Recommended tours on Florence
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Piazza del Duomo is a great
place to start a tour that will uncover some of Florence's historical
beauty. Not only is the piazza rich in history, but it's an
architectural delight too. One of the first sights you will see is the
Baptistery, dedicated to St John the Baptist (patron saint of
Florence) and one of the oldest buildings in the city. It was
constructed in its current form in the eleventh century. Besides the
beautiful interior (richly decorated with mosaics), there are glorious
medieval and Renaissance bronze doors by Andrea Pisano and Lorenzo
Ghiberti. A reconstructed version of Michelangelo's eastern door
(known as The Gateway to Paradise because of its beauty) is
also visible. If you want to see some of Michelangelo's original
panels, they are located in the Cathedral Museum, which has been
recently reopened after a long closure. The museum is situated on the
piazza, behind the apse of the cathedral. Amongst other things, it
contains precious sculptures as well as exhibits connected to the
buildings that are dotted around the piazza.
In front of the Baptistery is the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral,
which was built by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296 to replace the old Santa
Reparata cathedral. The archaeological remains of this cathedral are
in the basement of the present church. Di Cambio's building was only
completed one hundred and fifty years later with the addition of the
enormous cupola (dome) that sits above the church's transept. Filippo
Brunelleschi, a truly gifted Renaissance architect designed the dome.
It is possible to reach the top of the cupola (access is on the right
hand side of the church), which is 107m from ground level but there is
no lift so you will have to climb over 400 steps. It is definitely
worth climbing the steps, not just for the beautiful view that awaits
you at the top, but also so that you can begin to appreciate the
mastery of Brunelleschi, as the cupola is truly an extraordinary feat
The interior of the cathedral itself is also well worth visiting, even
though at times there can be a queue. Amongst other things, you will
be able to see the frescoes beneath the cupola, painted in the second
half of the sixteenth century by Vasari and Zucchari. The frescoes
cover an area of around 3600m2 and represent Universal Justice'.
It is also worth taking a look at the Sacristy where Lorenzo de Medici
sought refuge during the Pazzi conspiracy when his brother Giuliano
was killed in the cathedral. Here you will also see the lined
marquetries created by a group of artists including Giuliano and
Benedetto da Maiano. There are two frescoes on the right of the nave
as you turn towards the exit: Giovanni Acuto (John Hawkwood) by Paolo
Uccello and Niccol?da Tolentino by Andrea del Castagno.
As you leave the cathedral, you will see the Campanile di Giotto'
(Giotto's Bell Tower'). Giotto himself began work on the tower.
In this case too, a climb to the top is recommended - but take care if
you suffer from vertigo!
Walk down Via Calzaiuoli - along which you will find hundreds of shops
selling all manner of goods - and in a few minutes, you will reach the
Piazza della Signoria, the political centre of Florence. The focal
point of the piazza is the imposing Palazzo della Signoria' (also
known as the Palazzo Vecchio'). This palace once housed the
government of the city of Florence and has been enlarged several times
over the centuries. Arnolfo di Cambio (the same architect who designed
the cathedral), created the palazzo in 1294. The section that is not
dedicated to the museum retains its function as the offices of the
Town Council. The second internal courtyard houses the only public
baths in the city centre.
On the Piazza della Signoria, you'll come across the dei Lanzi Lodge,
which was originally a public meeting place but is now an open-air
museum of sorts, where you can view a group of sculptures by Ratto
delle Sabine and Giambologna. Besides this, there is also the
Mannerist Fountain of Neptune' by Ammannati and the equestrian
monument to Cosimo I, by Giambologna. There is a copy of
Michelangelo's magnificent David too, which stands in front
of the palace gates.
At this point you have a choice. You can either visit the Ufizzi
Gallery (probably one of the most important museums in the world),
which is only a short walk from the piazza, or, weather permitting,
relax at an open-air caf? e.g. the Rivoire (a popular choice), which
is famous for its hot chocolate with cream absolute bliss!
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