Almost exactly a year ago, I lived in the incredible city of Florence, Italy, for a month. I was enrolled in a summer course with the Italian Studies program of my university, a Beginner’s Italian Intensive, which was a whole semester’s work in just 4 weeks. It was such an amazing experience, living in a city with so much history, culture, art, BEAUTY and so much to do. I want to share with you some of my favorite places…
1. Of course, I have to start with the Duomo. The Piazza del Duomo is the site of the “awe-inspiring cathedral and its attendant museum, with the elegant Baptistery and Campanile completing the magnificent ensemble” (Rough Guides). Brunelleschi’s magnificent dome, crowning the Duomo, is the city’s defining image. The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is the cathedral church of Florence, begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to the design of Arnolfo di Cambio and completed structurally in 1436 with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The basilica is one of Italy’s largest churches, and until the modern era, the dome was the largest in the world. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed (Wikipedia).
There are plenty of restaurants and cafes on the square, and there’s a great atmosphere in the evening. I loved sitting on the steps of the Duomo in the evening, with a bottle of wine and watching people walk by…
2. Piazza della Repubblica was planned in the late 1860s, when it was decided to demolish the central marketplace (Mercato Vecchio) and the tenements of the Jewish quarter in order to give Florence a public space befitting the capital of the recently formed Italian nation. Today, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants that surround the square. The Italian class I was enrolled in was given at a language school situated on the Piazza della Repubblica, under the “Pensione Pendini” sign featued below.
The inscription on the arch reads…
L’ANTICO CENTRO DELLA CITTA DA SECOLARE SQUALLORE A VITA NUOVA RESTITUITO. (The ancient center of the city/restored from age-old squalor/to new life.)
On the square you will find lots of a little cafes, great for a morning cappuccino. The Piazza della Repubblica is best known for the 3 large and expensive cafes that stand on the perimeter: the Gilli, Giubbe Rosse and Paszkowski. We had 15 minute breaks everyday between classes, and would go downstairs to the cafes across the street for a quick (and very necessary!) coffee break.
3. Right off the Piazza della Republicca, I often saw street artists who created replicas of masterpieces with chalk on the sidewalk.
4. The Piazza della Signoria is an L-shaped square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy. It is the focal point of the origin and of the history of the Florentine Republic and still maintains its reputation as the political hub of the city. It is the meeting place of Florentines as well as the numerous tourists, located near Ponte Vecchio and Piazza del Duomo and gateway to the Uffizi Gallery. Even though the Uffizi Gallery is enormous, there is no way you can go to Florence without visiting! It is best to pick and choose the sculptures and/or paintings you want to see instead of attempting to see everything.
My favorite painting featured at the Uffizi gallery is Botticelli’s Birth of Venus of 1482. Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is among the first large-scale paintings of mythological subjects since Antiquity. It shows Venus, who sprang full-grown from the sea foam, and was blown by the winds to land on Cythera (present day Cyprus). Here, a figure identified as Spring or Flora welcomes her on land. Venus generally represents earthly love, yet here identification with heavenly love is suggested by her modesty and by the roses around her, which were symbols of pure love and of the Virgin Mary (text by Robert Gerwing, found here).
The Palazzo Vecchio is Florence’s fortress-like town hall. It was begun in the last year of the 13th century, as the home of the highest tier of the city’s republican government.
This square is beautiful, but I would NOT recommend grabbing a bite to eat at one of the restaurants around the square – they are overpriced and the quality is not that great, the ultimate “tourist trap.” You are better off wandering into one of the side streets from this square and finding a smaller restaurant with authentic Italian and/or Tuscan food.
5. The Florence markets. Below are photographs of the San Lorenzo market. The Basilica di San Lorenzo is one of the largest churches of Florence, situated at the center of the city’s main market districts, and the burial place of all the principal members of the Medici family. It is one of the several churches that claim to be the oldest in Florence; when it was consecrated in 393 it stood outside the city walls (Wikipedia).
At the markets, you can find whatever you want, from leather goods such as bags and belts, to tshirts and jewelry. Hint: bargain bargain bargain!
Some of my favorite Italian goodies include parmesan cheese, cantucci biscotti and wine, lot’s of wine!
6. Fashion in Florence. Granted, the city is not known for fashion like Milan is, but there is an abundance of shops in the core of the city and even a fashion week to celebrate the emergence of fashion designers and trends every year. Last year, the event took place from the 4th till the 11th of June. Following the great success of the first edition, from the 12th to 20th of June Polimoda Fashion Week 2010 is taking place again, at the same time as Pitti Uomo. The event transforms Florence into a stage set where fashion, creativity, talent and culture mingle, providing an “open air” showcase that enlivens the streets of the city. If you are in the area, be sure to check out any events happening in the area!
If you are interested in fashion and are up for an unusual museum visit (not found in your traditional guidebook), be sure to stop by the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum. Situated in Florence, on the basement of Palazzo Spini Feroni (Via Tornabuoni n. 2), the museum was opened to the public in 1995 by the Ferragamo family, in an effort to illustrate Ferragamo’s artistic qualities and the important role he played in the history of shoe design and international fashion. Besides photographs, patents, sketches, books, magazines and wooden lasts of various famous feet, the museum boasts a collection of draws 10,000 models designed by Ferragamo from the end of the 1920’s until 1960, the year of his death (Museums in Florence). It’s only a 5 euro entrance fee (with complementary headphones), and definitely worth the visit!
Horse carriages outside Chanel… I love the contrast between the horses and the haute couture, haha
7. The Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) is the principal Franciscan church in Florence and a minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church. It is situated on the Piazza di Santa Croce, about 800 meters south east of the Duomo. It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, and others, thus it is known also as the Temple of the Italian Glories (Tempio dell’Itale Glorie). I was quite overwhelmed with the amount of churches and historical monuments to visit in Florence, yet I heard Santa Croce was definitely worth the visit.
The inner courtyard is said to be one of the most quiet places of the city. Designed by Brunelleschi, it is the “most peaceful spot in the centre of Florence” (Rough Guides). I could have spent hours here…
8. The Ponte Vecchio is a Medieval bridge over the Arno River, noted for still having shops built along it, as was once common. Butchers initially occupied the shops; the present tenants are jewelers, art dealers and souvenir sellers.
9. When crossing the bridge, you enter the district known as Oltrarno – the gargantuan Palazzo Pitti is the dominant feature. The Boboli Gardens are the gardens of the palace, constructed by the Medici when they moved into the palace, “transforming their backyard into an enormous garden, its every statue, view and grotto designed to elevate nature by the judicious application of art” (Rough Guides).
It is a beautiful garden, with an unbelievable amount of sculptures and great views of the city, but don’t expect your visit to the gardens to be completely tourist-free, the gardens attract about 5 million visitors a year…
10. The Bargello consists of an “unmatched collection of Renaissance sculpture, plus a fabulous array of applied art” (Rough Guides). The sculptures are absolutely beautiful, and when I visited, there were barely an visitors there. I was able to spend a nice amount of time admiring the intricacies of these pieces of art.
11. Piazzale Michelangelo is a famous square with magnificent panoramic views of Florence and is a major tourist destination. The square Michelangelo square, dedicated to the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo, has copies of some of his famous works in Florence: the David and the four allegories of the Medici Chapel of San Lorenzo. These copies are made of bronze, while the originals are all in white marble. It is a great place for a summer evening picnic…
12. And a photoessay on Italy wouldn’t be complete without gelato…
Hope you have liked my portrayal of this beautiful city!