Sights not to miss in Florence
Church of Santa Maria Novella
Begun in 1246 for Dominican friars, the church was completed in 1360. The white and green marble Gothic-Romanesque façade was completed by Leon Battista Alberti, who designed its upper part. It is home to splendid masterpieces including The Trinity by Masaccio, and frescoes by Filippino Lippi and Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni chapel, as well as a Crucifix by Giotto and a wooden Crucifix by Brunelleschi. Next to the church, is the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, where perfumes, soaps and fragrances are made and sold, while Palazzo Strozzi is one of the finest expressions of Renaissance architecture in town.
Cathedral, Baptistery and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
Santa Maria del Fiore, the Gothic cathedral erected over the ancient basilica of Santa Reparata, was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, who began its construction in 1296. Brunelleschi completed it in 1436 with the elegant dome, the inside of which was entirely frescoed by Vasari and Zuccari. The final phase of its construction, that is, the completion of its façade, dates from the mid-19th century.
To the right of the cathedral rises the Bell Tower, or Campanile, designed by Giotto in 1334. The square tower is covered with red, green and white marble inlays, decorated with panels and carvings.
Opposite the Cathedral stands the green and white marble Baptistery of San Giovanni (1128) with splendid bronze doors, a masterpiece of Florentine Romanesque architecture. The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo houses artworks from Santa Maria del Fiore, the Baptistery and the Campanile, including sculptures that had been made for the cathedral façade. The most important works in the museum are by Michelangelo (Pietre), Donatello, Arnolfo di Cambio and Luca della Robbia.
Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria
This is the most important civil building in the city. Its construction, to plans by Arnolfo di Cambio, began in 1299. It was the seat of the Priori delle Arti, of the Signoria and the ducal residence; the 14th century courtyard – known for its fountain decorated with a copy of the famous Putto con Delfino by Verrocchio (the original is visible in Palazzo Vecchio) – was later modified by Michelozzo. Inside, it is worth seeing the Salone dei Cinquecento, the study of Francesco I, the Room of the Elements and the Sala dei Gigli. The Loggia della Signoria or “dei Lanzi” overlooks the square, and it is home to several statues, including “Perseus” by Cellini and the “Rape of the Sabine Women” by Giambologna.
Uffizi Gallery, Vasari Corridor and Ponte Vecchio
The Uffizi Gallery is one of the greatest museums of the entire world. It was founded in 1581 by Francesco I de’ Medici, who collected numerous artworks in the building designed by Vasari. Today, the Uffizi contains masterpieces by Italian and foreign artists from the 13th to the 18th century such as Cimabue, Giotto, Masaccio, Beato Angelico, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Piero della Francesca, Raphael, Caravaggio, as well as Rubens, Rembrandt, Goya and many others.
The Vasari Corridor that connects the Uffizi Gallery with the Pitti Palace hosts a rich collection of self-portraits by past and present artists. Built by Vasari in 1565, it passes above the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in the city, with its many jewelry shops. If you decide to visit the Uffizi Gallery, you can save time and jump a long queue by booking in advance.
Gallery of the Accademia
This is one of the best known museums in Florence, because it houses famous sculptures by Michelangelo, including the “David“. There are also many paintings, collected by the Grand Duke Peter Leopold to help the young artists enrolled in the Accademia d’Arte, which is still next door to the gallery.
Opificio delle Pietre Dure
The Opificio was founded by Ferdinando de’ Medici in 1588. It is an important center for the restoration of inlays and mosaics, and it has a fine display of inlays, studies and drawings.
Basilica of Santa Croce and Museo dell’Opera di Santa Croce
Works of this Franciscan basilica began in 1295 to plans by Arnolfo di Cambio. It contains countless artworks, including Giotto‘s famous frescoes in the Peruzzi and Bardi chapels, and it is universally famous as the final resting place of several great Italians. The most important monuments include the tomb of Alfieri by Canova, the tomb of Leonardo Bruni by Rossellino and the tomb of Carlotta Bonaparte by Bartolini. The Museo dell’Opera contains renowned artworks such as the “Crucifix” by Cimabue, frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi and Andrea Orcagna and the graceful Pazzi Chapel designed by Brunelleschi.
This chapel is famous throughout the world for its frescoes by Masaccio, a masterpiece of Renaissance painting; it is located in the 13th century church of Santa Maria del Carmine. Masolino was commissioned to do the frescoes and he began work in 1424 with the help of Masaccio. When Masaccio left Florence, the frescoes were completed after 1480 by Filippino Lippi.
Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens
This palace was commissioned by Luca Pitti in 1448. The original plan, attributed to Brunelleschi, called for a much smaller building than the one we see now: it was enlarged in 1549 when ownership passed to the Medici family. The beautiful courtyard by Ammannati dates from that period. Pitti Palace was enlarged and modified many times over the centuries: it was the seat of the Lorraine dynasty and, when Florence was capital of Italy, of the Court of Savoia. Today it houses several museums and galleries, the most important of which is the Palatine Gallery, with masterpieces dating from the 15th to 17th centuries, including paintings by Titian, Giorgione, Raphael, and Rubens.
Other museums are the Gallery of Modern Art, the Silver Museum, the Costume Gallery, the Carriage Museum, the Porcelain Museum, the Contini Bonacossi Collection, the Royal Apartments and the Apartment of the Duchess of Aosta. One of the most beautiful Italian gardens, the Giardini di Boboli, extends on the Boboli hill between the Pitti Palace and Forte Belvedere. It was designed by Tribolo in 1549 and then enhanced by Ammanati and Buontalenti. The 16th century fortress, Forte Belvedere, dominates the gardens and the entire city; it was designed by Buontalenti for the Grand Duke Ferdinando I.
Edited by Francesca Bezzone