FLORENCE

Florence or Firenze as it is called in Italian, is one of the most visited cities in Italy. The city is in the heart of Tuscany and is a Renaissance city. It has Italy’s best museums, magnificent cathedrals and churches and beautiful buildings dotting the busy streets and squares.

You may know that Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance, but it’s not until you’re standing in a room surrounded by Botticelli masterpieces, or in awe of Michelangelo’s flawlessly-sculpted David, or under the perfection of Brunelleschi’s Duomo that you can truly appreciate what that means. Florence is so steeped in art and culture that the city itself serves as a living museum – one so beautiful, it’s literally been known to make people dizzy

The Chianti area, between Florence and Siena, is one of the most beautiful country sides in Italy and a famous wine production area.

How to Reach Florence

By Air
Located 4 km from the centre of Florence is the Aeroporto di Firenze, commonly known as the Aeroporto Amerigo Vespucci or Peretola. It is reachable in 15 minutes by taxi and 20 minutes by Sita/Ataf “Fly by Bus”, between the airport and Santa Maria Novella railway station. If you are arriving directly from an international destination, you will be most probably arriving at the Galileo Galilei airport.

By Rail

The central station of Florence is called Santa Maria Novella, in the northwest corner of central Florence. Many internet cafés and stores are located in the station.

If you’re looking to use Florence as a base for travel to other Tuscany or Umbria hill-town destinations, often the best public transportation option is the extensive Bus service.

When to Visit?
Tourists fill the narrow lanes of Renaissance Firenze in the summer months of July and August. Spring (April and May) or autumn (September and October) are less crowded and is the best time to visit Florence. Easter is another occasion when the city has tourists. November can be ok if you bring warm clothes and expect some rain.

Museums and Tours tips:
Summer season sees Florence busy with tourists and the ticket lines are often long. But, advance booking can save you much time, for a price. All museums are closed on Mondays.

PLACES OF INTEREST

Duomo (Cattedrale Di Santa Maria Del Fiore)

The Duomo, the most iconic landmark of Florence, is also known as the Cathedral of St Mary of Flower. The colossal edifice is crowned by a red-tiled cupola, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The construction began in 1296 by the Sienese architect Arnolfo di Cambio and took close to 150 years. It was consecrated only in 1436.

Brunelleschi’s dome, being an ingenious engineering marvel, is the central piece of attraction. Wooden centring and scaffolding, which were the traditional methods of dome construction were rendered impossible due to the sheer size of the space it would occupy and the height from the ground it would be constructed on. New building methods and the equipment (a novel scaffolding method, for instance) which would be used in the implementation were all designed by Brunelleschi. The dome has a unique style that is seen in very few other domes. The construction began in 1420. Brunelleschi actually built two domes, one inside the other, connecting them with ribbing, stretching across the empty space in between. This reduced the weight of the structure. A new method of bricklaying was also adopted by him, based on an ancient herringbone pattern, interlocking every course of bricks with the one below, which has made the structure self-supporting. It was engineering breakthrough of the time. Most of the later domes of Europe, including the one of St. Peter’s in Rome, were built by this method. Today, Duomo symbolises Florence in the same way that Eiffel Tower stands for Paris.

Campanile – Bell Tower

The bell tower Campanile is in Piazza del Duomo. The first storey of this tower was designed by Giotto, after whom it was named. There are 414 stairs and no elevators! Entry is ticketed. The view of the city from up the tower is breath-taking.

St John’s Baptistery

In front of the Duomo, in the religious centre of the city, is the Baptistery of Saint John, one of the monuments that most represents the civic identity of Florence: it was the heart of the Republic, celebrating its wealth and prestige as it glorified the city’s patron saint.

There are many traditions connected with the cult of the Baptist: during celebrations of the patron saint, for example, the splendid silver altar is adorned with precious ornaments. It is also customary to liberate prisoners held in city hall, as long as they are first consecrated to the Saint as spoils of war.

It is a large, grandiose and imposing building. Though the architectural language is simple, the resulting form is one of absolute beauty, almost metaphysical. The floor plan is, as in all baptisteries, octagonal. The number eight assumes special meaning in the Christian faith: Christ is said to have risen again on the eighth day to live eternally – an image that, ever since the first Christians, has been associated with the ritual of baptism.

The creation of the three bronze doors of the Baptistery, ranged along the four cardinal directions, are a memorable phase of the history of the monument and of the story of art in general.

Humanity’s history and redemption is written on the three doors: it is like a gigantic bible to be read starting with the central door depicting the Old Testament, followed by the southern door and the story of the Baptist, and finally the northern door that illustrates the stories of Christ.

A decision to replace the old wooden doors was made during the 1300s: Florence followed Pisa’s example. Pisa had, at the end of the preceding century, already ordered the spectacular doors of its baptistery from the artist Bonanno Pisano.

The first door, from 1300, visible today on the south side, is the work of Andrea Pisano,

It is with the creation of the second door that the Baptistery claimed a special place in the history of art, thanks to the work of the most famous of 15th century goldsmiths: Lorenzo Ghiberti.

The Florentine Lorenzo Ghiberti was the winner of the renowned competition of 1401 set up to decide the architect for the decoration of the door that, today, is found on the north side of the building. The event, probably the first public art competition in history, signalled the birth of the Renaissance. Six participants started, but only two finished: Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi. After some controversy, it was Ghiberti who won: Brunelleschi’s style was considered too modern and anyway, his technique would have been too expensive.

Door of Paradise

The successful design won the artist an opportunity to design the third and last one of the three doors. It became a Renaissance icon and a reference point for an entire generation of artists.

Story of Joseph on one of the panels of Door of Paradise
Struck by its beauty, Michelangelo was the first who called it the Door of Paradise. We still know the door by the same name. It is one of Ghiberti’s finest masterpiece, taking him 27 years to complete it. He installed the last panels when he was in his seventies. The phenomenal success of the Door of Paradise won it the place of honour, and was placed in the doorway across from the Duomo.

Galleria degli Uffizi

Occupying a huge U-shaped building, the Palazzo delgi Uffizi was built between 1560 and 1580 and houses the world’s greatest collection of Italian Renaissance art and is Florence’s premier gallery. The Medici family bequeathed the collection to the city in 1743 on the condition that it never leaves Florence. It contains some of Italy’s best-known paintings, including Piero della Francesco’s profile portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino and a roomful of masterpieces by Sandro Botticelli.

Awesome art including painting from Italian and foreign schools, from the middle ages to the 18th century, are housed in the museum. It begins with Cimabue of the 1200s and ends in the last room with Tiepolo, Canaletto and Guardi. The incomparable selection of Florentine and Italian Renaissance pieces with some of the extraordinary pieces of da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Piero della Francesca and Paolo Uccello, are also on exhibit. The largest collection of Botticelli’s masterpieces, including the Birth of Venus and the famous ‘Spring’ are also on view.

Displayed in chronological order, the world renowned collection spans the entire range of art history from ancient Greek sculpture to 18th century Venetian paintings, the most important of it being the Renaissance collection.

The best time to visit the Uffizi is late afternoon when the crowds are minimal. The fee is Euro 4. Tickets can also be booked in advance by phone, online, or at the Uffizi reservation booth in Florence, a day prior your visit. The confirmation number needs to be produced at the door at the museum, marked ‘Reservations’. Earlier, visitors were ushered immediately, but overbooking, especially in peak season, has led to long queues, even with a reservation. Taking photographs in the Uffizi has been made legal since 2014.

Galleria dell’ Academia

A true lover of art, Pietro Leopoldo, the grand duke of Lorena, decided to bring all the art schools in Florence under one roof, thus initiating the establishment of the first Fine Arts Academy in the city, at the end of the 1700s. An exposition gallery was added to one of the rooms, used as a hospital, of the two ancient convents. This place was designed to show students, works of the masters of the past, for them to practice and study art.

As works from the Florence school are the only true examples perfection, they were chosen for teaching purposes. The choice was limited to the Renaissance, when Florence held the record for Art.

The collection has grown hugely, over the years. Today, the gallery is a massive museum exhibiting fine masterpieces. The Musical Instrument Museum became part of the complex in 1996.

An interesting collection of musical instruments are on exhibit too, that was begun by the Medici family, in the Florence’s Galleria dell’ Academia, besides paintings and sculptures from the 13th to 16th centuries. In addition to the Florentine paintings dating from the 13th to the 18th centuries, the sculptures by Michelangelo, make the visit truly worthwhile. Michelangelo’s unfinished ‘Slaves’, fighting their way out of their marble prisons, was a piece meant for the tomb of his patron Pope Julius II (1443 – 1513).

The most famous work of art in the Accademia Michelangelo’s famous sculpture, David.

Michelangelo’s David

The Renaissance’s iconic masterpiece is Michelangelo’s David. There is always a long queue at entrance of this gallery. The veins in his sinewy arms, the leg muscles and the change in the expression as you move around the statue marks its maker’s amazing attention to subtle details. The sculpture was carved from a single block of marble. It was Michelangelo’s most challenging work as he did not choose the marble and it was also veined.

Michelangelo was not even thirty when he sculpted David. But he was already famous with his well-known works like the Tondo Doni that is on exhibit in the Uffizi. Pope Giulio II called him back to Rome once David was an astounding success. It is for this Pope that Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel later.

Michelangelo finished David in three years, a work that would enhance is stature as the greatest sculptor of Florence, ever. In 1504, the Florentines witnessed an incomparable masterpiece, 4 ½ meters high and the only large nude sculpture made after ancient Greek times.
David, the boy warrior, is depicted as a strapping young man, was placed on a pedestal in front of Palazzo Vecchio on Piazza della Signoria, and the Florentines adopted him as an emblem of Florentine power, liberty and pride.

The Accademia is thronged by visitors from all over the world. Reserving tickets in advance is recommended to avoid a long wait in the queue. Following an attack on the statue in 1991 by a self-proclaimed art anarchist, who hammered minor nicks on David’s toes, the statue is now surrounded by a Plexiglas barrier. The statue, seeming alive with its poise and grace, is considered to be embodiment of High Renaissance perfection.

Piazza della Signoria

The two masterpieces that would define Florentine art would be Brunelleschi’s dome and Piazza della Signoria.

A series of historical events from the second half of the 13th century led to the creation of this L-shaped Piazza. In the early days of Florence, two warring factions, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, were fighting against each other. When the Guelphs took control finally, they destroyed 36 houses and towers of their rivals that were initially standing in this area and forbid people from building anything. Salt was strewn all over the land to make it barren.

As opposed to the religious centre that developed around the cathedral, Piazza della Signoria has been the symbol of civic life in the city, ever since its early times.

Piazza della Signoria is an art salon par excellence, and is also where the city’s history unfolds in all its glory with the figure of David, Palazzo Vecchio, the treasures of Loggia dei Lanzi and the elegance of the Uffizi. Loggia della Signoria houses some important statues including a replica of David.

Palazzo Vecchio

The huge Palazzo Vecchio rises above the Piazza with its crenelated tower. It is an example of civilian architecture that developed in Italian Comunes, where the city government was almost as equal in stature as the city cathedral. It was built in end of the 13th century to house the public administration.

The purposely sober, but powerful design effectively conveys the values of justice and solidity of the republican government. The Palazzo continues to be an important symbol for the later generations also.

The medieval Palazzo Vecchio, the townhall of Florence, has been the city’s political centre since the middle ages. Ornate public rooms and private apartments are housed in the palazzo and allows ml visitors.

Santa Croce

The church is Gothic and its façade dates back to the 19th century, like the Duomo. Most of the Renaissance celebrities are buried here. To the front right of the basilica is the tomb of Michelangelo, who is said to have chosen this spot, so that, on Judgement day, when the graves of dead are believed to open, the view of Brunelleschi’s dome through Santa Croce’s open doors, would be the first thing he would see! The left wall has the tomb of Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642), who was not granted a Christian burial until 100 years after his death, because of his controversial contention about Earth not being the centre of the universe, which went against the Christian beliefs. The tomb of the political theoretician, Niccolo Machiavelli (1469 – 1527), whose pragmatic philosophy that influenced the Medici, is halfway down the nave on the right. At the end of the nave to the right, is the tomb of the composer Gioacchino Rossini (1792 – 1868). Lorenzo Ghiberti, creator of the Baptistery doors, is buried halfway down the nave, to the left. The greatest Italian poet, Dante Alighieri’s (1265 – 1321), is more a memorial than a tomb (he is buried in Ravenna), which is on the right wall near Michelangelo’s tomb.

Famous for its stained glass windows and frescos, the church houses an exquisite collection of art that is the most valuable of those at any church in Florence. The works found here, are the Giotto frescoes in the two chapels, to the right of the high altar. Brunelleschi’s Cappella dei Pazzi is in Santa Croce. Donatello’s Annunciation, 14th century frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi (circa 1300 – 1366) illustrating scenes from the life of Virgin Mary, with the influence of Giotto (at the end of the right transept in the chapel) and Donatello’s Crucifix, are among the other highlights of the church.

Admission includes the museum and tours given by volunteers.

Ponte Vecchio

Built in 1345, the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge), was Florence’s first bridge across the Arno River. It is the only surviving medieval bridge. Other bridges were destroyed in World War II. The bridge is lined with shops that sell gold and silver jewelry, just like it was in earlier days. The view of the Arno River is spectacular from this bridge.

Spanning the narrowest point of the Arno river, it doesn’t look like a bridge, because of the many overhanging shops. The bridge is the entrance point to the city of Florence from Cassia road. It is made of wood and stone and dates back to the Roman era! Until the 1300s, the bridge underwent two reconstructions due to the floods.

The final one was a revolutionary transformation. Unlike the Roman technique, it was held up by segmental arches to prevent the road surface from bowing excessively. The bridge is preserved well to this day, thanks to this architectural feat!

The uniqueness of the bridge lies in its multi-purpose service. It serves not just as a bridge but also as a road, a market place and a piazza, developed chaotically over centuries, defying the powerful river as well as the laws of physics!

Pitti Palace

The sheer size of the Pitti palace makes it the largest palazzo in Florence. Fit for a king, its imposing architecture has been a model for most of the royal mansions from Vienna to Madrid and from St. Petersburg to Paris.

The history of Pitti palace is said to have begun in the 1400s, from the rivalry of the two families of Florence, the Pittis and the Medicis. Legend has it that the rich banker Luca Pitti appointed Brunelleschi and chose a project of his that had been earlier turned down by Cosimo, the elder Medici, because of its size and cost.

The construction began in mid-1400s and the palace was the largest and most opulent of that time, becoming a model for every Renaissance building built then on, not just in Florence.

The Pitti family, however, were forced to sell the palace, burdened with debts, a century later. The mansion was bought by Medicis and who made it their official residence. They hired the architect Bartolomeo Ammannati to enlarge the space and complete the construction. The increased space within, made it the grandest palace Florence had in the late Renaissance.

The beautiful Raphaels, Titians and other art objects and furnishings collected by the Medicis, make the visit an incredible experience. Some of the main museums of the city are based here and in Boboli Gardens, the magnificent park, that is a prototype of all Italian-style gardens.

Boboli Garden

Across the Ponte Vecchio is the Giardino di Boboli. It is a big hillside park in the middle of Florence behind the Pitti Palace.

It boasts of beautiful gardens and fountains and a spectacular view of Florence from the Forte Belvedere. It is open daily at 8:15 am (with an exception of some winter Mondays). Closing times are seasonal.

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