|Florence Travel Guide|
Santa Maria del Fiore
The cathedral complex includes the church proper, the Battistero di San Giovanni, built after Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella.
It was built on the site of a previous cathedral, Santa Reparata, prompted by the magnificence of the new cathedrals in Pisa and Siena. At the end of the 13th century, the nine-centuries-old church of Santa Reparata was crumbling with age, as attested in documents of that time. Furthermore, it was becoming too small in a period of rapid population expansion. Prosperous Florence wanted to surpass in grandeur its Tuscan rivals, Pisa and Siena, with a more magnificent church, grander in size and more richly adorned at the exterior. This cathedral was, as a result, the largest in Europe when it was completed, with room for 30,000 people. It is now only exceeded in size by Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City, Saint Paul's Cathedral in London and the Milan Cathedral.
The original façade, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio and usually attributed to Giotto, was actually begun twenty years after Giotto's death. A mid-15th c. pen-and-ink drawing of this so-called Giotto's facade is visible in the Codex Rustici, and in the drawing of Bernardino Poccetti in 1587, both on display in the Museum of the Opera del Duomo. This façade was the collective work of several artists, among them Andrea Orcagna and Taddeo Gaddi. This original façade was only completed in its lower portion and then left unfinished. It was dismantled in 1587-1588 by the Medici court architect Bernardo Buontalenti, ordered by Grand Duke Francesco I de' Medici, as it appeared totally outmoded in Renaissance times. Some of the original sculptures are on display in the Museum Opera del Duomo, behind the cathedral. Others are now in the Berlin Museum and in the Louvre. The competition for a new façade turned out into a huge corruption scandal. The wooden model for the façade of Buontalenti is on display in the Museum Opera del Duomo. A few new designs have been proposed in later years but the models (of Giovanni Antonio Dosio, Giovanni de' Medici with Alessandro Pieroni and Giambologna) were not accepted. The façade was then left bare until the 19th century.
In 1419, the Arte della Lana held a competition to design a new dome (or cupola) for the cathedral. The two main competitors were Lorenzo Ghiberti (famous for his work on the "Gates of Paradise" doors at the Baptistery) and Filippo Brunelleschi with Brunelleschi winning and receiving the commission.
Brunelleschi drew his inspiration from double-walled cupola of the Pantheon in Rome. He constructed a wooden and brick model with the help of Donatello and Nanni di Banco (on display in the Museum Opera del Duomo). Brunelleschi won by a nose. His model served as a guide for the craftsmen, but was intentionally incomplete, as to ensure his control over the construction.
Battistero di San Giovanni
The Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistery of St John) is believed to be the oldest building in Florence. It is particularly famed for its three sets of magnificent and artistically important bronze doors.
It stands in the Piazza del Duomo, just to the west of the Duomo. Until the end of the 19th c. all Florentines were baptized in this church. It has the status of a minor basilica.
In 1401, a competition was announced to design the baptistery North Doors. The existing north doors had been a votive offering to spare Florence from a new scourge such as the Black Death in 1348. Seven sculptors competed, including Lorenzo Ghiberti, Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello and Jacopo della Quercia, with 21-years old Ghiberti winning the commission, probably because of his lower asking price. Brunelleschi was so disillusioned that he took off for Rome to study architecture and never sculpted again. The original designs "The Sacrifice of Isaac" of Ghiberti and Brunelleschi are on display in the museum of the Bargello.
It took Ghiberti 21 years (1403-1424) to complete these doors. These gilded bronze doors consist of twenty-eight panels, with twenty panels depicting a biblical scene from the New Testament. The eight lower panels show the four evangelists and the Church Fathers Saint Ambrose, Saint Jerome, Saint Gregory and Saint Augustine. The panels are surrounded by a framework of foliage in the doorcase and gilded busts of prophets and sibyls at the intersections of the panels. Originally installed on the east side, in place of Pisano's doors, they were later moved to the north side. They are described by Antonio Paolucci as "the most important event in the history of Florentine art in the first quarter of the 15th century". The doors in the baptistery are a copy of the originals (situated in the Museum Opera del Duomo).
The bronze statues over the northern gate depict John the Baptist preaching to a Pharisee and Sadducee. They were sculpted by Francesco Rustici and are superior to any sculpture he did before. Rustici may have been aided in his design by Leonardo da Vinci, who assisted him in the choice of his tools.
Piazza della Signoria
It is the focal point of the origin and of the history of the Florentine Republic and still maintains its reputation as the political hub of the city. It is the meeting place of Florentines as well as the numerous tourists.
The impressive 14th century Palazzo Vecchio is still preeminent with its crenellated tower. The square is also shared with the Loggia della Signoria, the Uffizi Gallery, the Palace of the Tribunale della Mercanzia (1359) (now the Bureau of Agriculture), and the Uguccioni Palace (16th c.) (with a facade probably by Raphael). Located in front of the Palazzo Vecchio is the Palace of the Assicurazioni Generali (1871, built in Renaissance style).
Fountain of Neptune
This work by Bartolomeo Ammannati (1563-1565) and some assistants, such as Giambologna, was commissioned on the occasion of the wedding of Francesco I de' Medici with grand duchess Johanna of Austria in 1565. The assignment had first been given to Baccio Bandinelli, who designed the model but he died before he could start working on the block of Apuan marble.
The Neptune figure, whose face resembles that of Cosimo I de' Medici, was meant to be an allusion to the dominion of the Florentines over the sea. The figure stands on a high pedestal in the middle of an octogonal fountain. The pedestal in the middle is decorated with the mythical chained figures of Scylla and Charybdis. The statue of Neptune is a copy made in the nineteenth century, while the original is in the National Museum.
Believed to have been first built in Roman times, it was originally made of wood. After being destroyed by a flood in 1333 it was rebuilt in 1345, this time in stone. Most of the design is attributed to Taddeo Gaddi.
In order to connect the Palazzo Vecchio (Florence's town hall) with the Palazzo Pitti, in 1565 Cosimo I de Medici had Giorgio Vasari build the famous "Vasari corridor" above it. To enforce the prestige of the bridge, in 1593 he prohibited butchers from selling there; their place was immediately taken by gold merchants. The corporative association of butchers had monopolised the shops on the bridge since 1442.
During World War II, the Ponte Vecchio was not destroyed by Germans during their retreat of August 4, 1944, unlike all other bridges in Florence. This was allegedly because of an express order by Hitler. Access to Ponte Vecchio was, however, obstructed by the destruction of the buildings at both ends.
Basilica di San Lorenzo di Firenze
The Basilica di San Lorenzo (Basilica of St Lawrence) is one of the largest churches of Florence, Italy, situated at the centre of the city’s main market district. It was consecrated in 393 and is one of the many churches that claims to be the oldest in Florence. For three hundred years it was the city's cathedral before eventually losing the status to Santa Reparata. It was also the parish church of the Medici family. In 1419, Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici offered to finance a new church to replace the Romanesque building. Brunelleschi was commissioned to design it. The Medicis gave large amounts of money, but to this day nobody has financed a façade. Pope Leo X, a member of the Medici family, had given Michelangelo the commission to design a facade in white Carrara marble in 1518. He made a wooden model, that shows how he adjusted the classical proportions of the facade, drawn to scale after the ideal proportions of the human body, to the greater height of the nave . The campanile dates from 1740.
Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze
It was taken for granted at the outset that all the members of the Accademia were male; when the Accademia welcomed Artemisia Gentileschi to membership, it was a signal honor to a woman.
Pietro Leopoldo, Grand Duke of Tuscany, decreed in 1784 that all the schools of drawing in Florence be combined under one roof, under the direction of the Accademia, now renamed Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze ("Academy of Fine Arts, Florence") and that it was to contain a gallery of paintings by old masters to help the studies of the young artists. The Accademia, and the adjoining Gallery still occupy the premises that were assigned in via Ricasoli, a former convent and hospice. The Grand Duke also decided to include among the arts protected in this way, a conservatory of music (the Cherubini Conservatory) and, more extraordinary, a school of art restoration (the Opificio delle Pietre Dure).
Originally called the Palazzo della Signoria, after the Signoria of Florence, the ruling body of the Republic of Florence, it was also given several other names : Palazzo del Populo, Palazzo dei Priori and Palazzo Ducale, in accordance with the varying use of the palace during its long history.
The word bargello appears to come from the late latin bargillus [from Goth bargi and German burg]: castle or fortified tower. During Italian Middle Ages it was the name given to a military captain in charge of keeping peace and justice (hence "Captain of justice") during riots and uproars. In Florence he was usually hired from a foreign city to prevent any appearance of favoritism on the part of the Captain. The position could be compared with current Chief of police. The name Bargello was extended to the building which was the office of the captain.
In the 19th century, the palazzo, by then a great treasure house, was used as a power base by Napoleon, and later served for a brief period as the principal royal palace of the newly-united Italy. In the early 20th century, the palazzo together with its contents was given to the Italian people by King Victor Emmanuel III; subsequently its doors were opened to the public as one of Florence's largest art galleries. Today, housing several minor additions in addition to those of the Medici family, it is fully open to the public.
The Gardens, behind the Pitti Palace, the main seat of the Medici grand dukes of Tuscany at Florence, is one of the most familiar formal 16th century Italian gardens. The mid-16th century garden style, as developed here, incorporated longer axial developments, wide gravel avenues, a considerable "built" element of stone, the lavish employment of statuary and fountains, and a proliferation of detail, in semi-private and public spaces that were informed by classical accents: grottos, nympheums, garden temples and the like. The openness of the garden, with an expansive view of the city, was unconventional for its time.
The Boboli Gardens were laid out for Eleonora di Toledo, the wife of Cosimo I de' Medici. The first stage was scarcely begun by Niccolo Tribolo before he died in 1550, then was continued by Bartolomeo Ammanati, with contributions in planning from Giorgio Vasari, who laid out grottos, and in sculpture by Bernardo Buontalenti. The elaborate architecture of the Grotto in the courtyard that separates the palace from its garden is by Buontalenti.
Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze
Legend says that Santa Croce was founded by St Francis himself. The current church was probably begun in 1294, possibly by Arnolfo di Cambio, and paid for by some of the city's wealthiest families. It was consecrated in 1442 by Pope Eugene IV. The church is vast. Its most notable features are its sixteen chapels, many of them decorated with frescoes by Giotto and his pupils, and its funerary monuments. In 1560, the choir screen was removed and the interior rebuilt by Giorgio Vasari, who damaged the church's decoration in the process. The neo-Gothic facade only dates from 1857-1863. The campanile was built in 1842.
In the Primo Chiostro, the main cloister, is the Cappella dei Pazzi, built as the chapter house by Filippo Brunelleschi between 1442 and 1446 and finally completed in the 1470s. The Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce is housed mainly in the refectory, also off the cloister. A monument to Florence Nightingale stands in the cloister, in the city in which she was born and after which she was named. Brunelleschi also built the inner cloister, completed in 1453.
Today the former dormitory of the Franciscan Friars houses the Scuola del Cuoio (Leather School). Visitors can watch as artisans craft purses, wallets, and other leather goods which are sold in the adjacent shop.
Basilica di Santa Maria Novella
The church, the adjoining cloister, and chapterhouse contain a store of art treasures and funerary monuments. Especially famous are frescoes by masters of Gothic and early Renaissance. They were financed through the generosity of the most important Florentine families, who ensured themselves of funerary chapels on consecrated ground.
Basilica di San Lorenzo di Firenze
The Renaissance interior is huge, cool and airy and is lined with chapels. Opening off the north transept is the domed Sagresta Vecchia (Old Sacristy), the oldest part of the present church, which contains the tombs of several members of the Medici family. It was the only part of the church completed in Brunelleschi's lifetime. Opposite it in the south transept is the Sagrestia Nuova (New Sacristy), begun in 1520 by Michelangelo, who also designed the Medici tombs within.
Santo Spirito di Firenze
The current church was constructed over the pre-existing ruins of an Augustinian convent from the 13th century, destroyed by a fire in 1471. Filippo Brunelleschi has began designs for the new building as early as 1444, as a basilica with a nave and two apses annexed to the convent. After his death in 1446, the works were carried on by his followers Antonio Manetti, Giovanni da Gaiole e Salvi d'Andrea; the latter was also responsible of the construction of the cupola (1479-1481). The façade actually constructed result rather different from that conceved by Brunelleschi, as well as the ceilings of the nave and the transept.
Located on the Via Calzaiuoli in Florence, was originally built as a grain market in 1337 by Francesco Talenti, Neri di Fioravante, and Benci di Cione. Between 1380 and 1404 it was converted into a church used as the chapel of Florence's powerful craft and trade guilds. On the ground floor of the square building are the 13th century arches that originally formed the loggia of the grain market. The second floor was devoted to offices, while the third housed one of the city's municipal grain storehouses, maintained to withstand famine or siege. Late in the 14th century, the guilds were charged by the city to commission statues of their patron saints to embellish the facades of the church. The sculptures seen today are copies, the originals having been removed to museums.
Inside the church is Andrea Orcagna's bejeweled Gothic Tabernacle (1355-59) encasing a repainting by Daddi's of an older icon of the 'Madonna and Child'.