I think it is always worth reminding ourselves that Florence, the Renaissance city, is one of the most beautiful and visited art cities in the world. It is truly an open-air museum, placed in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1982. Let’s make a quick rundown of some of the major sites within the city.
Piazza Duomo is the religious centre of the city, featuring the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and the majestic Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Bell Tower, and the Baptistery of St. John the Baptist, with its world renowned bronze doors.
The square is surrounded by wonderful palaces, such as the Archbishop’s Palace, the 14th-century Loggia del Bigallo and the recently renovated Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (Museum of the Works of the Cathedral) which recreates the original feeling of the 14th-century façade according to the first project by Arnolfo di Cambio with great technical virtuosity.
The absolute masterpiece housed within the Museo dell’ Opera is the Deposition (or Pietà) sculpted by Michelangelo for his own grave.
In the sculpture, Nicodemo, represented at the top centre, has Michelangelo’s facial features. Some parts of this marble sculpture are unfinished, as Michelangelo often did in order to witness the spirit struggling to break free from block of stone. In 1555, in an outburst of rage, the same artist partially damaged his own sculpture with a hammer.
Piazza della Signoria is the heart of the socio-political life, as well as the seat of civil power with Palazzo Vecchio (previously known as dei Priori and della Signoria). The square hosts important works of art such as the equestrian monument of Cosimo I de’ Medici, by Giambologna. Next to the palace, you can admire the fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati, also called the ‘Biancone’ due to the huge white marble statue of the sea god at the centre of the fountain, riding in a chariot roomed by four horses.
In front of the main entrance of Palazzo Vecchio, you will find copies of two sculptures by Donatello: Marzocco (the lion symbolising the city of Florence) and Judith Beheading Holofernes, in addition to a copy of the David by Michelangelo, whose original statue is preserved inside the Galleria dell’Accademia (Gallery of the Academy of Florence). Next to David, the statue of Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli, symbolises strength and ingenuity prevailing over evil.
On the right, facing Palazzo della Signoria, you will find the Uffizi Gallery, one of the most important museums in the world, which once hosted the offices and the state archives of the Grand-Duke. The museum boasts an incomparable collection of Italian and European art from the 13th century on.
In addition to masterpieces by Cimabue, Giotto, Masaccio, Botticelli, Leonardo, Piero della Francesca, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Dürer, and many others, there is also a remarkable collection of ancient sculptures.
The Vasarian Corridor is a spectacular elevated enclosed passageway, connecting Palazzo Vecchio with Palazzo Pitti and offering, from above Ponte Vecchio, a breath-taking view on monuments and on the Arno with its bridges. The corridor hosts a collection of self-portraits, in addition to an important 17th and 18th-century collection of paintings.
The Galleria dell’Accademia hosts the highest number of sculptures by Michelangelo, such as the Prisoners, St. Matthew and the famous David, in addition to important paintings from the second half of 13th century to the end of 16th century, as well as the Musical Instruments Museum.
The National Museum of the Bargello, located inside a palace built in mid-13th century for the Capitano del Popolo (Captain of the People), boasts some of the most important statues of the Renaissance by Ghiberti, Donatello, Verrocchio, the Della Robbia family, Michelangelo, Giambologna, and others. Do not miss the prestigious collections of little bronze statues, maiolica, wax models, enamels, medals, ivory, tapestry, furniture, seals and textiles coming from the Medicean collections or donated by private collectors.
Palazzo Pitti, with its wonderful Boboli Gardens, represents one of the most important monumental complexes with its museums – the Palatine Gallery, the Monumental Apartments, the Silver Museum, the Modern Art Gallery, the Costume Gallery, the Porcelain Museum and the Carriages Museum.
Among the most representative testimonies of the Florence Renaissance, the city boasts some masterpieces planned by Filippo Brunelleschi (in addition to his world renowned Dome) – the Ospedale degli Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents) and the two churches of San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito – and by Leon Battista Alberti – the façade of the Santa Maria Novella church and Palazzo Rucellai.
Piazza della Repubblica is the “élite square” of the city, with its great historic cafés and 19th-century buildings. The historic centre of Florence is a shopping and entertainment paradise, with the most famous fashion designer boutiques, traditional handicraft workshops, historical markets and typical restaurants, as well as American bars, lounge bars and discos.
Do not miss the churches of San Miniato al Monte, Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella, as well as the great masterpieces of Italian 20th -century architects, such as the Central Railway Station of Santa Maria Novella and the Artemio Franchi football stadium, respectively by Giovanni Michelucci and Pier Luigi Nervi.