Our armchair travels through Italy have taken us to Florence where the Renaissance was born. It is the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region and the place where you can find many art and architecture masterpieces. As I gathered information to offer you the highlights of Florence I found that the more I saw and read the more I wanted to just take off and head for this marvelous city. In this city you’ll find Michelangelo’s “David” and the art works of Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci. Florence is an amazing city to view from a bridge that spans over the Arno River. It is also home to many fashion designers such as Gucci and Cavalli, who were both born here. The hills around Florence are lush with vineyards.
You’ll find the world’s greatest collection of Italian Renaissance art at Uffizi Palace. This magnificent palace was built between 1560 and 1580 at which time it was meant to house government offices. The art collection here was given to the city by the Medici family in 1743 under the condition that it was never to leave Florence. The best-known paintings of Italy can be viewed here like the profile portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Francesco and The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. This world-famous art collection is displayed in chronological order and spans the history of art from ancient Greek sculptures to 18th century Venetian paintings with its core being the Renaissance collection. After you have feasted your eyes on all of this awesome art work then head on up to the rooftop cafe and sit in the terraced hanging garden where you can relax, refresh yourself and see fantastic views of the city.
At present the gallery is undergoing renovation and in addition there will be a new exit loggia designed by Japanese architect Arato Isozaki and exhibition space will be doubled.
Florence’s most iconic landmark is its Duomo, capped by a red-tiled cupola created by Fillipo Brunelleschi. It has an amazing pink, white and green marble facade and a graceful bell tower. Work on the Duomo began in 1296 by Sienese architect Arnolfo di Cambio but construction took practically 150 years and finally it was consecrated in 1436. Inside you can see frescoes by Vasari and Zuccari and 44 stained glass windows.
The Duomo has a neo-Gothic facade designed by architect Emilio de Fabris in the 19th century. The cathedral’s cupola is a true masterpiece of the Renaissance and it is well worth it to climb up its 463 interior stone steps to get a bird’s eye view of the city. The climb up the spiral staircase is steep and as you head on up stop when you reach the balustrade at the base of the dome where you can get an amazing aerial view of the octagonal coro or chior of the cathedral below and the seven round stained-glass windows the art work of Donatello, Andrea del Castagno, Paolo Uccello and Lorenzo Ghiberti. Looking upwards you’ll see the impressive 16th century frescoes by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari that depict the Last Judgment. Along the way see other fantastic views of Florence through the small windows. Finally as you come to the final steps there you will have a panoramic 360-degree breathtaking view of Florence.
Inside the cathedral down the left aisle are two immense frescoes of equestrian statues – on the left, Niccolo da Tolentino by Andrea del Castagno and on the right, Sir John Hawkwood by Uccello. The Mass Sacristy has inlaid wood panelling carved by Benedetto and Giuliano da Maiano. There are bronze doors done by Luca della Robbia and above the doorway his glazed terracotta Resurrection. Near the main entrance of the cathedral are steps leading down to the crypt.
A most impressive sight is Vecchio Palace, a fortress palace with a 94m high tower that was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio between 1298 and 1314. From the top of the tower you can get spectacular views of the rooftops of the city. Inside you’ll find Michelangelo’s sculpture Genius of Victory in the Salone dei Cinquecento. This incredible painted hall was created for the city’s 15th century ruling Council of 500. There are amazing battle scenes painted from floor to ceiling by Vassari. There are lots of other incredible things to see and fascinating rooms to explore with much to delight the eye.
The Academia Gallery is where you’ll find one of the most impressive art works of the Renaissance – Michelangelo’s David. Every year visitors flock to see this statue but it doesn’t matter that it’s a long wait to get inside the statue is worth it. It is a work of art that has been created so that you can see veins in the arms and muscles on the legs. It was carved from a single block of marble that had already been worked on by two sculptors who then gave up and finally became Michelangelo’s most famous work. When it was first placed on the pedestal in front of Vecchio Palace on Signoria Square in 1504 it was adopted as a powerful emblem of Florentine power, liberty and civic pride. The gallery also displays other art works by Michelangelo and there are rooms displaying paintings by Andrea Orcagna, Taddeo Gaddi, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Filippino Lippi and Sandro Botticelli.
The incredible Santa Croce Basilica is a huge Franciscan basilica with a marvelous neo-Gothic facade with varying shades of colored marble. Here visitors can visit the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo and Ghiberti. Of special delight are the frescoes created by Giotto and his apprentices in the chapels to the right of the altar. This basilica was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio between 1294 and 1385 and it owes its name to a splinter of the Holy Cross that was donated by King Louis of France in 1258. There are many impressive art works to be seen here.
An incredible and lively square is Signoria Square that has been full of social activity since the 13th century. Here you can see the impressive city hall of Florence, Vecchio Palace and the 14th century Loggia dei Lanzi, an open-air gallery that showcases Renaissance sculptures like Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna. This is the spot where the pious preacher-leader Savonarola set fire to all of the art in the city – books, paintings, musical instruments, mirrors, fine clothes and a lot more. This was his famous “Bonfire of the Vanities” in 1497. Savonarola was hung in chains and burnt as a heretic a year later.
At the spot where both fires were burnt there is a bronze plaque embedded in the ground right in front of the Neptune Fountain created by Ammannati. The fountain has pin-headed bronze satyrs and divinities that frolic at the edges of this huge fountain. In the center of the square is the equestrian statue of Cosimo I the art work of Giambologna and the western entrance to Vecchio Palace has been guarded by a copy of Michelangelo’s David since 1910 in the same spot where the original stood since 1873.
Right in the heart of the historic center of Florence you’ll find the Loggia del Mercato Nuovo or New Market. This arcade has wide Renaissance-style arches and today is a very lively marketplace that has stalls full of merchandise. What attracts visitors to this place is the famous Fountain of the Piglet found on the south side. Copies of this fountain can be found in countries like Belgium, France and Australia. The Fountain of the Piglet is looked upon as being one of the most popular monuments in Florence. It is traditional to touch the nose of this statue for good luck and with all the rubbing going one the piglet now needs some cosmetic powder because its nose has become shiny. To make sure that you’ll have the luck you have to place a coin in the boar’s mouth and then wait until the water flowing through makes it fall. If your coin slips through the grate over the drain you’ll have the luck if not you won’t.
A rambling fort, Fort Belvedere was designed by Bernardo Buontalenti for Grand Duke Ferdinando I at the end of the 16th century. The fort underwent five years of renovation and is now open to the public again. The fort hosts contemporary art exhibitions and you can take in incredible views from its walls.
Giambologna’s impressive equestrian statue of Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’Medici stands in the center of the majestic Santissima Annunziata Square which is dominated by the facades of Basilica della Santissima Annunziata and the Hospital of Innocents, Europe’s first orphanage founded in 1421.
The largest park for strolling and relaxing in Florence is Cascine Park. It has many playgrounds for children. On the weekends families come here for many different activities like rollerblading, kite flying, jogging, bike riding and picnicking. In the summertime people can swim in Le Pavoniere swimming pool. At one time this was a private hunting reserve for the Medici dukes but Peter Leopold opened it to the public in 1776. Horse racing took place here in the late 19th century. At the west end of the park there’s a monument to Rajaram Cuttiputti, an Indian maharajah, who died in Florence while on holiday in 1870. He was cremated by the river and four years later British artisans erected the statue and memorial to him.