The birthplace of Renaissance in medieval times. The theatre for Dan Brown’s Inferno in modern times. Florence seemed like an enormous open art museum. Add to that the Tuscan charm. There is way too much to be done in Florence. Planning how to make the most of your time in Florence can be daunting, and I think we failed miserably at this (a day in Florence is far too less, in defence!)
During ancient times, Florence was a part of the Roman empire. After the ‘Dark Age’, it served as the epicentre of the Renaissance Movement and was among the most important cities in the world between the 12th to 16th centuries. Notable residents of Florence included Machiavelli, Lorenzo Medici, Dante, Michelangelo, Donatello, Galileo and Raphael.
Easily the most celebrated cathedral in the world, the Duomo stands out for miles and creates an imposing sight amongst the other buildings.
Construction began in 1436 under chief architect Filippo Brunelleschi, but the stunning front facade wasn’t completed until the 19th century. Covered in white marble and red and green polychrome designs, the colour and style have come to be the enduring image of this monument. The interior of the Cathedral (we never went inside) has stained-glass windows, mosaics, bronze statues and frescoes (including the magnificent Last Judgement fresco that covers the underside of the dome).
Giotto’s Campanile closeby is one of the most renowned designs in the city (It is not connected to the Duomo and is a separate building in its own right). Split into five levels, the exterior has polychrome marble designs similar to the Duomo’s front facade. Tourists can also climb the 414 steps in the tower for views of the city.
Piazza Del Duomo
The square with much of the tourist attraction in the city: Florence Cathedral, Giotto’s Campanile and The Baptistery of St. John. Apart from the buildings, there is also a variety of shops, restaurants and cafes, and souvenir shops if you collect fridge magnets from your trips!
Baptistery of St. John
The Baptistery sits in front of the main facade of the Duomo and is a completely separate building. Its exterior features the typical Florentine design, that it shares with the Duomo and Giotto’s Campanile. The interior has frescos depicting stories from the Bible and Genesis.
Basilica Di San Lorenzo
Close to the Piazza Duomo, the Basilica di San Lorenzo was constructed under the Medici family. Many members of the family are buried here.
The Medici Family, often called the Grand Dukes of Tuscany cannot be separated from the Florentine heritage. While their noble blood origins are highly disputed, one cannot deny they led lives of the aristocracy and highly refined tastes. They started the Medici Bank in Europe, wrote rules on loans, issued a currency called the Florin and at one point, managed the majority of fortunes in Europe. All this while they feasted on Gelato and the delicious Florentine steak.
They were great patrons of art. While their relationship with Michelangelo was frosty at times, his Moses, the Sistine Chapel and David were all commissioned by the Medicis. The last descendant of the family, Anna Maria Luisa de Medici, laid down the “Family Pacts” for preserving their art collections. Thanks to this, present-day Florence is overflowing with art, like in the Uffizi Gallery among other places.
At one point, they even called Galileo their personal mathematician and philosopher (some things even the Medici money can’t buy!). No one quite strutted their stuff like this family in the Renaissance.
Piazza San Marco
Named after the church of San Marco on one side, it is one of the busiest squares in the city and a junction for bus routes.
Piazza Della SS Annunziata
Open and airy space near the Duomo, with a mammoth statue of Ferdinand I and the white portico of the church SS Annunziata. This is among the few spaces in Florence that were purposely built with the Renaissance style, embracing the idea of a “Utopian society”: ordered and accessible to all men. Brunelleschi in 1419, introduced the use of proportions and harmony which went on to become the trademark of Renaissance architecture.
Basilica San Croce
Constructed at a time similar to the Duomo, it also features a front facade that includes pink, green and red marble polychrome panels with polished white stone. It houses tombs of some of the most influential Renaissance artists and scholars in the world including Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli.
Church of Santa Maria Novella
Yet another example of Renaissance architecture using polychrome and white marble to create a striking front facade — similar in design to both the Duomo and the Basilica of Santa Croce.
Within the church is a number of chapels dedicated to various influential families of the Renaissance era. The church also contains artwork from the likes of Botticelli and Ghiberti.
The Uffizi Palace and Gallery is now a renowned art museum. The Smithsonian considers it among the 20 must-visit museums in the world. The inner courtyard features a series of columns and arches, with the niches adorned with marble statues of the Renaissance greats. Inside the museum there is an immense collection of Renaissance Art including The Baptism of Christ by Leonardo Da Vinci, the Adoration of the Magi by Botticelli and the Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio.
An extremely famous and old bridge across the Arno river. A large number of shops are built into the sides of the bridge. Records date the bridge to as early as 996 AD, but its true origin is unclear. The Vasari Corridor provides views of the exterior of the bridge and its marvellous house like attachments.
While there is a steep climb to this square, it offers the best panoramic views of Florence in the entire city, covering all of the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio, Santa Croce, and other landmarks. In the centre of the square is a bronze statue of David, one of the three Davids in Florence (the original by Michelangelo is inside the Academia Gallery near Piazza San Marco).
The San Miniato Al Monte adjacent to the Piazza has a white and green marble front facade that is similar to Florence Cathedral. The interior features some amazing frescos, bronze statues, artwork and marble columns.
For Florentine people, the Lily is their symbol for over 1,000 years. It represents the city and its cultural and sports associations (like Fiorentina football club!). It is modelled after the Iris florentina, that grows wild along the Arno river valley and the hills around Florence and Chianti area.
Tempio Maggiore — The Great Synagogue
After the French Revolution (1789), Western and Central European Jews were gradually granted basic civil rights, freedom to travel freely without special permits, opening new prospects to them. The hundreds of synagogues built throughout Europe during the 19th century are evidence of their desire to express their liberty as a community. Built around the mid 19th century, the Synagogue was damaged during World War II and renovated again
While the Renaissance was in full flow in Europe, architecture in India had already assumed a unique identity with the establishment of the Mughal rule after the fall of the Delhi Sultanate. While Brunelleschi and Ghiberti went about giving Florence its enduring identity for centuries and Michelangelo created his masterpieces in stone, the Mughals enriched art and architecture in India. The same Renaissance, however, triggered the chain of events that ultimately led to maritime explorations and the fall of the Mughal empire. Weird mixed feelings? Yes.