During the height of summer, a pre-purchased ticket is a godsend and the only sane way to visit the Uffizi Gallery, one of the world’s oldest and most famous art museums and, arguably, Florence’s top tourist attraction.
If it wasn’t for the invention of pre-purchasing, I’d be fanning myself with a guidebook or propping up a marble column along with the rest of the crowd, dying in 30 degree heat.
An hour to visit 45 rooms of art
I’m en route to Naples so I allow myself an hour and a half which, according to the art world, is a crime punishable by death. Six hours spread over a few days is the recommended length.
I approach an attendant dressed like Mussolini who’s commanding his own little war. “You, this queue, 10 minutes!”, he barks.
Understandably staff are a little militant. In 1993 a car bomb explosion caused irreparable damage to parts of the Gallery and killed five people but since then security has been tightened. No one was ever arrested for the bomb incident, though fingers tended to point, as they normally do in Italy, towards the Mafia.
“I hope this is worth it,” an older Australian man grumbles to his wife. I’m beginning to agree. Already one and a half hours is fast approaching one hour.
We shuffle into the security area. A thorough bag search now occurs. Anyone’s ideas of smuggling in gelignite toothpaste and blowing up a Leonardo are about to be thwarted.
Forces of nature inside the Uffizi
But, before I inspect any art, I need to find room 36; the toilets. Queuing has that effect on me, plus a last minute decision to drink the entire contents of my water bottle as they wouldn’t allow it in.
A month and a half before my visit the Uffizi Gallery was again subjected to damage but this time by natural forces. A particularly violent rainstorm caused the ceiling to leak and the Gallery was partially flooded. Everyone had to be evacuated. Hopefully I won’t cause a repeat performance.
The Gallery’s ‘uffizi’
Forty-five grand ‘uffizi’ (offices) run off the three corridors. These were initially administration offices for Florentine magistrates and were where the Medici family haphazardly displayed their enormous collection of paintings and sculptures over the years. Now the inter-connecting rooms are arranged in chronological order, 13th to the 18th century.
I find Room 36 which houses “the ladies” where, not surprisingly, there’s another queue. I decide I may as well hold on. Out and back to the opposite corridor and through a maze of rooms with so many paintings I can’t take it all in. There’s so much to see that hiring an audio-guide or joining a tour would’ve been wise.
Uffizi Gallery and its renaissance art
Moving like an automaton through the popular Renaissance rooms, which include works from artists Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli and Michelangelo, there’s nothing for it but to hope I absorb culture by osmosis.
Hovering at the back of a studious looking group, I strain to understand rapid fire Italian. All I pick up is ‘cucina’ yet there’s brief enlightenment when looking up at the ceiling. A fresco of a woman with a goose surrounded by vegetables in her ‘cucina’ – kitchen. Yet hoping for a translation is futile, it’s time to go.
The Uffizi Gallery workout
Heading back to where I came in, I encounter another militant attendant who says firmly, ‘Madam, this is not the exit’. ‘Yes but I just need to go downstairs…’. ‘Madam, the exit is in the opposite corridor by room 36’. It seems once you’ve been let into the Uffizi it’s even harder to leave.
So I sprint, almost the entire horseshoe length of the Uffizi again, to the room with the toilets (where there’s still a queue) and down half a dozen flights of stairs.
Then through an additional exhibition of Medici paintings and through a small gift shop where, like the other 11,999 tourists that day, I buy a reproduction of La Primavera.
I vow next time I’ll be queuing at dawn like the rest of them and investing in a 6 hour guided tour (in english), meanwhile I have some more pressing business. Like really needing to find a ladies.