These posts, with my photographs, record our stay in Italy in September. We thoroughly enjoyed it, so we’re sharing our experience. You’ll get the (almost) full story of our travels, activities, and experiences; warts and all, in instalments.
25th September, Tuesday.
We hear reports often these days about places that have been undone by their very popularity. The Uffizi is undoubtedly one such destination. We wandered the streets the short distance to the gallery and queued to exchange our online tickets for those that would actually give us admittance. That took about a quarter of an hour and we were directed, rather dismissively, to join the ‘queue outside’ to gain entry. The people manning that ticket exchange must deal with hundreds of visitors each day. They know exactly what the system is and clearly believe it’s obvious to everyone. It isn’t.
After some wandering and a few questions of people lining up in various places, we discovered the end of ‘our’ queue. For around 45 minutes we remained static, in a chilly breeze unmitigated by the shade of the waiting area. Finally, the line began to move slowly forward, and we discovered the poor souls who hadn’t bought tickets online were part of a longer queue waiting for the opportunity to purchase them, after which they’d have to join another long queue to enter the building.
Security checks were thorough, involving x-ray machines for bags. We were then directed through a shop area where we hoped to obtain some easy guide to the gallery. No such luck. There were various fairly thick glossy guides, in lots of different languages, at high prices, but no straightforward plan to help visitors through the place with its many different rooms. It seems popularity has allowed the custodians to take advantage of tourists and charge high prices on top of the pricey entrance fee (we paid €24 each) merely to find your way around the place. We declined, as did most visitors.
The broad stairs took us up several flights to the top of the building and into a long, wide, gallery corridor, which was the first space for exhibits, with many rooms off along one side.
The vaulted ceiling, high overhead, is decorated with many murals, some of these depicting grotesques and most depicting religiously based subjects, as well as some more down to earth secular themes.
Along the space directly below the ceiling, at the very top of the walls and therefore difficult to view, parallel rows of same-size portraits stare across the space at each other. The bulk of these are of men, and many are of past Popes and Cardinals, which, I suppose, in a Catholic location is unsurprising. But their placement is a puzzle when so much bare wall space remains unused at lower levels.
The more famous works are often effectively inaccessible due to the large number of visitors whose sole intent seems to be to obtain a selfie with the picture in the background. I watched this process for a while and found not a single person employing the mobile phone selfie tactic who actually looked at the pictures.
Various informational plaques are spread out along the displays, giving sparse information about the subjects and their artists. But these are grouped, so one is obliged to wander back and forth to identify which text relates to which piece of art.
Evenly spaced along both sides of the wide corridor are statues of various ages. Almost without exception, these are placed at the foot of, and intruding into, large framed pictures so that neither the sculpture nor the painting can be viewed in isolation. If this is not a deliberate arrangement (with a purpose I can’t fathom) then it’s a sad reflection on the ability of the curators to display works to their best advantage. Again, there’s a vast amount of unused wall space available.
The many rooms off the corridors, of which there are three main ones on each floor, provide space for hundreds of paintings and more sculptures.
There’s a great preponderance of religious subjects, including ikons, and many portraits of various men in the religious hierarchy, again not surprising in a country so loyal to the Pope.
In a couple of instances, I did manage to take a picture with no people present, but that was only because I was quick enough to use the few available seconds to complete the task! As a result, we skipped many of the more popular rooms. I managed glimpses of some of the master works, and even had uninterrupted views of Cranach’s ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ which I hadn’t realised were life sized. Other works I’d thought to be large, turned out to be small.
I’d hoped to be able to spend some short time viewing the paintings, to get some idea of the artists’ working methods and to see details impossible to view on small reproductions, but the selfie-monsters were ubiquitous and in great numbers, so I barely got the chance to study any of these works.
We travelled all three corridors until we found ourselves at the point where the restaurant resides, selling refreshments at inflated prices. From here there were signs for the exit and, frankly, we’d had enough of the constant crowds and inability to really view anything properly, so decided to leave.
I had, through a mixture of good luck and quick action, managed to take a remarkable number of pictures in the odd few seconds between the waves of visitors. As we made our way down, we found signs pointing to Bernini and Caravaggio, two artists whose work I had really hoped to see.
We followed the signs along endless corridors, through many other rooms, and eventually found their work. Again, the opportunities to properly view them were sparse due to selfie-monsters. But there were good chances to picture the city through the windows from time to time.
I don’t want to give the impression that the visit to the Uffizi was a waste of time, but it was disappointing. When a place exhibiting such numbers of masterworks is allowed to become so crowded that viewing the works is virtually impossible, it becomes a wasted opportunity that satisfies only selfie-monsters. No doubt this raises much-needed funds for the gallery, but it leaves those wanting a real experience sadly frustrated. Time, I think, for such places to consider limiting the numbers admitted at any time, not by price, as that would be elitist and unjust, but by allowing only so many people in, on a first-come-first-served basis.
Finally, we came to what appeared to be the exit and we were eager to be free of the madness. No such luck. The way out is fed through a maze of shops selling everything from expensive, high-quality art books of various sizes (those I’d have loved would’ve meant tossing away most of my clothes to allow them into the luggage on the flight home!) to every sort of cheap tat you can imagine.
We eventually stumbled from the gallery into bright sunshine and headed for Pizzaria Dante for some much-needed beer and lunch. We enjoyed our lunch and then took a route along toward the Ponte A Vespucci, where it looked as though there might be a way to access a pathway beside the water. We had to get to that by going through a trattoria but found our way down and then walked along the wide path.
I’d been intrigued by a basket-weave dog, made from driftwood, that sat above the weir here and wanted to gain a closer look. We were able to get quite close, passing a couple of sunbathers along the way, taking advantage of the stonework as a platform for their sun worship.
We spent the rest of the day close to the river, until it was time to return to our room, so Valerie could finish the small amount of packing ready for the following morning. Dinner was back at Ristorante Toto, where we again had a good meal, this time content to have no company apart from our own, though the place was as busy as ever.