Down the length of Italy like the back of a sea monster is a ridge of mountains called the Apennines. To get from one side of Italy to the other side you have to go over, under, or through these Apennine Mountains, and trains do all three; over, under, through, winding in and out of one tunnel after another. There are forty-five tunnels in going just from Venice to a city across the Apennines called Florence.
Florence is a girl's name meaning "flowering," but Florence is also the name of this city. As the train comes into Florence it curves around the city and you see above the housetops, near the center of the city, a large dome that looks like the hub of a wheel about which the train is turning. Next to the dome is a big, square tower. Both the tower and the dome were built before Columbus was born. The dome looks like the dome of St. Paul's in London, but, as a matter of fact, this dome is not like St. Paul's. The dome of St. Paul's is like it, and so is the dome of the Capitol in Washington like it, and so are all the other domes of that kind in the World like it, for this dome in Florence was the first one of that kind ever built and all others are copies.
Little domes and flat domes had been built before, but when the people of Florence were building a cathedral they wanted a different kind of dome on it, a dome that would be bigger and better than any other dome i. t. w. W. They wanted a dome so big that no one knew how to build it. Now a dome is built out of pieces of stone, and the stones have to cover a space beneath without falling, just like a bridge or an arch. No cement is strong enough to stick stones together so that they will not fall when placed across an open space, but if the stones can be held up by some wooden framework until every stone is in place, the wooden framework underneath can then be taken away and the stones will not fall, for all the stones push downward at the same time, and as all push downward together they get wedged in so tight that none can fall through. It is like a jam of people all trying at once to get through a door: they get so wedged in that none can go through.
But the dome on the Cathedral of Florence was to be so big no one knew how to hold it up while it was being built. It would have taken a whole forest of trees to build a big enough framework underneath. Some one said, "Let's pile up a mountain of dirt and put pennies all through the dirt, then build the dome on top of this mountain. After the dome has been built people will cart away the dirt in order to get the money out of the dirt and that will leave the dome standing alone." But this very foolish scheme was never tried.
At last two artists who were rivals said they knew a way to build the dome, but neither one would tell how he would do it. One artist was named Brunelleschi. As Brunelleschi is such a long name, I'm going to call him Mr. B. for short. The other artist was named Ghiberti, and I shall call him Mr. G. Mr. B. got the job and Mr. G. was made his helper. Mr. G. didn't like to be only a helper, so he went about saying that Mr. B. did not really know how to build the dome at all, and would never finish it.
Mr. B. and his men went on with the work for some time, until the sides of the dome reached the place where the stones had to be built over the center to cover the vast space beneath. This was the hard part, for the sides of the dome had to meet in the middle with nothing underneath to hold them up. Mr. G. kept on with his talking against Mr. B. , and even made fun of him, until Mr. B. , tired of being nagged in this way, made believe he was sick and stopped work. Time went on and Mr. B. staid home-still sick-and the dome stood unfinished. Mr. G. said, "Oh, Mr. B. isn't really sick; he is only making believe he is sick-as a school-boy sometimes does-because he doesn't know how to go on." So the people of Florence went to Mr. B. 's house and begged him to go on with the dome.
"I'm sick," said Mr. B. "Mr. G. knows so much about building a dome, let him go on with it."
So the people went back to Mr. G. and told him to go ahead. Then Ghiberti tried, but he was able to go only a little way and couldn't go any farther.
So then the people went back to Brunelleschi again.
"If you'll make that Ghiberti keep still and not say another word," said Mr. B. , "I will go on as I started," and he did, finishing the first and one of the most beautiful domes of its kind i. t. w. W. , and no one to this day knows exactly how he did it.
Although Ghiberti was such a poor "sport," he was, however, a great sculptor. Right across the street from the cathedral with the dome which Brunelleschi built is a low, six-sided building called a baptistery, because they baptized children there. The doors of this baptistery are made of bronze, and on these doors Ghiberti made bronze figures and scenes of some of the Bible stories. One of these pictures in bronze shows Abraham about to sacrifice his son on the altar as he was told to do by God.
"They are fit to be the gates to Paradise!" said another great Florentine artist when he saw these doors. The artist who said this was named Michelangelo, and he lived in Italy at the same time as Columbus. Columbus was never at home; he was away from Italy almost all his life, discovering new countries. But Michelangelo never left Italy; he stayed at home. He spent his whole life there making beautiful drawings, paintings, sculptures, and buildings, for an artist in those days did every kind of artistic work, from making necklaces to churches, as well as painting and sculpture.
One day Michelangelo found a block of marble which some one had thrown away because it had a crack in it. Michelangelo said that he saw in this block of marble the figure of young David, so he set to work with his chisel and cut the figure of the young shepherd boy out of the marble. In Florence there are two huge copies of this statue several times bigger than a man, and in thousands of other places in the World there are small copies in plaster, and you may have one of these copies in your own home.
Many of these beautiful works of art are kept in buildings that used to be palaces. The palaces in Florence look more like prisons than palaces.
They were built that way, not to keep people in, but to keep people out. In olden times rich families lived in these palaces, and they were not good neighbors, for one family frequently quarreled or fought with another, so the palaces had to be strong as forts.
There are no water streets in Florence like those in Venice, but through Florence flows a river called the Arno, and across it are several bridges. On one of these bridges, called the Ponte Vecchio, which means the Old Bridge, are shops as on the Rialto in Venice. Most of the shops sell ornaments and souvenirs made out of silver, mosaic, leather, and tortoiseshell, for this is the kind of art work that present-day Florentines make to sell to the thousands of travelers that visit the city.
Towers are built to stand erect-straight up and down-as boys and girls are. But not far from Florence is a city named Pisa, which has a very peculiar tower that leans to one side. It is called the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The tower was built to stand straight, but the foundation has sunk on one side, so that the tower slants over as if it were going to fall. It has stood that way for hundreds of years, but is gradually leaning more and more, and if it cannot be stopped, some day it will fall.
You remember I told you that marble was made from the bones of sea animals; but all marble is not alike-some is so coarse you can even see the bones in the stone. But near Pisa are stone mines called quarries, from which are cut blocks of stone of a very fine and smooth kind of marble called from the name of the place, Carrara. Ever since the time of Christ men have been cutting out blocks of marble from these quarries, and people send all the way to Carrara from this country and other countries when they want especially fine marble for a building or a mantel or a piece of sculpture.