As an art lover myself, I feel confident in saying that Florence is a dream city for those who love art. It’s rich history has produced the likes of Michelangelo, da Vinci, Botticelli, among others. There is hardly a name from the Italian Renaissance that doesn’t have the stamp ‘Made in Florence’ on it.
Statue of da Vinci in a Piazza, 2011. c. Renee Brown
One of the most important names in Florentine history is the name of Medici. The Medici were a prominent banking family that rose to power in the 13th century. They not only had their hands in the banks, but politics, art, and religion not only in Florence but in Rome as well, have put into place no less than 4 popes during their 300 year reign. Under Cosimo de Medici, who rose to power in 1434, and his son and then grandson Lorenzo the Magnificent, the arts in Florence thrived. The Medici supported artists such as Brunelleschi, da Vinci, and other household names of the Renaissance. The palace of the Medici, the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, is now a museum that can be toured. I saw the building, but didn’t have a chance to go inside. Considering the importance of the Medici, I’ll be sure to visit when I go to Florence again someday.
Exterior and Interior of the Duomo, 2011. c. Renee Brown
Perhaps the most famous landmark in Florence is the Duomo, or the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiori. Construction began on the cathedral in 1296 and took 140 years to complete, and for the majority of this time it stood dome-less. The creation of the dome was a problem for the medieval architects constructing the Cathedral. The domes in Rome had been built by the Romans, and the measurements and skills required had been lost during the dark ages, so no one knew how to build a dome, let alone one of the size and weight required for the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiori. That all changed when the Medici commissioned Filippo Brunelleschi. He took on one of the most difficult projects of the Renaissance, and he completed it in only 16 years. To this day, the Duomo is, to me at least, the most impressive and awe-inspiring landmark in Florence. One of my favorite things I did in Florence was climb the 463 steps through a narrow, twisting corridor to the top of the Duomo to catch a bird’s eye view of the city and the surrounding Tuscan landscape.
On top of the Duomo, 2011. c. Leah Putz
Close by the Duomo lies, the Baptistery of Saint John. This octagonal building was constructed between 1059 and 1128, making it one of the oldest buildings in Florence. This alone makes it worth visiting, but when you consider the doors of Ghiberti as well, it becomes clear that you can’t visit Florence without visiting the Baptistery. Lorenzo Ghiberti won the opportunity to design the doors of the Baptistery in a competition in 1401. In the next 21 years after winning, Ghiberti created his masterpiece- gilded bronze doors with 28 panels detailing scenes from the New Testament, as well as the Four Evangelists and the Church Fathers- The Gates of Paradise. The Gates of Paradise on the Baptistery now are copies so as to preserve the originals, but they are no less magnificent.
The Gates of Paradise by Ghiberti, 2011. c. Renee Brown
A visit to Florence isn’t complete without stopping in at least one of it’s many museums. The Accademia Gallery and the Uffizi Gallery are two of the most well-known of these, and for good reason. I was forced with the decision of choosing which to go to as I didn’t have time to visit both, so I made my way to the Accademia Gallery to see one of the most famous statues in history, David by Michelangelo. The Accademia has many other masterpieces by Michelangelo and others to be seen, but it is most well known for housing David. No photos were permitted in the Gallery, but I can tell you David stands tall, mighty, and overwhelming under a skylight in the center of four converging halls in the museum.
The Uffizi Gallery is just as marvelous as the Accademia. Some of the most famous Renaissance paintings are displayed in the Uffizi, including The Birth of Venus and La Primavera by Botticelli, Venus of Urbino by Titian, Bacchus by Caravaggio, and Judith and Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. With a compliation this fantastic, the Uffizi is a must-see even for those who aren’t in love with art.
Florence stands as one of the mightiest cities in history. It’s rich contributions to western culture and art have shaped the world as it is today. This ancient city holds some of the most world-renowned works of art in European history, and it’s impossible to stroll through its streets without feeling this richness of its history and culture.
Ponte Vecchio and Arno River, 2011. c. Renee Brown