If you are wondering what to see in Florence in a day, the answer is very simple. Florence is the city of the Renaissance but not only, in its historical centre are concentrated unique beauties that must be seen at least once in a lifetime. For its inestimable beauty, the historic centre of Florence was included in 1982 among the Italian UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Visiting Classic Florence but in an unusual and countercurrent way
From Fiorentina Doc I want you to discover my city in an essential itinerary in the historical centre of Florence that starts from Piazza della Stazione near Santa Maria Novella.
Florence places of interest
Starting from the station square where trains arrive, the tramway and there is a large and expensive underground car park, we can see the back of the first church we are going to visit, one of the most beautiful in Florence.
The church of Santa Maria Novella
The church of Santa Maria Novella opens on a huge square, since the mid 1800’s called “The Mecca of foreigners. The church of Santa Maria Novella is one of the most important in the city. Founded by the Augustinians on a small church of 1000 A.D., Santa Maria delle Vigne located outside the walls.
Work on the new church officially started in 1279. The convent was flanked by it and it was consecrated by Pope Martin V, who at the time resided in Florence.
The church seems to have been a project of two friars but it certainly enjoys subsequent high level interventions. How not to notice the hand of Leon Battista Alberti who designed the large central portal, the entablature completed the upper part of the façade, in white and serpentine marble, that is the dark green marble of Prato? Giorgio Vasari also intervened later in 1575 with the removal of the choir fence and the reconstruction of the side altars, which led to the shortening of the Gothic windows.
Other interventions continued in the Sceoli as for almost all the Florentine churches and basilicas. And also Santa Maria Novella was elevated to the rank of Basilica Minore in 1919. Today you pay a ticket to visit it. On the present day square there are bars and restaurants and also a historic hotel that has been overlooking the square for over 150 years since Florence was the capital of an Italy still in formation.
Under the portico on the other side of the square today is the Museo del Novecento. With your back to the facade you can take one of the small side streets, via del trebbio, via delle Belle Donne which will lead you first to the “Salotto di Firenze”, via Tornabuoni where you can find the great brands such as Ferragamo, Gucci and many others with much less history but of equal international prestige. Crossing via Tornabuoni at the crossroads between via della Vigna Nuova and via della Spada we take via degli Strozzi passing in front of the monumental renaissance palace of the prestigious Florentine family antagonist of the Medici. Palazzo Strozzi is the seat of the numerous important art exhibitions that come to the city. In the background you can see an enormous arch that, once you have passed it, will catapult you into Florence, the capital of Italy.
Florence Republic Square
The large square, which was overturned in 1865, is the real heart of the city marked by the central column. The column of Abundance marks the centre of the Roman castrum built in 59.b.C on what existed of an Etruscan settlement of Visul (Fiesole).
This square where today there are bars and restaurants once housed the old market and then later it was the site of great cultural activities such as the legendary Caffè Giubbe Rosse, the permanent seat of the Futurist movement since 1912.
Guelph part stage
At this point, to continue our unusual tour, we suggest you to turn right along the arcades passing by via pellicceria. You will find yourself in front of the Palagio di Parte Guelfa which, even if it was remodelled in 1800, maintains a certain medieval emotional charm.
Church of Orsanmichele
Turning on via de’ Lamberti you pass in front of another Florentine jewel: Orsanmichele.
Church of the arts born as a loggia for grain. In the external niches works by Donatello, Brunelleschi, Giambologna, Ghiberti and other great artists.
Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio
At the corner you will find yourself in Via Calimala a few meters on the right and be ready to enjoy the show. On your left, the majestic Palazzo Vecchio stands on Piazza della Signoria.
The palace still today the seat of the Municipality of Florence is an example of the greatness of the city since 1300. Built on the houses of the Uberti family, already built on the remains of the ancient Roman amphitheatre, the palace incorporated one of the towers: the Vacca tower.
Palazzo Vecchio has its own museum and it is impossible to pass through Florence without at least see some rooms: like the Salone dei Cinquecento, Lorenzo’s studiolo and other beauties.
The Uffizi Gallery and the Vasari Corridor
Today the Uffizi Galleries are a museum complex that includes the Gallery, the Vasarian Corridor (the one that passes over the Ponte Vecchio), the Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens. To visit the Uffizi requires a reservation as in this period you cannot enter without one.
The Gallery, commissioned in 1560 by the first Grand Duke of Florence, Cosimo I de’Medici, led to the destruction of an ill-famed district called the Baldracca and saw the incorporation of the ancient church of San Pier Scheraggio. At this point if your time is a tyrant and you can’t cross the Arno river passing over the Ponte Vecchio where today the goldsmiths’ shops are located but once there were butchers, the advice is to go back.
Go back in front of the palace looking among the stones of the pavement for the precise point where Fra’ Girolamo Savonarola was burnt at the stake, go around the Biancone and go all the way to Via de Gondi. You will come out in Piazza San Firenze and crossing it you will pass through Borgo de’ Greci which will take you straight to the other Florentine wonder.
What to see in Florence – The Basilica of Santa Croce
If at Santa Maria Novella the Dominicans had a dominant role in the Holy Cross, it was the Franciscans who had always had a say (a way of kings that came from the monks).
Date of foundation 1294 in place of an oratory built on a small island formed by two arms of the Arno. It was probably Arnolfo di Cambio on designer and was completed in 1385. The façade was taken over in the mid-nineteenth century and for centuries the basilica had the appearance that the Church of San Lorenzo still has today. The Holy Cross is one of the best Gothic buildings in Italy.
The interior is in the shape of an Egyptian cross and because of the 16th century Counter-Reformation many 14th century frescoes were lost. But much has remained in the side chapels: the fourteenth century frescoes by Agnolo Gaddi, the two chapels, Peruzzi and Bardi, frescoed by Giotto with the stories of Saint John the Baptist and those of San Giovanni Evangelista, works by Mino da Fiesole, Donatello and many other great artists of those prolific years.
Temple of the ital glories – The tombs of the Famouses
But Santa Croce is also the guardian of the remains of those who have left their mark in art, music, literature and history. The Tempio dell’itale glorie, as Ugo Foscolo defined it, houses the remains of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, Leon Battista Alberti, Vittorio Alfieri, Gioachino Rossini in 1887 and many others.
Santa Croce is therefore a concentrate of works of art and today the complex is a large museum complex that includes gardens and a convent. Not to be missed is the large refectory that maintains some cycles of frescoes where, after the disastrous flood of 1966 (here it is almost 5 metres high), is The Christ of Cimabue has been repositioned.
We left the cathedral for last because Florence is also its cathedral. Florence city dedicated to Mary mother of God has dedicated its imposing Duomo to Santa Maria del Fiore. A bas-relief placed between Giotto’s bell tower and the external side recalls it.
The Cathedral of Florence – Santa Maria del Fiore
The walk from the basilica of Santa Croce to the Duomo allows us to see a bit more of this unique city. Crossing the square with your back to the basilica you enter the narrow Via dell’Anguillara to come out again in Piazza San Firenze.
Keeping to the right, you are close to another historical palace: the Bargello. Started in the mid 1200s, it housed the “Captain of the People” when Florence was a free municipality and today a prestigious museum. Continuing you arrive in Piazza del Duomo but at the back. To arrive from behind means to taste at best the magnificence of what makes this enormous church special:
Brunelleschi’s Dome is the largest masonry dome ever built. And it must be seen from here. Filippo Brunelleschi architect famous for his abrupt manners, began the work in 1420. Completed in 1436 he had to wait for the completion with the lantern in 1461. A dome built in an unusual way, which can be visited if you do not suffer from vertigo.
Turning around the dome allows you to admire it in all its beauty given by the red bricks of the Impruneta furnaces and the white marble of the mouldings.
Arriving from behind in front of the cathedral also makes it possible to understand its size and relate it to the Baptistery. In fact, right in front of the nineteenth-century façade of Santa Maria del Fiore is “Il Bel San Giovanni” mentioned by Dante Alighieri in his Commedia.
Today the museum with its famous bronze doors still has a somewhat mysterious origin. Temple of Mars, 7th century church, place of investiture of knights? However the interior is worth a visit.
We have reached the end of our tour. A visit to the cathedral is also worthwhile to enjoy its grandeur from the inside. It is also excellent to climb up Giotto’s bell tower, which, aligned with the cathedral, had been since its design by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1298 a great importance.
Giotto arrived in 1334 and thought it over 110 metres. 398 original steps to dominate the square and beyond. Five original bells are still visible today. To finish our tour on the right side of Piazza San Giovanni (where the Baptistery is located) we walk through Borgo San Lorenzo to arrive at the Basilica of San Lorenzo, which has no facade.
Church of San Lorenzo the church of the Medici
The church of the lords of Florence, I Medici, whose back of the palace overlooked the square, is another jewel not to be missed. Consecrated as cathedral of Florence in 393 in the presence of Saint Ambrose and Saint Zanobi.
The Medici chapels and the tombs of the Lords of Florence.
Passing by and going around it on the left you reach the Medici Chapels where the family that has allowed Florence to have so much beauty and also the last descendant: Maria Luisa de’ Medici.
It was she who, with the famous “Family Pact”, prevented the new Regents from taking elsewhere everything the family had sponsored and paid for over the centuries. Just a few more metres further along Via del Melarancio and you find yourself in Piazza dell’Unità Italiana practically in Piazza della Stazione.