What to see in Florence Italy
Being an American, whenever I thought about Italy I would think about the buildings being so detailed and the people being incredibly nice. The streets being full of the awesome art folk and the open air markets being in full bloom.
After living in Italy for 3 years, I have to admit that it was NOT like I had dreamed it would be. We went all over the place and we only found one place that was my perfect image of Italy. That place was Florence, Italy (or Firenze as it is in Italian).
In Florence I was able to see the incredible architecture and details on the cathedrals and other buildings. I saw my first sidewalk art and was amazed at how close it was to the actual pictures. The open air markets were in full bloom (even though it was sprinkling a little rain every now and then). And the Italian people were so friendly! I even bought this really cool tour book at one of the little shops they had on the corner. This book gave me seven different itineraries that were fully illustrated and in color. It also had a map of the city that we used to make sure we were going the right way. The best part was it only cost me 4.50 Euro and was well worth the money we paid.
Before heading to Florence I knew of two places I really wanted to see. The Ponte Vecchio and the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore.
Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower) is the main church in Florence, Italy. It is one of the largest churches in all of Italy and has the largest brick dome ever constructed. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in different shades of green and pink. These are bordered by white marble making this church one of the most amazing creations in Italy.
The cathedral complex includes the Baptistery and Giotto's Campanile, all of which are a major tourist attraction to anyone visiting the Tuscany region. There are 44 stained glass windows in the church which holds many different kinds of art work and sculptures dating back as late as the 14th century.
The Baptistery is one of the most beautiful examples of Romanesque architecture in Tuscany. It was built in the eleventh century and has an octagonal shape with a pyramid roof. The facing is the same green and white marble as the cathedral. There are three bronze doors on the Baptistery. The first door illustrates stories from the life of John the Baptist and the Cardinal and Theological Virtues. The second illustrates Stories from the New Testament, the Gospels and Doctors of the Church. The third door is a series of ten panels depicting Stories from the Old Testament. Michelangelo admired this door the most and said it was "the door of Paradise".
Giotto's Companile (Giotto's bell tower) is 84.70 meters high and is a magnificent example of Floentine Gothic style. The base of the bell tower is decorated by valuable sculptures and by two bas-reliefs with hexagonal plaques depicting: Stories from Genesis, the History of Human Labour, The Planets, The Virtues, The Liberal Arts and The Sacraments. All were done by the eminent sculptors of that time: Andera Pisano, Luca della Robbia, Arnoldo Arnoldi and Donatello. Today the originals are in the Cathedral Museum but were replace by copies.
The Cathedral Museum houses sculptures, gold work, embroidery, models and designs which were found in the Baptistery, the Duomo and the Bell Tower. At the centre of the stairs is the famous Pieta by Michelangelo. It is an unfinished and dramatic work sculpted for his own memorial chapel which he wished to be built in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. There are works from Arnolfo di Cambio, Donatello, Nanni de Banco, Luca della Robbia and Andrea Pisano. The Museum also preserves priceless paintings, reliquaries, holy robes, a well-known sixteenth-century drawing of a reconstruction of the Duomo's original facade, a wooden model of the dome lantern and in two rooms, especially set up on the ground floor, the tools used by Brunelleschi to build the dome.
The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is a Medieval stone closed, arch bridge that was built over the narrowest point on the Arno River. It has several shops built along it. It is said that the concept of bankruptcy originated here. When a merchant couldn't pay his debts, the table he used to sell his goods was physically broken by soldiers and his practice was called "bancorotto" (broken bank in English). Not having a table anymore the merchant was not allowed to sell anything.
Today most of the tenants in the shops on the bridge are jewellers, art dealers and souvenir sellers.
In the middle of the bridge there are some open arch areas, on both sides of the bridge, that you can look out over the Arno River and get some incredible pictures.
All along the Ponte Vecchio many people have hung padlocks with their initials on them on chains and railings. This tradition is popularly connected to the idea of love and lovers. By locking the padlock and throwing the key into the river, the lovers became eternally bonded. As long as the lock never came off the chain railings, their love would last forever. Because thousands of padlocks have been spoiling or damaging the structure of the centuries-old bridge, there is now a sign that mentions a 50 Euro fine for those caught locking something to the chains or railings. This is not the only place in Italy that does this. Every where we went that there was water, whether it was the sea or a river, there were padlocks on all chains or even around light poles. It has become a huge tradition to those that visit the Tuscany region.
Other Sights To See
There are so many other sights to see in Florence.
The Basilica of Santa Croce is the principal Franciscan church in Florence. It is situated on the Piazza di Santa Croce which is about 800 metres south east of the Duomo. It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile and Rossini. It is also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories. In the piazza they had open food markets set up with candy, meats, cheeses and other Italian dishes.
There is an incredible carousel in the Piazza della Repubblica. It cost us 1.50 Euro for one kid to ride and they had plenty of benches to sit on and watch the kids. There were also a ton of open air markets with fruits, vegetables, and my favorite one, honey!
Along via de' Calzaiuoli (a street that goes away from the Duomo) there were many different stores to stop and look at. There were also sidewalk/street painters. I had never seen these before and they were incredible. It amazed me how people would be sure to walk around the paintings and respected what the drawers has done. There were also many open air markets along this street that had everything you could imagine. From scarfs to toys to jewelry and clothes, you can find something for everyone at an Italian open air market.
My favorite shop of the day was the Atelier Aimee Montenapoleone store. It is this amazing bridal store that had the most beautiful wedding dresses EVER. I love how their window display added the Italian colors to the dresses too. Made it even more memorable for me.
Some other sights that are a must see while in Florence, Italy include: The Statue of David by Michelangelo (inside the gallery of the academy), The Pitti Palace, the Bargello Palace, Piazzale Michelangelo and the Russian Orthodox Church. All of these sights are within a walking distance from the Ponte Vecchio so find a place to park, pay for an all day parking spot, and have an incredible experience touring the wonderful Fierenze, Italy!