Florence is crowded, smelly and sweltering. It’s also jaw-droppingly gorgeous. We visited for two days and only scratched the surface of everything there is to see and do in this city that was once the Western world’s epicentre for art and culture. Here are a few of our highlights.
Il Duomo di Firenze, or the Florence Cathedral, is free to enter, so of course there is a long queue outside. No matter, because the outside is really what you want to see of this impressive Gothic structure – a white, pink and green masterpiece that was built between 1296 and 1436. Compared to the exterior, the interior is somewhat underwhelming, although I particularly liked the patterned marble floor and the beautiful frescoes of The Last Judgement inside the Dome itself. I climbed the 463 steps of the Dome on a previous visit to Florence and it was a memorable experience that I would definitely recommend. The route winds along the interior of the Dome and at some places you can’t stand up straight, but the effort is unquestionably worthwhile. You can also brave the 414 steps of the bell tower outside, which I imagine should also provide a spectacular view over the city, but Gareth and I had lots of sightseeing to do, so we appreciated it sheer scale from the ground instead.
A slightly lesser known attraction is the Basilica of Santa Croce, which features incredible stained glass windows, but is more noteworthy as the burial place of some of the big names of the Renaissance, including Michelangelo (he of the Sistine Chapel in Rome and the iconic statue of David), Galileo (who first discovered that the earth orbited the sun and not the other way round), Machiavelli (which fellow literary fans will recognise as the term for evil and immoral behaviour) and Rossini (composer of the Barber of Seville). Not only did we also stumble upon a memorial to the great poet Dante, but we were lucky enough to have visited during a sculpture exhibition depicting scenes from his Divine Comedy. Afterwards, Gareth and I took a breather in the peaceful gardens of the cloisters attached to the basilica, momentarily forgetting about the tourist frenzy outside the church walls.
After buying a pair of “stylish” hats to ward off the noonday sun, there was time for gelato on the steps outside the Loggia dei Lanzi in the Piazza della Signoria. The square is home to a copy of Michelangelo’s statue David (the original is housed in the Academia, which I also visited on another occasion), the Fountain of Neptune by Ammannati and Perseus with the Head of Medusa by Cellini, amongst others. It’s a good place to people-watch as you rest your aching feet for a while.
Next up was the Uffizi Gallery, for which we had booked tickets months in advance. Gareth and I aren’t really art-lovers, but we couldn’t visit Florence and not take the opportunity to see some of the world’s greatest masterworks for ourselves. Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Titian’s Venus of Urbino in particular did not disappoint.
A day as hot as this could only lead to rain, and it was pelting down as we stepped out of the Uffizi. Grabbing our hats we dashed through the now-deserted streets back to where we had parked our car at a train station on the outskirts of the old city. We would return the next day to explore some more…
Have you been to Florence? What were your highlights?
For more posts in the Ciao Italy 2014 series, click here.