral in Florence

On a recent Mediterranean cruise, our cruise ship docked at Italy’s third-largest seaport, Livorno, which serves as a gateway to the cities of Florence (Firenze) and Pisa.

After a bus ride to the center of Florence, on our Florence, Statute of David & Uffizi Museum excursion, we started our day in the heart of the city with a visit first to the main cathedral, Il Duomo – a symbol of the wealth and power of Florence in its golden age of the Renaissance.

Here we admired the graceful Campanile (or Bell Tower) and the Baptistery, decorated with white and green marble, and famed for the relief sculptures on its bronze doors.  A few blocks away was the Galleria dell’Academia museum where we spent the rest of the morning appreciating Michelangelo’s original statue of David.

However, the surprise of our day came at lunchtime as we discovered that we would dine in Palazzo Borghese, on Via Ghilbellina, today a restaurant-hotel and casino, in the heart of ancient Florence.  Just a few steps from Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Borghese is an important example of neoclassical architecture in Tuscany.  The last restoration in 1994 has brought back the palace to its ancient splendor.

Even though its facade is very impressive, I almost did not notice it because the street is very narrow.  But the moment we entered the Palazzo, I was dazzled by its beauty and splendor.  The main stair brought us to the Sala Specchi (the Mirror Room), the ancient bedroom of Paolina Bonaparte.  The room is surrounded by 10 gold large mirrors, framed by golden stuccoes that reflect the light of a multitude of chandeliers, particularly the central one with its 150 torches.

From the Mirror Room, through the Red Room, the Apostle’s Room with an Impero Style fireplace and the Yellow Room, we reached the Galleria Monumentale, the real jewel of the palace.  Two hundred square meters of paintings, stuccos, bas-reliefs, statues and magnificent curtains.  From a central esedra start two wings with barrel vaults surrounded by small terraces where probably, during Paolina’s parties, the orchestra played.

All the rooms were finely furnished, each in a different color.  Corner sofas stuffed with flowered satin and elegant golden wooden consoles perfectly fit with the painted vaults of the rooms.  The Sala del Consiglio is characterized by the “Impero Style” with a fireplace and twelve chairs in the middle with a typical back, that reminded me of ancient meetings.

Our lunch was served in the Sala Specchi and consisted of Lasagna con Pesto, Osso Buco and Tiramisu for dessert, all washed down with Pellegrino and Tuscan red wine.

The lunch was a bit heavy, so it took some focusing on our afternoon visit to the Uffizi Gallery, the city’s renowned art museum, where we viewed a world-class collection, including Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.”  Nearby is the Ponte Vechio, Florence’s most famous bridge, lined with jewelers.

Unfortunately I discovered halfway through the day that my camera stopped working, so although I did recover some of the images, I have to rely primarily on my memory to recapture the magnificent things we saw on this day in Italy’s finest Renaissance city on our Europe cruise.