Before leaving for Italy, I’d talked to many people who had recently visited. I’d studied abroad in Rome, but I am always interested in hearing about the latest things before I go someplace. After talking to everyone, I was surprised by how many people said they loved Florence, but didn’t love Rome. My beloved Rome! What's not to love?
But I can see where they’re coming from. Rome is a proper city. It’s big, dirty, living, and organic. It has thousands of years of rubble and trash. It is sprawled across its seven hills and then some. It has its own distinct rioni and in each neighborhood non contemporaneous structures cramp up against one another. It’s a mishmash of history, people, culture, and architecture. There are the posh fenced-in embassies, devout Church members, foreign nationals of diverse backgrounds, and interspersed tourists, and all this creates a true city. Not many people like cities - the grit, grime, and graffiti. Not many people are impressed by a metro train that creaks and groans and is often late. No one likes getting out of the airport onto a beat-up train and seeing industrial complexes, factories, and run-down apartment buildings whose plaster siding is peeling and patched and coated in multicolor spray paint.
Rome is messy. Rome is real. I get why some people don’t love it. Especially when vacationing, you want to escape daily reality. You want to see something idyllic, preserved, and comforting. Hence why tourists flock to Florence. Firenze, as it’s known in Italian, is as pretty as its name printed on paper. Firenze is clean, impeccably preserved, and pedestrian-friendly in its compact downtown where one alley leads to another historical sight, polished and pressure-washed for admiring eyes.
Firenze is the Disney World of the Renaissance, and if you want to stroll around cobblestone streets for days finding one beautiful and significant work of Renaissance art and architecture after another, then Firenze is the place for you. It embodies one of the founding principles of the Renaissance: the pursuit of the ideal, whether it’s art, food, or Tuscan charm. Gloss over the brutality of Renaissance politics and preserve the sumptuous power of Firenze’s ruling families and the Church and you have exactly what Firenze looks like today: streets swept and washed; merchants and maitre d’s calling out in English, Mandarin, and Italian; leather shops advertising sconti and bargains; and ticket offices where they charge €1 per bathroom visit on every block.
Firenze is like Disney World. It’s nice and neat, and everything you want in a vacation, but I would take Rome any day.