Via del Canneto 7
167-274-819 or 800-274-819
Runs 3-hour walking tours of the centro storico Monday to Saturday leaving at 10am from the Thomas Cook office off the Ponte Vecchio.
I Bike Italy
Offers leisurely 1-day bike tours of the Tuscan countryside one up to Fiesole pausing for a picnic, the other into the Chianti wine region and a 2-day bike trip from Florence to Siena.
The Accidental Tourist
Tel 055--699-376 or 0348-659-0040;
Offers either a bike ride through the hills around Florence with a countryside meal or a cooking course and lunch in the Chianti by bus.
Some Areas Outside Florence that are of Interest:
In the hilly valleys between the Arno and Mugnone rivers, Fiesole offers spectacular views of nearby Florence and a welcome retreat from the city's crowded streets. This is a place to study the area's Etruscan, Roman and Renaissance past in comfort and quiet. Fiesole has an impressive art museum and an archaeological site featuring an Etruscan temple and the remains of a Roman theatre and baths. Fiesole is especially popular as a picnic spot, and its fascinating winding streets invite exploration and walking.
The Medicis built several opulent villas throughout the countryside around Florence during the 15th and 16th centuries. The Villa della Petraia, about 3.5km north of the city, is one of the finest. It was commissioned by Cardinal Ferdinand de' Medici in 1576, and features magnificent gardens.
Northeast of Florence, the Mugello features some of the most original villages in Tuscany. The Sieve River which winds through the grape-filled valley is popular with canoeists.
Prato was founded by the Ligurians but was taken over by the Etruscans and the Romans. In the 11th century it was an important wool production center, and today it is still one of Italy's major textile producers. The old, walled city contains palaces, a municipal art gallery and a magnificent cathedral, with a faĂ§ade by della Robbia and frescoes by Filippo Lippi, Uccello and Gaddi.. The center also features an imperial castle, built during the 13th century.
Areas of Florence:
The area surrounding Florence's cathedral is central to the rest of the city. The Duomo is halfway between the two great churches of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce and as at the midpoint between the Uffizi Galleries and the Ponte Vecchio to the south and San Marco and the Accademia Gallery with Michelangelo's David to the north. The streets north of the Duomo are long and often clogged with traffic, and those to the south are a tangle of alleys and tiny squares leading toward Piazza della Signoria.
This is one of the most historic parts of town, and the streets still vaguely follow the grid laid down when the city began as a Roman colony. Via degli Strozzi/Via dei Speziali/Via del Corso was the decumanus maximus, the main east-west axis; Via Roma/Via Calimala was the key north-south cardo maximus. The site of the Roman city forum is today's Piazza della Repubblica.
Currently thesquare is lined with cafĂ©s. It was laid out by demolishing the Jewish Ghetto during Italian unification in the late 19th century. With the discovery of the lighting properties of neon gas, it bloomed with unattractive signs. Fortunately, these have all been removed. The area surrounding it is one of Florence's main shopping zones. The Duomo neighborhood offers a range of hotels from five-star luxury inns to student hostels.
Piazza Della Signoria
This is the city's civic heart and very popular with museum goers. It is the location of the Uffizi Galleries, Bargello sculpture collection, and the Ponte Vecchio which leads toward the Pitti Palace. Its clean, but narrow medieval streets are those where Dante grew up.. The few blocks just north of the Ponte Vecchio are known for the good shopping that is to be found there. Much of the area was destroyed during World War II and rubble was replaced with nondescript, modern buildings. Crowds press in during the warm weather months, yet it remains the romantic heart of pre-Renaissance Florence.
San Lorenzo & the Mercato Centrale
This small wedge of streets between the train station and the Duomo, centered around the Medici's old church of San Lorenzo with its Michelangelo-designed tombs, is filled with markets. The vast indoor food market is here, and most of the streets are filled daily with hundreds of stalls where vendors loudly proclaim the attributes of leather jackets and other wares. It's a colorful neighborhood, and definitely not the quietest.
Piazza Santa Trinita
This piazza is just off the river at the end of Florence's shopping district, Via de' Tornabuoni, home to Gucci, Armani, Ferragamo, Versace, to name a few. The ancient narrow streets running out either side of the square are lined with the top names in high fashion. It's very pleasant, well-to-do, but still medieval. If you are in Florence to shop, there is no better place to be.
Santa Maria Novella
This neighborhood, bounding the western edge of the centro storico, has a rundown zone around Santa Maria Novella train station and a more attractive tourist area south of it between the church of Santa Maria Novella and the river. In general, the train station area is the least attractive part of town. Piazza Santa Maria Novella and its tributary streets contain a somewhat bohemian nightlife scene. Two of Florence's premier inns, the Excelsior and the Grand, are on the Arno at Piazza Ognissanti, just south of the train station
San Marco & Santissima Annunziata
These two churches are fronted by Piazza San Marco, now a busy traffic center, and Piazza Santissima Annunziata. Together they define the northern limits of the centro storico. The neighborhood is home to the University, Michelangelo's David at the Accademia, the San Marco monastery, and long quiet streets.
This eastern edge of the centro storico runs along the Arno. The Santa Croce church contains many fine examples of Florentine art. The area's western edge abuts the medieval district around Piazza della Signoria. Via Bentacordi/Via Torta actually trace the outline of the old Roman amphitheater. Much of the district was rebuilt after World War II in long blocks of yellow plaster buildings with residential shops and homes. This neighborhood also contains some of the best restaurants in the city.
"Across the Arno" is the artisans' neighborhood, packed with workshops with craftspeople hand-carving furniture and hand-stitching leather gloves. It began as a working-class neighborhood to catch the overflow from the expanding medieval city on the Arno's opposite bank, but it also became center for the building of palaces at the edge of the countryside. The largest of these, the Pitti Palace, later became the home of the grand dukes and today houses a group of museums second only to the Uffizi. Behind it visitors can enjoy the baroque fantasies of the Boboli Gardens, Florence's best known park. Masaccio's frescoes in Santa Maria della Carmine were some of the most influential of the early Renaissance.
The Brownings lived at Oltrarno from just after their secret marriage in 1847 until Elizabeth died in 1861. The Oltrarno's lively tree-shaded center, Piazza Santo Spirito, is a lined with bars and restaurants, and good nightlife. Its Brunelleschi-designed church, Santo Spirito, is stunning in its sinmplicity.
In the Hills
From just about anywhere in the center of Florence, it is apparent that the city ends abruptly to the north and south, replaced by green hills spotted with villas, small farms, and the expensive modern homes of the upper-middle class. To the north rises Monte Ceceri, mined for the soft gray pietra serena that accented so much of Renaissance architecture and home to the village of Settignango, where Michelangelo began his life. The Etruscan village of Fiesole, was here long before the Romans built Florence in the valley below. Across the Arno, the hills surrounding the Oltrarno are dotted with little patches of fields and farms. The hills offer some of the best walks around the city.
There is little or no public transportation available in the hill country. This can be an advantage in terms of serenity and privacy, but it does curtail visits to the city for those who have come to sightsee.
Notable Florentine Sculpture in the Plazza della Signoria:
The plaza is an outdoor sculpture gallery, which, with the Palazzo Vecchio, has been at the center of Florentine politics since the 14th century. Citizens gathered there when called to a public meeting (parlamento) by the Palazzo's great bell. Some of the statues are originals, others are copies. All commemorate the city's historical events. Many are linked to the rise and fall of the Florentine Republic. during which the religious leader, Savonarola, was burned at the stake.
Fontana dei Neptuno Neptune Fountain:
1560-75, created by Bartolomeo Ammannati as a tribute to Cosimo I's naval ambitions but nicknamed by the Florentines Il Biancone, "Big Whitey." The highly Mannerist bronzes surrounding the basin are much finer pieces of sculpture, probably because a young Giambologna participated in their creation.
At the piazza's south end, beyond the long U that opens down the Uffizi, is one of the square's earliest embellishments: the 1376-82 Loggia dei Lanzi, named after the Swiss guard of lancers lanzi Cosimo de' Medici stationed here. The airy loggia was probably built on a design by Andrea Orcagna another is the Loggia della Signoria. The three huge arches of its simple harmonious form were way ahead of the times, an architectural style that really belongs to the Renaissance.
Perseus for many years stood in the arcade holding out the severed Medusa's head before him. The open arcade of the Uffizi is filled with statuary. The front left corner was the former prize position of Benvenuto Cellini's masterpiece in bronze. In 1996, Perseus was removed from the place it had occupied since Cellini finished it in 1545 and taken to the Uffizi labs for cleaning.. A copy will take its place in the outdoor area.
Rape of the Sabines:
On the far right of the loggia is Giambologna's the last great piece of original statuary left on the piazza. This marble group is one of the most successful Mannerist sculptures in existence. A walk around the piece provides a chance to appreciate its action and artistry from different angles.
And, finally, a resting place at which to enjoy a cup of coffee or an ice cream and observe and absorb the wonders of the Piazza della Signoria.
Villa della Colonna 36
Tues-Sat 9-2 Sun. 9-8
The Museum garden:
The Museum is situated in Palazzo della Crocetta (with its unusual design in the shape of the cross), which was built by Giulio Parigi for the Archduchess Maria Maddalena d'Austria (1620). Entrance is from Via della Colonna near piazza SS.Anunziata, where there is also a railed-off garden containing several Etruscan tombs that have been reconstructed using as much of the original material as possible. It is one of the most important museums in the world in terms of displaying the art and civilization of the Etruscan. It contains many fine examples of Greek art as well.
The Egyptian Museum is on the first floor; the collection was formed by merging the Nizzoli and Schiapparelli collections. Additionally, a series of excavations carried out between 1828-29 by Ippolito Rossellini with FranĂ§ois Champollion, the scholar who decoded hieroglyphics provided material for the collection. A victim of the 1966 flood, the museum has since been carefully restored and is now able to exhibit all of its treasures to the public.
Via Dante Alighieri and Via del Proconsolo
Admission Free. Open for Mass only.
The slender pointed bell tower of this Benedictine abbey founded in A.D. 978 is one of the landmarks of the Florentine skyline. Arnolfo di Cambio was responsible for a late Romanesque overhaul of the church in 1284-1310, but Matteo Segaloni completely reconstructed the interior in the Baroque style in the 17th century.
It was here, some say, that Dante first saw his beloved Beatrice, and where Boccaccio used to lecture on Dante's Divine Comedy. The church's best known work is a 1485 Filippino Lippi painting of the Madonna Appearing to St. Bernard. An unmarked door on the right side of the sanctuary leads to the stairs to the upper loggia of the Chiostro degli Aranci. Bernardo Rossellino designed these cloisters 1432-38, and they contain an anonymous 15th-century fresco cycle on the Life of St. Benedict.
Baptistry San Giovanni:
Piazza del Duomo
Mon-Sat 12:30-6:30; Sun: 8:30-1:30, on Sunday 9-12.30.
The city's oldest monument, built in the 4th or 5th century. Once it was even believed to date from the Roman times. The round arched Romanesque decoration on the exterior dates from between 1059 and 1150. It was encased with marble in the 11th or 12th century. The dome has an inside diameter of 25 meters (82ft) and is decorated with 13th century mosaics.
The Bardini Museum:
Piazza de' Mozzi
9-2; Sun. 8-1
A short walk from Piazza Poggi along Lungarno Serristori or Via San NiccolĂ˛ in the direction of the city center. Built in the 19th century, the palace itself is unusual because all the doors, windows, architraves and wooden ceilings used for its construction came from destroyed churches or villas. The Museum, which was opened in 1925, contains many interesting works of art, among them the marble Charity by Tino da Camaino (1329 c.), the Archangel St. Michael by Antonio del Pollaiolo and a recently restored Crucifixion, dating from the 13th century: painted several decades before Cimabue and a Madonna attributed to Donatello. The museum was originally the house and warehouse of antiquarian and art collector Stefano Bardini (1836-1922) who left it and all its contents to the people of Florence.
Piazza del Carmine
(Not accessible for disabled)
10-5; Holidays 1-5
The Church of St. Mary of Carmine is famous for The Life of St. peter frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel, which were commissioned around 1424. The scenes placed the artist, Masaccio at the forefront of Renaissance painting. Many great artists, including Leonardo and Michelangelo later visited the chapel to study his work.
Cappelle Medicee (Medici Chapels):
Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini
The church of St Lawrence is probably Florence's oldest church, consecrated by St Ambrosia in 393. Rebuilt in the 11th century and built in its present shape 1442-1446 to a harmonious design by Brunelleschi, as a mausoleum for the Medici family.
Cardinal Giulio de'Medici, who later became Pope Clement VII, commissioned Michelangelo to build a new burial chapel for the Pope's father, Giuliano; his father's brother, and two deceased cousins. The result is the new Sacristy: a cascade of cut marble and semiprecious stones--jasper, alabaster, mother-of-pearl, agate. The work on the chapel, sacristy, and mausoleum kept marble workers employed for several hundred years.
Through the San Lorenzo cloistered garden (by Brunelleschi) you can enter the library that was founded by Cosimo il Vecchio. It has a rich collection of medieval manuscripts and Renaissance editions of classic works . One of Michelangelo's most important designs, (1524-1578).
Via Ghibellina 70
Though Michelangelo Buonarroti never actually lived in this palazzo, he did own the property and left it to his nephew Lionardo. Lionardo named his own son after his famous uncle, and this younger Michelangelo became very devoted to the memory of his namesake, converting the house into a museum and hiring artists to fill it with frescoes honoring his uncle.
Chiesa di Santa Maria Novella:
Plaza di Santa Maria Novella
Church hours: 7-11:30am and 3:30-6pm Mon-Sat. Check for weekend hours
Museum hours: 9-2 Mon-Thurs. Check for weekend hours.
The Church of St. Mary Novella was founded by the Dominicans in the 13th century. Alberti built the white and green marble facade in the 15th century. The frescoes depict the Dominicans as the slender, fast running breed of hunting dogs known as "whippets." The idea was to illustrate their virtues as "hounds of God rounding up the 'stray sheep.'"
The Spanish chapel has dramatic frescoes following the theme of salvation and damnation. Dante's epic poem, The Divine Comedy inspired the 14th century frescoes in the Strozzi Chapel. The Tornabuoni Chapel contains frescoes depicting The Life of John the Baptist. As was commonly done, the artists inserted Florentine notables and contemporary costume into their work. This is where the young noblemen and women in the beginning part of Boccaccio's masterpiece 'Decameron' locked themselves in, to avoid contact with the 14th century plague, and told each other stories.
Church of Saint Mark:
Piazza di San Marco
Church: 7-12:30 and 4-8pm
Museum: 9-2 Tues-Sun.
The original structure dates from 1100. It became the Church and Monastery of St. Mark in 1299, later passing under the protection of the Medici family in the early 15th century when Cosimo the Elder started using it regularly for his spiritual retreats. The church had been taken over by the Dominican friars a few years earlier and Cosimo gave Michelozzo the commission of restoring it (1436-43).
Fra Angelico, a friar and artist who, like Giotto, came from the Mugello, lived at the monastery during this period (
The Church of San Minias al Monte:
Via del Monte alle Croci
8-noon and 2-7: summer
8-noon and 2:30-6: winter
Built in 1018 and continued until 1207, over the shrine of the early Christian martyr, St. Minias, the church is one of the finest examples of pure Florentine Romanesque architecture. The facade was fashioned out of white Carrara and green Prato marble (12th-13th centuries) and divided into two sections linked together by inlaid geometric patterning, in the same system used during the Roman Empire for building walls. Palazzo dei Vescovi or the Bishops' Palace stands on the right. It can be visited by ringing at the door inside the church and is staffed by Olivetan monks, who also take care of the basilica.
Church of SS.Annunziata:
Piazza della SS. Annunziata
7-12:30 and 4-6:30 Mon-Sat
The church stands on the site of the oratory of the Servi di Maria (1235) which was built around the image of Our Lady of the Annunciation by seven young noblemen who decided to take monastic vows and give up worldly pleasures. As a further sacrifice, they later founded the Monastery of Monte Senario, above Fiesole. Michelozzo built the First Cloister in the mid 15th century. The main body of the Church, started in 1440 by Michelozzo and Pagno Portigiani, was later altered by Alberti.
Collezione della Ragione (Modern Art Collection):
Piazza Signoria, 5 (above the Casa di Risparmio bank)
(Not accessible for disabled)
9-2 and on Holidays 8-1l; Closed Tuesdays
Still lifes by DePisis, landscapes by Carlo Carra, Tuscan landscapes by Mario Mafai, Antonio Donghi an d Ottone Rosai, paintings by Renato Guttuso, and Emilio Vedova.
Convento di San Marco:
Dominican convent and church, built for Cosimo il Vecchio and his son Lorenzo il Magnifico, by Michelozzo, in early Renaissance style, 1437-1452. The convent walls are decorated by one of its friars, Fra Angelico, in late Gothic style, 1400-1455 (Museo di San Marco). The Baroque church facade dates from 1780, the church interior was constructed in the 16th and 17th century.
Frescoes were made by painting onto a thin layer of damp, freshly laid plaster. (Fresco means "fresh"). Pigments were drawn into the plaster by surface tension, and the color became fixed as the plaster dried. The pigments reacted with the lime in the plaster to produce strong, vivid colors. Because the colors do not lie close to the surface, restorers are able to clean the plaster and remove soot and grime to reveal the original, embedded colors. Artists used rare, costly minerals to create the bright pigments. The base coat of plaster was made of clay, hair , sand and lime and called "arriccio." The top or finish coat of plaster was lime based and of a fine quality. It was called "intonaco."
Via Ricasoli, 60
9-2 closed on Monday.
The Accademia di Belle Arti was founded in 1563 and was Europe's first school of drawing. The Academy Gallery houses works of Italian sculptors like Michelangelo (main gallery), including the original David. After an attempted hammer attack by a disturbed visitor in 1991, the masterpiece was relegated to a protective position behind a fence of Plexiglas. It is a little harder to view the statue under the present circumstances, but it is still possible to study its perfect form and fluid movement.
History of Photography Museum:
Via della Vigna Nuova, 16
10-19.30 daily; Fri./Sat. 10-23.30
This museum is devoted to the history of photography. Exhibits come from the archives of the Alinari brothers who founded the world's first photography society in 1852.
Loggia del Bigallo:
In the 15th century homeless or lost children were publicly displayed under this portico. When no parents claimed them for three days, they were taken to a foster family. built between 1352 and 1358 by Alberto Arnoldi. The paintings that used to be on the facade are now exhibited in a museum inside. They show the life of St Peter Martyr, who founded the Compagnia Maggiore di St-Maria del Bigallo to fight heresy.
Marino Marini Museum:
Piazza S. Pancrazio
10-1 and 3-6 (summer)
Closed on Tues. and for 2 weeks in August
The former church of San Pancrazio has been turned into a museum devoted to the work of Italy's best known abstract artist, Marino Marini (1901-1980). Marini studied art in Florence before moving on to teach in Monza and at the prestigious Berea Academy in Milan. He is noted for his bronzes, many on the theme of horse and rider.
Built 1547-1551 by Giovanni Battista del Tasso. The market is locally known as the 'Porcellino' (swine) because of the fountain by Pietro Tacca, 1612. It is said that everyone who rubs the well polished snout of Il Porcellino, is certain to return to the city. Coins dropped in the trough below are distributed to city charities.
The Monumental Cemetery:
The Monumental Cemetery (known as "of the Holy Gates") outside the Basilica was established inside the fortified enclosure created by Michelangelo in 1529. Designed by architect NicolĂ˛ Matas during the period in which he was working on the facade of Santa Croce, it contains the remains of many celebrities like Papini, Montale, Stibbert, Villari and Lorenzini (known as "il Collodi", the creator of Pinocchio). The various family chapels belonging to the Florentine bourgeoisie can be said to represent a repertoire of city architecture of the time.
Museum of Florence As It Was and Oblate Garden:
Via Oriuolo, 4
9-2 - Holidays 8-1
The museum is small, and contains a series of watercolors and also paintings by Ottone Rosai, a local artist who died in 1957. The main feature is a room sized painting of Florence at the height of the Renaissance.
Piazza Santa Croce
Building of this Franciscan church started probably by Arnolfo di Cambio, the architect of the Duomo, in 1294. The marble facade and the bell tower were built between 1853 and 1863. The church contains frescos by Giotto, many tombstones and commemorative monuments, including those of Galileo, Rossini, Macchiavelli's tomb, and Vasari's monument to Michelangelo, who died in Rome but was brought to Florence to be buried here, by Cosimo I. The collection of art in this church complex is by far the most important of any church in Florence.
Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce:
Piazza Santa Croce 16
Mon-Sat 9:30-12:15 and 3:30-5:30 Sun.: 3-5:30.
Part of Santa Croce's convent has been set up as a museum for artistic treasures that were damaged in the 1966 Arno flood, which buried the church under tons of mud and water. The entrance through a door to the right of the church facade, spills into an open-air courtyard planted with cypress. On the grass are a seated Baccio Bandinelli God in marble and a Henry Moore bronze.
At the end of the path is the Cappella de' Pazzi, one of Filippo Brunelleschi's architectural masterpieces. Giuliano di Maiano probably designed the porch that leads to the chapel, which is set with glazed terra cottas by Luca della Robbia. The rectangular chapel is one of Brunelleschi's signature pieces and a defining example of early Renaissance architecture. Light gray pietra serena is used to accent the architectural lines against smooth white plaster walls. The the only decorations are della Robbia roundels of the Apostles (1442-52). The Evangelists surrounding the dome may have been designed by Donatello or Brunelleschi himself before being produced by the della Robbia workshop.
On the right as you enter the chapel is the painting that became the representative of all the artworks damaged during the 1966 flood: Cimabue's Crucifix, one of the masterpieces of the artist who began bridging the gap between Byzantine tradition and Renaissance innovation.
Via de' Benci, 6
9-13 Sum. Tuesdays also 20.30-23
Closed Holidays and Sun.
Of the city's several small once-private collections, the one formed by Englishman Herbert Percy Horne and left to Florence in his will has several excellent pieces.