I am sure the most of you already read a lot of articles about Florence and maybe many of you even visited Florence personally once or even more times; the web is saturated with facts, articles, photos about Florence, it is not a special destination anymore. Thousand and thousand of tourists come to Tuscany’s capital everyday from every angle of the world just to see this ancient city with their own eyes after seeing it innumerable times on a screen at home. Many of them appreciate the historical charm and the romantic atmosphere, while many of them also learn how to hate and dislike this city packed with people, where you cannot move without hitting someone or try to see an art masterpiece without having a group of people obscuring the sight. Everything about the city is so fake and touristy that make me learn how to hate Florence in these years. Restaurants are expensive and give you shitty food, the souvenir shops merchandise the beautiful art masterpieces from the past and pickpockets can steal your wallet at any time. All of this made me hate Florence but I think all of us should try to look further.
Now Florence is just a touristy city but before was the birthplace of Renaissance, of innumerable important artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, of powerful noble families that shaped European history like De Medici and of many italian writers like Dante, who created the basis of italian language. The most of tourists, that everyday crowd this ancient city, do not even know half of this history and ignore the meaning behind many art masterpieces in museums and monuments around the city. Many of them do not even know who Dante is and who Masaccio, Vasari, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi are and what they did. I do not think I will ever be able to cover these great artists in a such humble article but at least I will try to explain a bit better the monuments you find around Florence…after all I am italian and I studied all of this at school, I think I learnt something in these 18 years of studies ahaha
Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella, Santa Maria Novella, how many times did you hear this name if you have been to Florence or you are planning a trip there? Let’s be frank. It is the name of the main train station in Florence but I do not know if all of you know that it comes from the nearby church Santa Maria Novella. This church is very ancient, the origins date back to the 9th century and was called Santa Maria delle Vigne, the italian word for vineyards, because it was surrounded by them. The religious complex has been given to the Dominicans in the 13th century when they came from Bologna to Florence. From this moment on, the church was heavily changed throughout the centuries. First of all, the Dominicans wanted to enlarge it; the works finished in the 14th century but later, it was modified by the one of the most important Renaissance rapresentatives Leon Battista Alberti that added the portal, the entablature and finished the upper part of the façade with white and dark green marble. The gothic windows were added later by Giorgio Vasari, another great artist.
The interior is really worth a visit, I did not expect it to be so beautiful and huge! There are a lot of art masterpieces, such as the fresco Santa Trinità (Holy Trinity) painted by Masaccio, and rooms awaiting to be explored. Every chapels, pictures, objects has a description both in Italian and in English so that it can provide you with a basic knowledge about the masterpiece you are observing. The church also has a beautiful cloister, which is part of the museum. This is the part I liked the most about SMN because just wandering under the porticos of the cloister make you get back in the time.
From the corridor you can access the Cappellone degli Spagnoli (Spanish Chapel) called like this because it was given to the Spaniards that used to gather here when they came to the city after the Spanish princess Eleanor of Toledo married Cosimo I De Medici. The inside is simply stunning: the ceiling is made up of different and colorful frescos that depict the life of Jesus Christ.
There is another part, which is the creepiest of the whole church, called Chiostro dei Morti (Cloister of the Dead). Here you find yourself in an ancient cemetery built by the Domincians in the 13th century that has been closed to the public until 2012. It is made up of groin vault arches whose structure is typical of the fourteenth-century. There are a lot of tombs who belong to many important italian personalities from the past.
- The ticket is 5 euros, for further information check out the official website.
- Have a look inside, it is totally worth it
- Check out Chiostro della Morte and the Cloister inside
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore
Well, this one is crazily famous! people come to Florence mainly to see this huge art masterpiece. Although I visited Florence many times already, everytime I find myself in front of the cathedral, I am amazed and struck by its beauty and perfection. I often wonder how the buildings could be so perfect in the past, how could they build this without all the technology we can use nowadays?! They really were great! There is too much to say about this religious complex and I do not want to make the article too long so I will try to explain its history in a nutshell.
Before the construction of Santa Maria del Fiore, here there was another church, the heart of life in old Florentia, the ancient name of Florence. The Signoria, the democraic parliament that ruled Florence at that time, commisioned this building and the works started in the 11th century. The famous Arnolfo di Cambio, that built Palazzo Vecchio and Santa Croce as well, designed the church but architects modified it throughout the time. Among them I can mention Giotto (who does not know him, the perfect circle) and Franceso Talenti. The big dome at the top of the cathedral was built by Brunelleschi in the 13th century and signed the end of its construction.
The façade, as many others in Florence, was designed and built in recent times, to be precise, in the 17th century by de Fabris that used the marble to beautify it and built it in Neogothic style. You would notice, I suppose, a smaller building located in front of the cathedral with a pure golden door…well, that one is the baptistery, which is the place where the catholics get baptisted: they are washed in a well in order to wash the original sin away. There would be much to say about this small building, whose sizes are actually the half of the cathedral, but I will try to keep it as short as possible.
The origins are very mysterious and still nowadays the historians do not know quite well: some say it was a Mars’ temple but they did not find any ruins belonging to such a construction but just relics of Roman Domus. The shape is octagonal, symbolizing the eighth day of the week, which is the rebirth day in the Catholicism. The marble used to decorate the Baptistery comes from Carrara and Prato. There are three big doors: the north, the south and the east, which is surnamed Paradise Door for its beauty. It is entirely made up of gold and the panels depict some scenes from the Old Testament.
- It is the third biggest church in the world
- The price of the ticket is 15 euros and grants you the access to the Cathedral, Dome, Baptistery, tower bell, Museum and crypt. For further information, check out the official website.
- The queue is way too long so I highly advice you to book online. Albeit they charge you the fee of the online booking, it is more than worth it especially if you are staying in Florence just for a few days; you cannot waste your time waiting to enter
Palazzo Vecchio, the italian for Old Palace, is another very important landmarks located in Florence, one of the most known palaces in the world. Where now you can find Palazzo Vecchio, there was a roman theatre as the ruins found in the ground witness. The building that nowadays we know was built in the XIII century in order to protect Florence’s priors who were the important people running the “Comune”. In the past, Italy was composed of many small states like the Papal States, duchies like Parma or Milan ones and comuni, translated in English as City-states. The city-states were everywhere in Italy and were quite democratic; not the democracy we imagine now but something that could be considered quite democratic: they were provided with a sort of Parliament called Signoria. The parliament had its headquarter in Palazzo Vecchio that in the past was surnamed Palazzo dei Priori (Priors’ Palace) and the actual name came after 1590 when De Medici changed their headquarter to Palazzo Pitti, the new one. Palazzo Vecchio was smaller than we see it now, it was enlarged by Vasari that added also the secret passage called Vasari Corridor.One of the most beautiful rooms inside is the Salone dei Cinquecento, be sure to check the museum out!
More recently the building hosted the italian parliament when Italy was not yet united and Rome was still Pope’s territory. If you do not have time to get inside, you can admire an open-air museum near Palazzo Vecchio: Loggia della Signoria. It was built in the 12th century in order to host the various popular assemblies that used to take place when Florence was a Republic. After the 14th century, when De Medici created the Granducato di Toscana, the Loggia was useless so they used it as an open-air museum where to put some beautiful statues such as the Perseus and Medusa by Cellini. The statues were not just there to point out the might of De Medici but they also had a precise political meaning. The statue i just mentioned is an important example because Medusa with its tentacles symbolize the quarrels and the fights among the citizens during the republic time and did not allow an authentic democratic life to take place.
Another symbol of Florence is the David of Michelangelo considered to be the perfect men, the beauty-masculine ideal. It is the male counterpart of Botticelli’s Venus. The statue you see in front of Palazzo Vecchio is just a fake, the real one, of course, cannot be displayed like that outside or else it would be ruined but it is kept in Galleria dell’Accademia.
Ponte Vecchio is one of the most prominent landmarks of the city, it is crossed by millions and millions of people everyday to reach the other part of the city or just to admire the beauty of the river Arno. The bridge already existed during Roman times but was rebuilt in the actual position in the 12th century and now you know why it is called Old Bridge.
Unlike many of you might think, the bridge has not been occupied by goldsmiths like nowadays. Wealthy people go to the bridge in order to admire and buy the crazily expensive jewels diplayed there. But before it was not like this, where now you can spot the jewel shops, there were butcher’s shops…yeah, you read correctly…butchers were working here! So different from now, isn’t it?!
And you know why they changed it? For a even weirder reason: the De Medici did not want bad smell and odours coming to the secret passage built just above the Ponte Vecchio. Now you are wondering: what secret passage? of course, the Vasari Corridor! But I will write about this later since I have not visited it yet.
- The bridge is crazily packed with people so just stop halfway where you can get a nice glimpse of the Arno river and go back
- To have a better view of Ponte Vecchio and a better place to relax enjoying Arno river’s romantic atmosphere, go to the parallel bridge called Ponte Santa Trinità (Holy Trinity Bridge)
- Try to look up and will notice a wall with some small windows; that is the Vasari Corridor running above the bridge, hidden from the eyes of the tourists and locals.
Basilica di Santa Croce
Among Italian students it is known as the place where all the most important italian writers, artists, scientists, even politicians are buried. The origins of the church date back to the 13th century when Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Orders, came to visit Florence and decided to settle down in a hostile place just out of the walls where they built a small oratory. Some friars wanted the religious place be humble and small, like their Rule says, but the capacity of the building was not enough for all of those friars so they had to enlarge it. It was, then, modified by Vasari and other artists troughout the time.
The façade of the church was empty before, it was just like the San Lorenzo Church’s. The beautiful polychrome marble was added later in the 19th century by the italian architect Matas that built it following the example of other Florence’s churches. Although, in the 15th century, the family of Quarratesi wanted to fund the façade’s embellishment, the Franciscans refused because the noble family wanted their symbol to be clearly visible on the front.
In front of the church, there is a statue of Dante built when the Florentins had the hope to get back the mortal remains of the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri back from Ravenna, the city where he died.
- The ticket is 8 euros
- The reduced ticket is 4 euros for young people between 11 and 17 years old and for groups of 15 people
- The audio guides cost 1.50 euros
- In December there is a big “Christmast Market” on the square in front of the church.
- For further information, please check out the official website.
Here I mainly spoke about the most tourist and famous monuments you come across in Florence but in my next articles, I will tell you about other places that are not so famous but are worth a visit and, of course, are part of Florence history 😉 stay tuned ?