Florence… is the 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 so beautiful and it captured me. 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 watercolor paint finally peeled off.
Well, art was supposed to be inspiring, not to mention that Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance and nurtured many, many great names in European art.
The final decades of the 15th century are traditionally seen as the pinnacle of the Florentine Renaissance, sealed by the figures of Lorenzo the Magnificent, de facto ruler of Florence, a politician committed to diplomacy and a splendid patron, and Sandro Botticelli, the painter who, more than any other, successfully depicted the theories of Quattrocento philosophical though. The concepts discussed in the cultural environment that revolved around Lorenzo were promoted through the Platonic Academy. Founded in the Medici villa at Careggi, the academy advanced a theology that bound ancient thought to Christianity and was driven by philosophers and theologians such as Marsilio Ficino, Pico Della Mirandola, and Agnolo Poliziano. Their ideas were reflected in painting in the figure of Sandro Botticelli and his famous depictions of the realm of Venus, a pagan deity reinterpreted as the driving force behind the universe. The death of Lorenzo of Magnificent, the expulsion of his son Piero from Florence, and the preaching of Savonarola, who was hostile to the Medici and urged moral rigor, upset that delicate equilibrium and caused a crisis that brought politics and consciences into play.
Today, Florence is a popular travel destination with waves of tourists every day. 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… among all commercialized activities, the old city managed to keep its architecture and beauty in the Gothic times like a time capsule. 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.
Day 1: From the dome to the plaza
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 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 than 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 online 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, some of which were created by Michelangelo.
Wow, Firenze and the sunset
After a few turns in the allies and some quick visits to 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.
Day 2: From the bridge to Uffizi
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).
The Uffizi 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 riverbank, around the corner of the Piazza della Signoria. They include the building built by Vasari between 1560 to 1580 for Duke Cosimo I to accommodate the offices of the florentine Magistrates, hence the name “Uffizi” (which means “offices”), the Vasari Corridor, Palazo Pitti, and the Boboli Gardens, the residence of the grand dukes.
The original of the Uffizi Gallery date back to 1581. In that year the Grand Duke Francesco I de Medici set up a Gallery on the last floor of the East Wing of the building. It is currently one of the most famous museums in the world for its extraordinary collections of ancient sculptures and paintings, from the Middle Ages to the modern. The collections of paintings of the 14th century and of the Renaissance contain some absolute masterpieces of the art of all times; just remember the names of Giotto, Simone Martini, Piero Della Francesca, Beato Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Mantegna, Correggio, Leonardo Raffaello, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, as well as masterpieces of Italian art is the collection of statuary and busts from the antiquity of the Medici family. The collection graces the corridors of the Gallery and includes ancient Roman sculptures, copies of lost Greek Original.
Purchased in 1550 by Cosimo de Medici and his wife Eleonora di Toledo to transform it into the new grand-ducal residence, Palazzo Pitti soon become the symbol of the consolidated power of the Medici over Tuscany. The Palace of two other dynasties, that of the Habsburg-Lorraine (successor of the Medici from 1737) and of the Savoy, who lived there as royals of Italy from 1865, Palazzo Pitti still bears the name of its first owner, the Florentine banker Luca Pitti, who wanted to build it in the mid-15th century – perhaps to a design by Brunelleschi – beyond the Arno, at the foot of the Boboli hill. It is currently home to four different museums: The Treasury of the Grand Dukes on the ground floor, the Palatine Gallery and the Imperial and Royal Apartments on the noble floor of the Palace, the Gallery of Modern Art, and the Museum of Fashion and Costume on the second floor.
The well-lit corridors and galleries were quite different from the other museums that I have seen and it is a “must-see” whenever you are in Florence, Italy.
Born in the Aegean Sea, Venus is the goddess of love and eternal beauty. The Venus depicted by Botticelli epitomized the ideal female figure and the essence of humanism. in Botticelli’s work, Venus has a graceful and elegant shape, with a long, slender neck, and shoulder that taper downwards. Botticelli often painted Venus with a frail and delicate appearance, with a melancholic expression, which made her divine beauty more accessible to people. Such works reflected the humanist idea focusing on the portrayal of humans, in which Venus was transformed into a living, breathing mortal goddess.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – and different eras in history are marked by unique notions of beauty. Neoplatonists during the Renaissance advocated the idea that beauty encompassed love and God, the three of them equal.
God made us in his image. And as his creation of love, we seek beauty out of our affection and admiration for God. The exquisite depictions of humanity fell into a celebration of the grace of God and the dignity of humankind. Our idea of beauty may be different now, but these artworks remain timeless in their ability to captivate us and inspire our imagination to this day.