Like most Italian towns also Florence has a political center and a religious center, of course this is a theoretical division since the two parts are strictly connected and interlaced and your tour can' be only of one kind.
The historical centre is small and you can easilly tour Florence Center on foot, take a look at this fullscreen map to see how everithing in the centre of Florence is within a walking distance. Religious Center: Duomo, Battistero, Santa Croce, San Lorenzo, Santa Maria Novella. Political Center: Piazza Signoria, Bargello, Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Pitti, Giardino di Boboli, Palazzi fiorentini.
The Doumo cathedral is the main religious center of the town.
The word duomo, Cathedral, comes from a latin word “domus” = house. And “Domus” is the House of God. Cathedral (in Italian: Cattedrale), also coming from latin, has a different meaning: “cattedra” is a seat in a church it is the seat of the Bishop, a church which has a real or ideal bishop’s seat is a Cathedral. In Duomo the “cattedra” is under the dome near the main altar.
In Florence you can have free guided tours in the main churches:
Ars et Fides Firenze is part of an international association, founded in 1984: Ars et Fides, Fédération internationale de guides bénévoles. The volunteers of the Association give free tours to singles or groups in the following churches:
Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, San Lorenzo, Santa Maria Novella, Santa Croce usually from 10am to 12 am and from 3 pm to 5 p.m.
Also in Santa Trinita and Cappella Rucellai in different hours. More information in www.arsetfidesfirenze.it
Up to 1980 the most of Florentine babies were baptized in St John Baptistery. Now this octagonal building that faces the Duomo facade, is usually for tourists (entrance 4 euros) or for some religious event. This is one of the oldest florentine buildings a legend says that it was once a Roman temple of Mars. Recent excavations, however, suggest its foundation was laid in the sixth or seventh century AD.
In your guide book you can find a complete description of the mosaics and of the wonderful bronze doors (the most important is the “Paradise door” by Ghiberti). Now, as you are walking around, not only with your guide book but also with me, let us go in a little street near here, “piazza dell’Oglio” around the corner with Via de’ Pecori, here you can see a facade of a little church, which is always closed, its name is “San Salvatore al Vescovo”. Take a photo of this church and compare this facade (A.D. 1221) with the outside of the Baptistery (thirteenth century) and later when you go to visit Piazzale Michelangelo, with the facade of San Miniato al Monte (one of the most interesting and beautiful churches of Florence) All these facades have a geometric rhythm made by colored marbles and symbols: white marble from Carrara, green from Pisa, pink from Grosseto. Here was born the Florentine Romanic and you can find more examples during your walk in the churches of: Santi Apostoli (borgo SS Apostoli near Ponte Vecchio) Santo Stefano al Ponte, Badia Fiesolana.
Well you’ve just done your first thematic path: the Florentine Romanesque path!
In Duomo Square you can also climb up to the top of the dome or to the top of Giotto’s Bell tower, The dome is higher and you can visit it outside admiring the panorama of the red roofs and the main monuments of Florence and inside where you can admire the frescoes of the Final Judgment painted by Vasari e Zuccari (476 steps!)
Now move from Duomo Square to Palazzo Vecchio (Palazzo della Signoria) walking in Via Calzaioli , by the way you have to stop and visit another ancient rectangular church “Orsanmichele” (Or = orto = loom / San = Saint / Michele = Michael) the meaning is “Loom of the St Michael’s Sisters”, in fact in ancient times this building was e deposit of wheat and in the higher part you can see the holes they used to fill the deposit like a modern silos.
From Via Calzaioli follow Via dei Tavolini, have a look at Dante’s house (false) and proceed to the ancient Badia Fiorentina (1285), whose bell tower is one of the best of Florence, you can see it very well from the courtyard.
In Via del Proconsolo, on the opposite side of the Badia you see the Bargello an palace where you can find the most important and beautiful collection of Renaissance sculpture in Italy. The Bargello’s ancient bell tower traditionally rings only in case of war or of enemy attach, the last time it rang was for the big flood in 1966.
Proceeding for few meters you arrive to Piazza San Firenze, one of the few Baroque monuments of Florence.
Now turn right (west), 50 more meters and you are in Piazza della Signoria the civic center of Florence. Also here you have many things to visit: The palace, the Loggia dei Lanzi, the fountain, the Uffizi palace.
Uffizi If you like to visit this important museum, take one day (or half a day) for the visit and reserve the entrance: you pay three euros more but you save two or three hours in a long line. You can reserve in: http://www.firenzemusei.it/00_english/servizi/index.html or by phone to the number 055294883 or in a tourist information office. To this number you can also reserve tickets for Academia , Medici Chapels etc.
Leave Piazza Signoria and follow Via Vacchereccia, at the end of this street there is an open space loggia, this is the New Market (mercato Nuovo); it was new in 1551. The main attraction is Il Porcellino, a bronze piglet made by Pietro Tacca; rub its snout, it will bring good luck to you!
Among the souvenirs stands in the center of the Loggia, you can see a square stone on the floor, on this stone were kept those who had a financial setback or bankrupt and to make bigger their shame they were put in chains with their backside unclothed. Eve to day in Florence if you say “I’m with my backside on the ground” means that you have really bad finances!
Follow Via Por Santa Maria towards the river and you’ll arrive to the Old Bridge, Ponte Vecchio was built in 1345 to replace an earlier bridge and was the bridge which allowed the access to Florence to those who came from the south of Italy. Over the bridge in 1593 was built a private corridor linking the Uffizi (Medici Offices) and Pitti Palace (the Medici Palace) This corridor: Il Corridoio Vasariano is now a museum of portraits, the entrance is in Uffizi Palace and the exit is inside Boboli Gardens.
Second tour from Piazza SS. Annunziata to Santo Spirito (also Brunelleschi path)
Built in the earl 1400 years by Brunelleschi, this renaissance square together with the hospital (spedale degli innocenti) has three sides with arcades with round arches and is a typical architecture on human scale, not only for its harmonious dimensions, but also for its social aim, the hospital was an hospital where deserted children where taken, treated and educated. A baby could be left into e little window between the spokes of a wheel, the one who turned the wheel inside the hospital could not see the mother of the baby or the one who had left it.
Visit the Church, the square (bronze fountains) and have a look to the palace in front of the church’s front (Palazzo Budini Gattai) and proceed in Via dei Servi, turn left in Via degli Alfani and in front of you you’ll have a circular building (today it belongs to the University of Florence), this building was built by Brunelleschi.
Return in Via dei Servi, in front of you there is Brunelleschi dome. Very probably you visited it in your first tour , but look at it again.
Brunelleschi was ten years in Rome to study the Pantheon’s dome before planning this dome (in Florence we call it “Cupolone” as the big cupola = dome) and then he planned two different self holding domes one into the other with a wooden structure inside
FOTO SPACCATO DELLA CUPOLA
Brunelleschi was a real genius, he also invented a special food for those who worked in the building this food had to be complete, with meat, vegetables and to have a good taste, the name of this food is “Peposo” you can taste it in some restaurants or trattorie of the city centre.
One of the best friends of Brunelleschi was Donatello, great Florentine sculptor. Donatello had worked hard to sculpt a wooden big Crucifix (now in Santa Croce) and was very proud of it, he told it to Brunelleschi and invited him to admire his work. When Brunelleschi saw the Christ, he smiled and said: “You sculpted a Christ with a peasant’s body, not a perfect body of a God!” Donatello who thought his work was a very good one, answered “Try do make a better one!”
Brunelleschi went back home and secretly started to sculpt a wooden Crucifix. After several months his work was finished. One day, near the food market, Brunelleschi meet his friend and asked him to lunch together, they went to buy eggs, cheese, bread, Donatello put all these things in his apron and Brunelleschi asked him to take all to his house while he went for an errand. Brunelleschi run home to put his sculpture in a good light in front of the house door, when Donatello arrived and opened the door, he saw this perfect Christ and was so amazed that left the corners of his errand so that eggs, cheese and bread felt down on the floor. “What shall we eat to day?” asked Brunelleschi, “To day I have had enough of all; you really can sculpt gods and I can sculpt only peasants!
Now you can walk from the Duomo to San Lorenzo church where is San Lorenzo market. Visit the church which has no front face, consider its building perfection, if you have time ask for a free tour inside the church. Do not miss to visit the Biblioteca Laurenziana (Laurenziana Library) .
Walk along Via dell’Ariento and arrive to the Medici Chapels, a real masterpiece by Michelangelo. You can also visit Medici Chapels, but I suggest to visit this place in the same day when you visit also Accademia Museum where is Michelangelo’s David.
Through Via del Giglio , by the way you’ll find a tiny piazza, in the center a column topped by a roofed crucifix this is the Croce al Trebbio (1308) erected by the Dominicans Friars to commemorate a famous bloody victory against the heretics.
Few meters on the right (via delle Belle Donne) and you are in Santa Maria Novella Square. You need much time to visit this church, first enjoy the square and the Leon Battist Alberti’s facade in the lower part as well as along Via degli Avelli, you see many “Avelli” ancient tombs in the lower part between two columns, there was a cemetery here and it was outside the walls of Florence. To visit the church you have to pay a ticket, try to have a free tour, the church is very important and full of art masterpieces: Masaccio’s Trinity. Look at it carefully and think that, when he died, Masaccio was only 27 yeas old! (you can admire more Masaccio’s frescoes in Chiesa del Carmine), Strozzi Chapel painted by Nardo di Cione (1315/20 - 1368). In the next chapel you see the Brunelleschi wooden crucifix. In the center the Major Chapel (Tornabuoni) The frescoes are by Ghirlandaio.
Don’t miss a visit to the cloister and to the Cappellone degli Spagnoli.
Here we are again, outside in the square, in front of the facade you can see an arcade, turn right in via della Scala, on the right you can enter into one of the most ancient European pharmacies: Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy, where the friars prepared and sold medicines.
Now go back to Croce al Trebbio and arrive to Via Tornabuoni which is Florence’s finest shopping street. During you walk from here to the river, you can admire Palazzo Strozzi, Palazzo Rucellai, and the church of Santa Trinita (also here you can have a free tour, if there is nobody who can help you with the tour, take a brochure of the Church). Cross the Arno by the Santa Trinita Bridge and walk along Via Maggio, the street of the antique dealers. At the end of the street turn right and you are in Santo Spirito.
Santo Spirito with its unfinished front and its interiors designed by Brunelleschi in the early 15th century, also here Brunelleschi discovered how to build a cross shaped interior using classical architectural elements taken from antiquity and how to reflect in the interior the order and the regularity that the Renaissance was discovering and searching in the natural world.
Your Brunelleschi’s path is over, if you have more time, you could arrive to Piazza del Carmine and visit the church and the Cappella Brancacci frescoes painted by Masaccio (the one of the Holy Trinity in Santa Maria Novella) and Masolino.
Third tour: from Duomo to Santa Croce and Piazzale Michelangelo
From the back of the Duomo, through Via del Proconsolo, via Ghibellina and Via Verdi, you arrive in Santa Croce Square. Visit the church, the famous tombs, the cloister and the Pazzi Chapel” Cappella dei Pazzi, also a Brunelleschi’s crisp exercises in architectural geometry.
Now go to the river: you have two options one is to cross the river and to climb up to Piazzale Michelangelo, the second is to take bus nr 13 in Corso dei Tintori and arrive to the top of the hill. I suggest the bus (you can by bus tickets – one euro for 60 minutes – in a newspaper kiosk, at the tobacconist or in a bar. You can buy tickets also into the bus by the driver but you’ll pay them 1,50 euros each and the driver has no change to give you back)
If you have time in spring you can visit the Iris Garden (the iris is the flower symbol of Florence) or only in May the Rose Garden.
Now go and visit one of the most beautiful churches of Florence: San Miniato (whose facade we spoke of, about the Romanesque Florence) the church dates 1100/1200.
Who was San Minatory? A legend says he was a Syrian prince who came to Italy as ally of Rome. Soon he left the army and became hermit in the woods along the river Arno, after that he started his Christian preach in Florence. The Roman authority did not bear his rebellion. Miniato was imprisoned and tortured: he was sent in an arena with a leopard and a lion, but the two wild animals soon became as meek as lambs. He was thrown into the fire of a furnace, they tried to put casting plumb into his ears. He always survived with no injury. Than he was sentenced to be beheaded in a great arena just outside the city walls. The legend says Miniato picked up his head and holding it under his arm, crossed the river and climbed up to the hill where now is the Basilica.
Now you can take again the bus nr 13 (same direction) or walk for about 30 minutes to arrive to a narrow street on the right, Via San Leonardo, Forte Belvedere is the place you are going to visit. Walk around in this fortress and relax on the grass.
Fourth tour: San Marco e Fiesole
San Marco Square is a good place to start your forth tour in Florence, You can visit the church and also, and above all, the museum with the magic paintings by Beato Angelico. These paintings will make you feel happy and peaceful.
Now cross the square and take a bus (you can by bus tickets – one euro for 60 minutes – in a newspaper kiosk, at the tobacconist or in a bar. You can buy tickets also into the bus by the driver but you’ll pay them 1,50 euros each and the driver has no change to give you back), bus nr 7, this bus, in about 15 minutes and through a nice green road, will take you in the square of Fiesole, an Etruscan neighbor on the north hill of Florence.
Get down in Piazza Mino da Fiesole. From here you can visit the civic Palace, the Cathedral, the Etruscan Walls, the Amphitheater where in July and August they play comedies, operas and ballets. To have a great panorama of Florence, climb to San Francesco Convent (10 minutes), admire the panorama and climb more, there is a little church on the top of the hill, visit it and its peaceful cloister, there is also a little museum. Coming out don’t go away, but enter in a little door on your left, in the entrance you find a spiral staircase, go up, on the top you’ll find yourself in the little corridor of a 13th century convent.
Coming out you can return to Mino Square through the gardens just in front of you.
Back to Florence: if you are not tired, and if you like walking, you can get down to Florence through a nice green and particular path: Via Vecchia Fiesolana (km 1.1).
Via Fiesolana ends in San Domenico, visit the Badia Fiesolana (on the right a steep descent) whose front was part of our first tour (the Romanic Florence).
In San Domenico take again bus nr 7 to go back to Florence.