We visited Florence as part of our grand tour of Italy and to be honest it was the place I was looking forward to visiting least, as I was really excited about finally getting to visit Rome and Venice. It turns out I was completely blown away by this beautiful place and it ended up being my favourite out of all the places we visited in Italy during our trip!
We did a walking tour of the centre of Florence with a local guide who was brilliant – he really enjoyed talking to us about his amazing city and was so knowledgeable. Our walking tour around Florence included stops at these wonderful places:
The Church of Santa Croce
The Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) is the burial place of some of the most famous Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Foscolo, the philosopher Gentile and the composer Rossini, and it is therefore also known as the “Temple of the Italian Glories.”
The construction of the current church, to replace an older building, started on 12 May 1294. The Basilica became popular with Florentines and it became common practice for greatly honoured Florentines to be buried or commemorated there. As time progressed, space was also given to other notable Italians from elsewhere. For 500 years, monuments were erected in the church including those to:
- Leonardo Bruni (15th-century chancellor of the Republic, scholar and historian)
- Dante (buried in Ravenna)
- Galileo Galilei
- Giovanni Gentile (20th-century philosopher)
- Niccolò Machiavelli by Innocenzo Spinazzi
You can read more details about the Church of Santa Croce here.
Outside the Church of Santa Croce you will find the statue of Dante. Dante was a major Italian poet of the late Middle Ages and the statue was erected in 1865 to celebrate the 600 anniversary of his birth. Dante’s “Divine Comedy” is widely considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature.
The Casa di Dante is a three floor museum which shows the life and works of the great Italian poet. The original building was rebuilt in the first decade of the twentieth century right where the family homes once stood and where in 1265 Dante was born.
The First Floor covers the life of Dante and medieval Florence, the Second Floor continues with the life of Dante and his exile and the Third Floor covers the Divine Comedy, including original editions of this amazing work.
It’s a very interesting museum, and the entrance fee is only €4 per person!
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral)
I will always remember the first moment I saw Florence Cathedral and Bell Tower. We had walked through the winding streets of Florence with our local tour guide learning about the city’s history when we turned a corner and walked into an open area with this beautiful building right in front of us with the sun beaming down on it. I remember gasping aloud and turning to my Mum who was a few paces behind me and saying “oh my god!” She looked at me for a second and then walked forward into the view of the cathedral and then said exactly the same thing! The Duomo Cathedral and Bell Tower along with the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona are probably the most breath taking buildings I have encountered on my travels!
The camera I had with me for this trip was rubbish but believe me, I think even photographs taken with a top of the range camera would not do this building justice! It has to be seen to be believed!
The exterior of the Cathedral is covered with marble bands in various shades of green and pink and bordered by white. These marble bands had to repeat the already existing bands on the walls of the earlier adjacent baptistery the Battistero di San Giovanni and Giotto’s Bell Tower.
The Cathedral was the location of the murder of Giuliano di Piero de’ Medici. He was assassinated on Sunday, 26 April 1478 by Francesco de’ Pazzi and Bernardo Baroncelli as part of the Pazzi conspiracy (a plot by members of the Pazzi family and others to displace the de’ Medici family as rulers of Renaissance Florence).
Giotto’s Campanile (Bell Tower)
Giotto’s Campanile is a free-standing Bell Tower that stands next to the Cathedral and the Baptistry of St. John. The structure is square with 14.45 metre sides and it is 84.7 metres tall. You can read more about the Bell Tower here.
The Cathedral’s dome remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.
Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici decided to have the dome painted with a representation of The Last Judgment. This huge piece of work (3,600 metres² of painted surface) was started in 1568 by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari and wouldn’t finish until 1579.
The Baptistry (Battistero di San Giovanni)
The Florence Baptistry (also known as the Baptistry of Saint John), is one of the oldest buildings in the city, constructed between 1059 and 1128. The baptistry is an octagon shape, which was a common shape for baptistries since early Christian times. The number eight is a symbol of regeneration in Christianity, signifying the six days of creation, the Day of Rest, and a day of re-creation through the Sacrament of Baptism.
The Baptistry is renowned for its three sets of incredible bronze doors! The east doors were dubbed by Michelangelo the “Gates of Paradise.” These doors consist of 28 panels, with the twenty top panels depicting scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist. The eight lower panels depict the eight virtues of hope, faith, charity, humility, fortitude, temperance, justice and prudence. They are really beautiful but you can only get so close due to the gates – I’m sure up close the detail on them would be all the more incredible.
Dante and many other notable Renaissance figures, including members of the Medici family, were baptised in this baptistry.
The Academia Museum (Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze)
The Gallery of the Academy of Florence, is an art museum which is most well known for being the home of Michelangelo’s sculpture David. The Academia has housed the original sculpture since 1873. It also holds other sculptures by Michelangelo and a collection of Renaissance paintings.
I really wanted to visit the museum but we were very rushed for time and the queues to the museum were very long so we didn’t get the chance to visit. The museum itself is very vast and so we would have needed a good few hours to get round and see everything inside. Very disappointing but a good reason to go back again one day!
There were, however, some great statues outside the museum which we thoroughly enjoyed looking at, including a replica of the statue of David, and the Fountains of Neptune.
Florence is such a beautiful place full of fascinating history and is definitely somewhere I would love to re-visit to spend more time here. You could spend days just visiting the fantastic museums and even more time absorbing all the wonderful culture and friendly and relaxed atmosphere! It is worth going just to see the incredible Cathedral and Bell Tower, if Florence is not already on your bucket list then I highly recommend adding it – and placing it somewhere near the top!