Things to Do in Florence - page 2
Palazzo Strozzi may not be one of Florence's most popular museums, but those in the know say this fine example of Renaissance architecture is a must-see spot in Italy for art, history and Italian culture. What was constructed during the late 1400s as a residence for the Strozzi family, later became one of the largest temporary exhibition spaces in the city, drawing private collections from across the globe to the halls of this Florence destination.
In addition to galleries and halls jam-packed with ancient art, frescos and contemporary design, Palazzo Strozzi offers travelers and locals new and unique ways to engage with art. The scenic courtyard hosts free concerts, movie nights and cultural activities in warmer months, while permanent touch-screen installations showcase the history of the museum for those interested in learning more.
In a corner square of Florence, Loggia dei Lanzi is an open-air museum containing some of the world’s greatest works of art. Known most for its collection of Renaissance art statues, which many consider to be masterpieces, it contains works such as Cellini’s Perseus, Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women, and an ancient Roman statue of Menelaus that used to be part of the Ponte Vecchio.
Originally intended to be a space for public ceremonies, construction on the area began in 1376. It was designed in a late Gothic style, a predecessor to the emerging Renaissance style. It is named for the Swiss personal guards (‘lanzi’) of emperor Cosimo I, who were once encamped here. The loggia opens to the street under three wide arches, seamlessly integrating with the rest of the city. The arches are supported by Corinthian capital, creating a canopy over the sculptures. It remains completely free and open to the public.
The most famous bridge in Florence is the Ponte Vecchio, or old bridge, dating from the mid-14th century. But just downstream from the Ponte Vecchio is another beautiful bridge, the favorite of many Florentines - the Ponte Santa Trinita.
Although Italy and Germany were allies during World War II, Nazi troops destroyed every single bridge in Florence spanning the Arno except for one - the Ponte Vecchio. The Ponte Santa Trinita was turned to rubble. When the bridge was rebuilt in 1958, some of the stones used were from Ammanati’s 16th century bridge, recovered from the Arno after the war. The rest of the stones were quarried from the same place Ammanati went to get stone in 1567. Even the statues of the four seasons were recovered from the river, although the statue of “Spring” remained headless until her head was found in the river in 1961.
Central Florence is split by the Arno River. The main sights - the Duomo, the Uffizi, the Accademia - are on one side of the river, while the neighborhood known as the Oltrarno is on the other. “Oltrarno” actually means “beyond the Arno,” or “the other side of the Arno.”
Among the attractions in the Oltrarno are the massive Pitti Palace, to which the ruling Medici family moved after leaving their residence in the Palazzo Vecchio, and the sprawling Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti. You can also visit the Santo Spirito Basilica (designed by Brunelleschi, who designed the cathedral’s famous dome) and the church of Santa Maria del Carmine (with the fantastic Brancacci Chapel and its Filippino Lippi frescoes). Keep going through the flatter part of the Oltrarno and you’ll eventually head up staircases and narrow streets into the hills overlooking the city. You know that postcard view you keep seeing all over town? You can see it for yourself from the Piazzale Michelangelo.
At first just a busy square and basilica in the middle of Florence, at a closer glance the church and museum reveals much about the city. It was decreed to the Dominicans in 1287 by the Florentine Republic, to decorate as the new church was being built on site. The piazza quickly became a popular public gathering place, home to artists, theater, festivals, tournaments, and more. It later became the sight of the carriage race, or Giambologna show, which took place between the basilica and the Hospital of San Paulo.
Today the piazza remains central to Florentine life. It faces the intricately designed green and white marble facade of the basilica, which was built in the 13th and 15th centuries and is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance art. As it was recently renovated and surrounded with hotels and restaurants, it is popular with visitors as well — particularly at night when the square is spectacularly lit up.
Although Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265 and lived in the neighborhood, he never actually occupied the building now known as ‘Dante’s House’, a 14th-century labyrinthine townhouse with a small museum attached that is filled with reproduction memorabilia dedicated to the great Italian poet. There is a model of 13th-century Florence, a reconstruction of Dante’s bedroom, illustrations of his poems and reproductions of early manuscripts of his magnum opus The Divine Comedy, which was written after he was banished from Florence for backing the wrong side in political intrigue. As an exile from his home city, he was forced to wander around northern Italy for several years before ending his days in Ravenna in 1321. Although there is nothing on display that actually belonged to Dante, the museum does a decent job of recreating his life and times and goes some distance to explain the convoluted political system of the era.
Housed in the medieval splendor of Florence’s Palazzo della Podestà – once a barracks and subsequently the city’s courts of justice – the National Museum opened in 1865 and showcases an abundance of glorious Renaissance artworks. As befits the oldest public building in the city, it has a fortified façade and a maze-like interior with fine halls, balconies and loggias overlooking an arcaded courtyard with walls smothered by the coats of arms of medieval aristocracy. Displayed in a series of vast apartments are collections of medieval gold work, 16th-century weaponry, a series of bronze animals made for the Medici family and hand-crafted tapestries, but the undoubted star of the Bargello’s collection is the statuary from big names of the Italian Renaissance, which has its birth in Florence. On display are the bronze relief panels created by Brunelleschi and Ghiberti when they were competing for the commission of the baptistery doors in Florence duomo (cathedral) in 1401.
The Medici chapels (Cappelle Medicee) are two architectural gems flanking the Basilica of San Lorenzo in the heart of central Florence. Brunelleschi designed the basilica for the Medici family in the 1400s, and it became the family church and mausoleum.
The New Sacristy is the more famous of the basilica's two chapels. Designed by Michelangelo, it stars his reclining funerary statues, Night and Day, Dawn and Dusk. The simple design features a somber color scheme of gray and white.
The tall domed Princes' Chapel is a riot of multicolored marbles and semi-precious gems, filled with carved niches, statues and armorial plaques. The chapels' richly carved tombs are empty, as the deceased Medicis now lie in the crypt beneath.
Pop inside the basilica to see Donatello's pulpits, the cloisters and the famously sweeping steps designed by Michelangelo leading to the Laurenziana Medicea Library.
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This ancient home grants a peek into history going back to the Middle Ages, and is a way to experience the wealthy merchant homes of the Renaissance era. It was built by the Davizzi family in the mid-14th century and later purchased by the Davanzatis in the 16th century. With three towers and five stories, it is decorated from floor to ceiling — complete with period furniture and frescoed walls. There are both medieval and Renaissance architectural elements, allowing for a comparison of the two styles and the history of the transition.
The traditional layout of the home makes it a magnificent example of a medieval Florentine home. Some of its highlights include a central courtyard, stone and wood staircase, and underground gallery. Historic art, lace, furnishings and even coats-of-arms throughout the palace demonstrate the trends and styles as they have progressed through the ages.
Florence is a city filled with quaint squares, picturesque landscapes and plenty of old-world architecture that’s ripe with European charm. This is particularly true amid its famous squares, and travelers agree that few are as beautiful as Piazza della Santissima Annunziata.
A massive bronze statue of Ferdinando I de’Medici on horseback stands at the center of the square, with two notably strange fountains on either side. Visitors can relax in the sun and lounge as locals wind through the square on a busy afternoon, or duck into the Santissima Annunziata church, which was built in the 15th century and gave the square its name. Ospedale deli Innocenti—the oldest orphanage on the continent—also flanks the square and offers travelers a unique opportunity to explore the city’s past. Ceramic glazed reliefs of swaddled newborns line the façade and visitors can check out the circular stone where women could leave their unwanted newborns without fear of repercussion.
One of the grandest sweeps of architecture in Florence, the Pitti Palace was built in the 15th century. Its gallery includes a huge collection of paintings dating from the 15th to 17th century, and occupying the whole left wing of the first floor, one of the most significant groups of works is by Titian and Raphael. You’ll also see important works by Rubens, including the Four Philosophers and the Allegory of War, and pieces by Caravaggio and Velazquez. In fact, there are over 500 works on show in all.
And it’s not just canvases that you’ll see; the Palatine Gallery is also known for its frescoes. Laid out according to the personal tastes of its collectors from the House of Medici, rather than by painting school or by chronological order, the gallery has been open to visitors since the day Leopold I of Lorraine opened it back in 1828. There is also a cafe in the courtyard of the Pitti Palace.
This 13th century pharmacy opened by Dominican friars now operates as a soap and perfume shop that resembles a museum, detailing the history of scent and fragrance. It is housed in the original building crafted in ornate detail. With an impressive array of herbal elixirs, perfumes, and soaps made with ancient techniques, a stroll through the pharmacy grants a historical perspective on smelling good. Friars first opened the pharmacy in 1221 to make and store concoctions for use in their monastery. Still in operation, it is one of the oldest known pharmacies in the world. The pharmacy is attributed with creating the first “eau de cologne” for Catherine de Medici, created in the 16th century and known as the “water of the queen.” Visitors can still purchase the scent in its original formulation; it is known simply as “Acqua di Santa Marina Novella.” It is also famous for its potpourri, which uses a blend of local plants and natural products and is still handcrafted on site.
Florence's most famous and popular market is the aptly named Mercato Centrale – but it's by no means the only market in the city. Another ideal spot to pick up picnic supplies, see what's fresh before you browse local menus or simply enjoy the colors of an Italian food market is the Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio (Mercato Alimentare Sant'Ambrogio).
Also known as the Sant'Ambrogio Market, the site is home to stalls that sell many of the same sorts of items seen at the Mercato Centrale – fruits, vegetables, bread, meat, fish, cheese, spices and other sundry pantry essentials. In a couple areas of the market, you'll also find vendors selling clothing and household items.
Because the Mercato Centrale is the more famous market, the Mercato Alimentare Sant'Ambrogio offers a slightly less touristy experience. It's in the historic center, so it's unlikely to be tourist-free, but you may find more locals than visitors browsing here.
Even if you’re not a fashion addict, you’ve likely heard of one of Italy’s many fashion icons - Salvatore Ferragamo. Not every visitor to Italy can afford to bring home Ferragamo designer shoes, but you’ll be pleased to know that anyone can check out the historic collection of his shoes at the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum.
The Ferragamo Museum, opened in 1995, is housed in the Palazzo Spini Feroni on Piazza Santa Trinita, a 13th century former residential palace that Ferragamo bought in the 1930s to serve as his company headquarters and workshop. The museum’s collection started with a staggering 10,000 shoes created by Ferragamo from the 1920s until 1960, and has grown after his death. Exhibits are rotated every couple of years, and there are also temporary exhibits on display from time to time.
Behind the massive Pitti Palace lies the enormous Boboli Gardens - both were once the private domain of Florence’s ruling Medici family, but today they’re both open to the public. The Boboli Gardens are not only typical of formal Italian gardens of the 16th century - they’re actually some of the earliest examples of the style. Along with the manicured lawns, blooming plants, and fountains that you’d expect from a garden, these also have a fine collection of 16th-18th century sculptures on display in different parts of the grounds. The Boboli Gardens were originally started for the wife of Cosimo I de Medici in the 1540s, and were added to later in the 16th century and again in the 17th century. Notable features include tree-lined pathways, sculpture-filled grottos, and an amphitheater with an Egyptian obelisk at its center.
Entering the neighborhood of San Frediano means historically passing through the Porta San Frediano, which was once a door to the walled city, leading to one of Florence’s most popular residential areas in the present day. The trendy area has a variety of culture, cuisine, and art that contribute to its cosmopolitan feel. The neighborhood is home to many artisans that have kept their workshops here for decades. It has been compared to the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. Many will cross the bridges on the river from the historic city center to enjoy a greater variety of food and drink in a less expensive price range.
After crossing through the Porta San Frediano, the Chiesa San Frediano in Cestello becomes visible. The 17th century church was built on the site of an older monastery, Santa Maria degli Angeli, which was founded in 1450.
In a city filled with famous art, San Marco Museum has the distinction of holding the largest collection of sacred art in Florence. Some of its more significant pieces include the works of Mariotto Albertinelli and Fra' Bartolomeo and a large fresco by Giovanni Antonio Sogliani, as well as Fra' Angelico's famous Annunciation on the upper floor. The monk’s cells are lined with beautiful frescoes meant to spur spiritual reflection. Another section displays a fascinating arrangement of sculpture and architecture, with a collection of old bells and fragments of demolished city center buildings.
The museum is housed in a former Dominican convent that was restored by the architect Michelozzo in the period of the De Medicis. Its light-filled library contains a collection of historic illuminated manuscripts, as well as a present day convent library with books on philosophy and theology.
With its massive dome patterned in colorful designs, the Great Synagogue is an architectural marvel and significant synagogue of Italy. Historically Florence has always had a small Jewish community, with the first synagogue dating back to the 13th century. The Great Synagogue, however, was constructed from 1874 to 1882 financed by a local Jewish citizen who sought out to create a synagogue with beauty that would rival the other structures of Florence. Today it is still one of the largest in Europe. There is also a small Jewish museum with relics on display.
The synagogue features influences from both Italian and Islamic traditions. Its oxidized bright green copper roof makes the dome stand out in the city skyline. The interior features striking alternating layers of granite and travertine, with three large arches framing the entrance. Many draw comparisons in style to the Hagia Sofia of Istanbul.
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