Daytime in Florence begins calmly: a gaze at Brunelleschi’s Dome, an extra-frothy cappuccino and away we go. Armed with a map, we set off to discover the heart of the city.
The historic centre of Florence is an open-air work of art, where elegant but chaotic interwoven streets are swarming, from first thing in the morning until late at night, with curious tourists who want to squeeze every last drop out of their stay in Florence.
Behind every corner hides a noble palace, a precious adornment or, perhaps even a craft shop, all of which deserve to be remembered with a photograph.
Starting from the Lungarno alongside the river and walking towards the city centre, you will encounter streets that are overflowing with restaurants, their outdoor tables risking being swept away by passers-by, and shop windows filled with precious fabrics and leather bags.
Without even realising so, you will end up in a large square dominated by the imposing Palazzo Vecchio (Vecchio Palace): this really is the beating heart of Florence, its economic and political centre where recent and centuries-old history comes together.
Built in the late thirteenth century by Arnolfo di Cambio, the palace boasts a grandiose structure in rustic brick with two sets of Gothic windows, a walkway and a tower that appears to have come from an adventuresome story: it is actually the remains of an earlier medieval building, “The Cow”, which was incorporated into the palace. It is for this very reason that the tower is not in the middle of the palace, but slightly to the right, giving the building a touch of personality.
Today the palace, in addition to being Florence’s town hall, is also a superb museum that tells a secular history of victories and greatness; a stunning highlight is the Salone dei Cinquecento, where the magnificent frescoes celebrate the power that Florence had over its neighbours, whilst Francesco’s small study invites meditation and silence.
However, the most spectacular room is on the second floor, at the end of the Elements Apartments: the Dressing Room (literally Stanza del Guardaroba) is in fact carpeted with maps, their geography according to scholars of the sixteenth century, which, as was later discovered, was not that different from that of today.
For an ultra-chic break, at the end of the visit, enjoy a cup of coffee from Gucci which can be found in Piazza della Signoria (Signoria Square): amongst veiled women and Chinese tourists with lots of expensive looking packages, admire the reproduction of Michelangelo’s David (the original is kept at the Galleria dell’Accademia museum), the imposing statues under the Loggia dei Lanzi and the equestrian monument for Cosimo I by Giambologna; a homage to the founder of the Uffizi and a great patron of fine art.
Behind the square, remains an old road about 400 metres long; a small, luxurious and historic treasure. This is Via dei Calzaiuoli, a world made of shops, colourful and high priced boutiques and palaces whose plaques bear testament to their long history.
One passes in front of the Palazzo dei Cavalcanti (the Cavalcanti Palace), where verses from Dante are cited, and then pulls out in front of what once was the workshop of Donatello and Michelozzo. Around a corner the beautiful church of Orsanmichele appears, once a grain deposit which then became a pearl of the centre of Florence: famous, without a doubt, for its beautiful round terracottas by Andrea della Robbia which adorn the tabernacles.
Another special street is that of Via Dei Cimatori, where each road tells a story and if you look up you can see it: the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Cathedral of Florence; the icing on the cake.
The small Piazza del Duomo (Duomo Square) contains three wonders: the baptistery, with Byzantine-style mosaics on the dome and its three fine bronze doors (of which that by Ghiberti is undoubtedly the most famous). The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, is a record breaker: the fourth largest church in Christendom, it includes the dome of Brunelleschi, the largest masonry dome ever built, and Giotto’s bell tower, covered with fine white, pink and green marble.
If you have lungs and legs strong enough, climb the 400 steps up to the belvedere: you may be breathless by the time you reach the top but the unique panoramic views of the city make it well worth the effort.
On the one side, you will see the outline of Palazzo Vecchio, and on the other, the silhouette of San Lorenzo and the domes of the Medici Chapels, which contain the remains of Giuliano and Lorenzo the Magnificent. The station and Santa Maria Novella in the distance add to the incredible view … a greeting from Florence; an amazing city of history, art and culture.
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