Taking a cab from the airport to our hotel in Florence was like riding in a magical time machine. We began in unremarkable suburbs with McDonalds and other hallmarks of globalization, but as we approached the historic center, we began to see older buildings, arches, narrower streets. At one point, we started to catch glimpses of the great red cathedral dome which dominates the Florentine skyline, stirring anticipation, like kids seeing the Matterhorn and knowing Disneyland is near. When the cab pulled through an archway through an ancient wall into the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, the time transport was complete. We were in a broad square stone-lined piazza, mostly blocked off from car traffic, surrounded on all sides by 15th and 16th century buildings in High Renaissance style. The square was mostly open and quiet, its most prominent feature a patinaed equestrian statue to one side, and two fountains. Not grand fountains, but the sort you imagine the residents of bygone centuries would come up to fill their water jugs from. On three sides, the piazza is bounded by buildings with loggias that run the width of the piazza. A "loggia" is a classically Italian architectural feature, a semi-enclosed corridor running along the front of a building, defined by columns and arches and open to the air in front. In fact, it turns out these may be the definitive loggias. When I just looked "loggia" up in Wikipedia, it shows a photo of the Ospedale degli Innocenti, designed by the great Brunelleschi himself in the early 1400s, which is one of the three buildings on this piazza. The form is very graceful and courtly, and the Florentines were so impressed by it that when Antonio da Sangallo the Elder designed a monastery for the Servi di Maria order on the opposite side of the piazza in the 1520s, he made it with a similar loggia. And likewise for the church that forms the north side of the piazza when it added a new façade.
It was in front of the 1520 Servite monastery where the cab let us off, as that building has been renovated into a lovely hotel where we stayed the next three nights. Inside the Loggiato dei Serviti, the Renaissance charm has been preserved. Exposed beams, arches and niches with paintings and flowers adorn the halls and stairs, with common sitting rooms and reading rooms here and there making it feel like a large residence rather than a hotel. Amidst the old world feel, a few modern amenities (elevators, refrigerators, blow driers) have been thoughtfully added. Our third floor room featured a canopy bed, some classic wooden furniture, ceilings beautifully painted in intricate patterns, and a window overlooking that beautiful Renaissance piazza. A bouquet of fresh flowers and a bottle of sparkling wine in a silver ice bucket made for an elegant welcoming touch. We would enjoy our charming room and hospitable hotel staff quite a bit over the weekend.
(Check out highlights of our photos from Florence, or the complete set of first day pics on Flickr.)