ITALY TOUR: FLORENCE IN A DAY (OR TWO)
Can you visit the major Florence sites on an Italy Tour in a single day? If you’re fast or have a bit more than a day.
Think of Florence as “Renaissance with a capital R.” Thanks in part to the patronage of the Medici family, the city is fairly littered with some of the most fabulous Renaissance art in the world. It’s a very walkable city, but don’t drive there. Really. You’ll thank me for it. Please read my article on Driving in Italy.
Depending on how much time you have there, here are some highlights:
Florence: The David at Galleria dell’Accademia: A
The statue by Michelangelo is the size of a titan and can be seen inside the Galleria dell’Accademia. Book ahead. See my detailed article on visiting The David.
Florence: The Ufizzi Gallery: A
At one time, these were the offices (ufizzi) of the Medici family. The Galleria degli Uffizi houses some of the most spectacular Renaissance artwork in the world. Get a timed entry ticket ahead of time; they get two million visitors a year. It’s the 27th most visited museum in the world.
It has been significantly modernized since 2017. There are 101 rooms. Choose ahead of time which you want to see. The Botticelli Room will take your breath away. The first thing you see is his Venus on the Halfshell. (The Birth of Venus). Then you’ll see The Primavera!
When you walk out the other side of the Ufizzi Gallery, you’ll be at the Arno River (think: the Merchant Ivory’s film A Room with a View, filmed near there).
The bridge nearby (Ponte Vecchio, Old Bridge) crosses the river and has shops and souvenir stalls on it.
Florence: Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral (“The Duomo”): B
You may not have time after the Galleria and the Ufizzi in a single day, but if you can only go to one church in Florence, this is it. The dome is a modern architectural miracle done by Filippo Brunelleschi. His (double) dome was larger than the dome of the ancient Pantheon or any other dome in Europe, and no dome of that size had been built since antiquity.
Space does not permit it, but you might read the book Brunelleschi’s Dome before you go. He’s buried in the crypt there.
Next to the church is an impressive campanile (Giotto’s Bell Tower), and you can climb the 398 steps plus the 15 to access it (I didn’t.) The exterior marble is polychrome, unlike anything you’ve seen. The church is St. Mary of the Flowers, but everyone calls it “Il Duomo.”
The ceiling of the cupola depicts The Last Judgement.
In front, the Baptistery of St. John, with its octagonal sides, will amaze you.
Florence: Basilica of Santa Croce: C
A close second to the Duomo is the Basilica of Santa Croce (Sacred Cross), about 800 meters southeast of the Duomo. It’s the largest Franciscan church in the world. Legend has it that St. Francis himself founded it. It has frescos by Giotto, and is the burial place or funerary monuments of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini, Leonardo da Vinci (actually buried in France,) Enrico Fermi (Chicago), and Guglielmo Marconi (Bologna). Scenes from A Room with a View were filmed here.
Florence: Pitti Palace: Honorable Mention
Across the Arno River from and up the hill is the Pitti Palace, built in 1458. It was the Ducal palace of Cosimo I de’ Medici, the first of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany. It has been converted into an art gallery with stunning works by the masters. You may recall the lyrics by Petruchio in Kiss Me, Kate, where he recalls in his song “Where is the Life That Late I Led?”
And in Firenze, where are you, Alice,
Still there in your pretty, itty-bitty Pitti Palace?
You may stumble across a Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci painting.
My favorite painting by far is Ecce Homo (“Behold the Man”) by Antonio Ciseri. The depiction from John Chapter 19 of Jesus before Pilate profoundly moved me.
The Boboli Gardens are directly behind the palace. Boboli’s design influenced formal gardens throughout the rest of Europe.
If you look carefully, you’ll even see this porphyry stone statue of a Dacian prisoner in the Boboli Gardens.
Florence: Vivoli’s Gelato: Honorable Mention
Even my old doctor recommended I go there. He visited when he was a student. I stood in line in the rain for it, and it was worth it. Everyone knows about it. They have flavors that will knock your socks off. I’ve had gelato all over Italy. But this is the best.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
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