Florence… it was a place of my dream. As a kid, my mother once showed me a photograph of a beautiful cathedral (with a giant orange dome) standing among a sea of houses with color-matching roofs. It was fascinating. I was told the cathedral was in Florence, and my mother was there before. Then the image remained in my mind that it defines stunning beauty. I remember that it was my first art project in high school to create some architecture models with cardboard, paper, and any other materials; I grabbed a plastic shaved ice cup lid and painted it orange – as the dome for the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and my art teacher loved it. She displayed my work in the art classroom for years until the water color paint finally peeled off. Well, art was supposed to be inspiring, not to mention Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance and nurtured many great names in European art.
Today, Florence has evolved as a popular travel destination with waves and waves of tourists. Bustling restaurants, overpriced souvenir stores, street hawkers of cheap knock-offs and pleather handbags could be found everywhere in between the old town pedestrian roads… Somehow the city was managed to be kept as a time capsule with architecture back to the Gothic times. The old town was still compact and packed with countless fine arts – cathedral, churches, mansions, palaces… it takes days, or even months, for a visitor to look at them all in an area within walking distance.
Route for the day:
Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore > Giotto’s Campanile > Florence Baptistery > Repubblica Square > Basilica of Santa Maria Novella > Accademia Gallery > Michelangelo Square
Look! The largest cathedral dome in the world!
Upon arrival by train, I quickly navigate myself through the streets and checked into a clean, cozy and cheap hostel merely a 2-minute walk away from the Duomo and started my day. It was emotional for me to realize that I could one day, climbing the plastic shaved ice cup lid and had a bird-eye view of the romantic city…
There are a lot of spectacular cathedrals in the world, yet few of them have the softness and tenderness like the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Laid by marble stones in a combination of white, pink and green, the cathedral manifests the value of Renaissance to the utmost – classic, elegant, and free. The cathedral took 175 years to build, and the most impressive structure is the dome – a striking and eye-catching part of the cathedral and dominates the city’s skyline. Built by a goldsmith, Filippo Brunelleschi, who had no prior architectural training, the architect managed to add on a giant dome to the cathedral in the 15th-century, and it remained to be the largest cathedral dome, and the largest brick and mortar one, in the world. It’s even more fascinating that the architect left no sketch or evidence behind about how the architectural wonder was done, and so his technique of building a dome remained a mystery. Filippo’s tomb is in the cathedral, too; and there is a sculpture of him pointing upwards to his work. Not only was it an architectural wonder, but the dome was also a remarkable artistic achievement with the fresco of “Last Judgment”, painted by Giorgio Vasari and completed by his student Frederico Zuccari. The complexity of the dome deserves a closer look, and I would recommend visitors to climb the 463 staircases to the top of the cathedral. On route, visitors could get real close to the paintings and enjoy a spectacular and unobstructed panoramic view of the city of Florence.
Giotto’s Campanile, Florence Baptistery, Repubblica Square are all a stone throw away from the Duomo. The Florence Baptistery is right in front of the Cathedral and “The Gates of Paradise”, praised by Michelangelo, is a must-see. The gate is 4.6-meter in height with so many extraordinary details on each panel and trim… just amazing.
Check out more about my favorite cathedrals at My Top 12 Cathedral in Europe (2)!
Everyone knows David, and there are a lot of Davids all over town. For example, there is one standing proudly outdoor in the Piazza Della Signoria, yet that one is not the original David. The “David di Michelangelo” that everyone knows now displayed in the Accademia Gallery (Gallery of the Academy of Florence), and that is “the thing” in the gallery people (meant me) would pay to see. The queue outside the Academy could be impressive, so pre-purchase tickets on-line to save the hassle! As I remember, I was asked to select a particular time slot for my visit. Apart from David, the gallery also features some impressive marble sculptures, which some of them were created by Michelangelo.
Wow, Firenze and the sunset
After a few turns in the allies and some quick visits of the Italian fashion boutique (Some of them had museums like Ferragamo Museum and Gucci World Flagship store). I ended my first day in town with a beautiful sunset view of the city at another place named after Michelangelo. Michelangelo Square is a place in the city that requires public transportation uphill. The square had another duplication of “David” standing in the middle of the space, but everyone on site was too busy admiring the gorgeous view of the Florence old town over the Arno River.
Places to see for the 2nd day onwards:
Basilica of San Lorenzo > Capelle Medicee > Palazzo Medici-Riccardi > Antique Street / Fashion Street > Pitti Palace / Palatina Gallery > Boboli Gardens > Chiesa of Santa Croce > Piazza Della Signoria > Uffizi Gallery and beyond…
The Medici experience…
The Medici family, the ruler of Florence throughout the Renaissance period, played a predominant role in the development of the art of the city. It only makes sense that the family had quite a collection in their mansion. Palazzo Medici Riccardi had been the residence of the Medici family for a hundred years since 1460. The exterior of the building was, in fact, quite low-key and execute their family power behind the scene. Inside, however, was filled with surprises and amazing artworks. More, the Cappelle Medicee and Basilica di San Lorenzo were also landmarks linked with the Medici family with impressive history and art. The Green Cloister in Chiesa di Santa Maria Novella is also something not to miss.
The Arno River
Walked through the Piazza Della Repubblica, both Via Della Vigna Nuova (Fashion Street, designer brands, boutiques, cake shops..) and Via de’ Fossi (Antique Street, old toys, books, etc.) led strollers to the riverside of the Arno River. I enjoyed the walk along the river towards the oldest bridge in Florence, Ponte Vecchio, which connects to the other side of the city to Palazzo Pitti. The shops on both sides of the bridge sold antiques and jewelry… more like a window-shopping experience for me – but after my visit to the Uffizi Gallery (My top 10 picks of an art gallery).
Literally the birthplace of the Renaissance, The Uffizi Gallery was Italy’s most prestigious art gallery of Renaissance art (and one of the oldest galleries in the world). It is located on the Arno river bank, around the corner of the Piazza della Signoria. “Uffizi” means “offices,” it was originally an office building for the magistrates of Florence, and the gallery was well-lit with large windows on all sides of its U-shaped corridors. The gallery has a collection of many Renaissance great names – Filippo Lippi, Sandro Botticelli, Titian, Raphael, Michelangelo, Caravaggio,… to name a few. Definitely, a “must-see” whenever you are in Florence, Italy. W.o.W., a great finale of my Florence Run! Run! Adventure!