After the first part (if you missed it, you can check it out by clicking here) where we went through some of the most beautiful churches in Florence such as Santa Maria Novella, Santa Maria Maggiore and Santa Maria del Fiore (the Cathedral), among other stunning Florence landmarks, in this second part, you will join in this new adventure that will bring us to the discovery of Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio, the Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio and other blow minding venues.
In the first part, you will also find an answer to one of the most asked questions I get about Florence, which is “Which is the best month of the year to go to Florence?”.
So, let’s buckle up and start this new adventure with no further ado!
16. Basilica of the Most Holy Annunciation
In 1081, they erected the Basilica of the Most Holy Annunciation (Basilica della Santissima Annunziata) as a little oratory to honour the Virgin Mary for sparing the city from Enrico IV’s siege. After then, it was abandoned and left to deteriorate just outside of town. In 1252, the Servite Order, which had sought the use of the abandoned oratory as a point of reference for their vigil beyond the city gates, opted to decorate it with artwork celebrating the Annunciation of the Glorious Virgin.
According to legend, during painting the Virgin Mary’s face, the painter Friar Bartolomeo felt frustrated because of tiny details. He finally fell asleep, exhausted from his efforts and frustrated that he couldn’t do her justice. The “Miraculous Annunciation” was born when he awoke to find that an “angel’s hand” had finished painting the nuances of her face. Michelangelo himself called it a great work of art.
Because of this “miracle,” the painting became a source of adoration and prayer for the people of Florence. It drew pilgrims from all over the world. The church’s size and splendour grew in tandem with its importance. In 1516, they built a cloister in the shape of an atrium to house the donations. It is currently a one-of-a-kind exhibition for up-and-comers from the 1400s, such as Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino, and Andrea del Sarto (as well as a freshly restored collection of frescos).
The Pucci family emblem, a blackhead on a white background, may be found on the corners of the church and in the vaulted ceilings beneath the portico. This is because the Pucci family contributed financially to the building of this section of the church. Each side contains three arches (three for each of the two brothers), with the church’s symbol on the central arch. The donation is signed by Michelozzi on the strip above the columns, and they also attributed it to the beneficiary, Roberto Pucci, beneath the marble steps in front of the front entrance.
To the left of the Portico is the door of the Oratory of St. Sebastian, which was founded by the Pucci family in 1452 and leads to one of Florence’s two Jubilee doors, the other being at the Cathedral.
17. St Mark’s Museum
In 1437, Cosimo the Elder rebuilt the St. Mark’s Convent, which had been founded in the 12th century. The work was handed to Michelozzo, and Giovanni of Fiesole, also known as Fra Angelico, and his colleagues, including Benozzo Gozzoli, decorated between 1439 and 1444 the walls.
The cloister leads to the chambers that make up the Museum of St Mark.
The Sala dell’Ospizio, which used to be a pilgrims’ receiving room, is now a gallery that houses many of Fra Angelico’s most important panel paintings. Among these are the Deposition, which was painted for Palla Strozzi, the Medici-commissioned Pala di San Marco, and the Linaioli Tabernacle, which was built in 1433-1434 with the help of Lorenzo Ghiberti, who constructed the frame.
Domenico Ghirlandaio, Alesso Baldovinetti, Giovanni Antonio Sogliani, and Fra Bartolomeo are among the important Florentine painters of the 15th and 16th centuries represented in the Museum’s Lavabo and two Refectories on the ground floor.
A collection of works by students from the School of St Mark or Fra Bartolomeo’s pupils may be found in the Great Refectory. The remains of Florence’s Jewish quarter and old market, which were burned in the mid-19th century, have yielded several stone carving portions.
On the first floor, the Museum also features a former Library, which was built for Cosimo de’ Medici by Michelozzo and houses a vast collection of illuminated choir books. The current Convent Library focuses on theology and philosophy.
Admission fee: 8€ /9.3$ p.p.
18. Cloister of the Scalzo
The Cloister of the Scalzo was the entrance to the Confraternity of St. John the Baptist, founded in 1376. The barefooted cross-bearers in the Confraternity’s processions gave it its name.
The Brotherhood was suppressed in 1785 by Pietro Leopoldo of Lorraine, who sold off all of their property except the cloister, which contained 16 chiaroscuro frescoes depicting episodes from the Life of St. John the Baptist, patron of the Brotherhood and Florence, and four Virtues by Andrea del Sarto and his friend and fellow painter Franciabigio.
19. Piazza della Repubblica
The Piazza della Repubblica is one of Florence’s main squares and has been the city’s heart since Roman times. The “Column of Abundance” marks the site of the Roman forum. It was built in 1431. However, the statue atop it is a replica. It also divides three of Florence’s four historic neighbourhoods, the Santa Croce azzurri (blue), San Giovanni verdi (green), and Santa Maria Novella rossi (red), on this side of the Arno; the Santo Spirito bianchi are in the Oltrarno.
They densely occupied the area around the column with markets, tabernacles, and churches during medieval times. According to legend, the column formerly housed a bell that was rung whenever pickpockets were discovered roaming this once-bustling market area to warn shoppers to be cautious.
According to another legend, in 1245, St. Peter Martyr was preaching to a large crowd when the devil, disguised as an enormous black horse, attempted to upset the gathering by galloping through the market and crushing the onlookers. St. Peter, sensing the danger, lifted his arm and made the sign of the cross toward the fleeing horse, which came to a halt and vanished. Bernardo Vecchietti commissioned Giambologna to build a bronze standard-bearer in the guise of a miniature devil and placed it at the corner of his palace between via Vecchietti and via Strozzi a few centuries later to commemorate the incident.
Throughout the centuries, the plaza maintained its medieval appearance until the town council sought to widen it and “clean up” the centre in the 18th century. Some of the Guilds’ original seats, medieval towers, churches, workplaces, and houses were destroyed.
Even 150 years ago, the square did not resemble what it is now. The area, for example, once housed a massive bronze equestrian statue to King Vittorio Emanuele II, which is currently housed in the square named after him near the Cascine Park’s entrance. The Arch of Triumph also contained several clay allegorical statues that were not replaced once they swiftly deteriorated.
The old Caffé Gilli, Caffé Paskowski, and Caffé delle Giubbe Rosse, which were once meeting places for many of the city’s artists and writers, now surround the square. The Hotel Savoy on Via Roma and the Central Post Office, both facing the piazza, is positioned beneath the arches of the portico that extend to each side of the Arch of Triumph. The Hard Rock Cafe, which hosts concerts and parties under the portico, is another modern symbol that has taken up residence on the square’s outskirts.
20. Orsanmichele Church and Museum
Orsanmichele is a rather long name for a church, as it combines three separate nouns into one. It served as an oratory in the monastery of St. Michael (San Michele) and was first documented in the year 895. A Benedictine monastery’s vegetable garden (orto) encircled the structure. As a result, the name Or – San – Michele was born, with a few changes over the years.
The church’s austere exterior reveals it is built on three levels, similar to an office building, and comprises a mix of basic grey stone walls, ornate Gothic arches and windows, outside niches with diverse statues, and no regal formal “front” door. In the back, around the corner, lies the church’s entrance.
Between 1200 and 1300, they created this edifice as a market and a grain storage facility. One column in the loggia’s original structure, however, carried the image of the Blessed Mother, which was credited with several miraculous events. After the image was damaged in a fire, they commissioned Bernardo Daddi to paint a new “Our Lady of Grace” painting. Over time, travellers flocked to the loggia to see and pray in front of the Lady, and even with the “better” picture, they attributed the fresco to even more miracles, particularly during the plague of 1348.
With the influx of additional worshippers, the loggia could no longer be considered a suitable location for a market and was converted into a church.
In 1339, it was determined that each of Florence’s major guilds (unions representing various arts and labours) would contribute a statue of their patron saint to the Orsanmichele Church’s exterior. Verrocchio, Ghiberti, Donatello, and Luca della Robbia were among the artists that completed the commissions. Most of the saints’ niches are currently either unfilled or filled by reproductions. You may see many of the sculptures in the Museum, which is on the upper two storeys of this building. The museum is accessible by the Loggia della Lana, which is located just in front of the church door.
Admission fee: 2€ /2.32$ p.p. or a combined ticket for the price of 18€ /21$ p.p., which includes the National Museum of Bargello, Medici Chapels, Davanzati Palace Museum, Orsanmichele Church and Museum, and Casa Martelli, valid for 3 consecutive days.
21. St Charles of Lombards Church
The Signoria, the medieval and Renaissance city-state of Florence, commissioned this church in 1349, and they originally dedicated it to St Anne because her feast day coincided with the execution of the despotic Duke of Athens. It was rededicated to St Charles Borromeo by the Lombard confraternity of Florence two centuries later.
Inside, the church is tiny and basic, but the freshly repaired altarpiece, Niccolo di Pietro Gerini’s Entombment and Resurrection of Christ, in transept arches, serves as a focal point. The lunettes’ frescoes, which were also recently restored, depict the life of St Charles, while the faded 14th-century scenes facing the congregation were discovered only lately.
When it hung across the street at Orsanmichele opposite, the wooden polychrome Crucifix by Orcagna was a well-known medieval miracle worker. A new bronze statue of a young St Padre Pio, one of Italy’s most popular and newest saints, stands at its foot, wearing gloves to conceal the stigmata’s bleeding.
22. Strozzi Palace
Built at the behest of Filippo Strozzi on his return from exile in the second half of the 15th century, Palazzo Strozzi perfectly embodies the Renaissance aristocratic palaces with collonaded courtyards, their isolation and size conferring a majestic splendour on them and allowing them to stand out in the urban environment.
It remained in the Strozzi family, unquestionably one of Florence’s wealthiest, until 1937, when it was purchased by the INA, the Istituto Nazionale delle Assicurazioni. It was converted into an exhibition site after undergoing a major renovation from 1938 to 1940 and has been Florence’s most important and largest such venue ever since. It was purchased by the state in 1998 and given to the Municipality of Florence to be used as a place for cultural activities and exhibitions once more.
The Strozzi Palace Fondation, which also houses the Istituto Nazionale di Studi sul Rinascimento, the Gabinetto Scientifico Letterario G.P. Vieusseux, and the Scuola Normale Superiore, was founded in 2006, marking a new chapter in the palazzo’s history.
The Strozzi Palace Museum on the ground floor has been home to two iconic exhibits since 2018: a 1489 model of the palazzo, the only model of a private Renaissance dwelling to have survived, and a Lego portrait of Filippo Strozzi by Ai Weiwei (2017). Touchscreens display a 3D recreation of the palazzo based on a laser scan survey, the building’s history, an archive of Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi exhibitions since 2007, and information on current and upcoming shows.
The palace appears to be a miniature fortification with three stories and a rectangular design. Even though the building has been extensively renovated on the inside, you may still appreciate the original plan and elegance of the outside and courtyard.
23. Davanzati Palace Museum
The Palace, which was built by the Davizzi family in the mid-14th century, was purchased by the Davanzati family in 1578 (their coat of arms can still be seen on the exterior) and remained in their control until 1838 when it was divided into various flats and severely damaged.
Elia Volpi, an antique dealer, bought it in 1904 and repaired it, completely furnishing it and opening it to the public as the Museum of the Old Florentine House in 1910. After a series of events, including the dispersal of the furniture items, the state purchased the palace in 1951, which reorganized it and reopened it to the public in 1956.
The Museum’s current setup seeks to recreate the atmosphere of an old Florentine home, complete with furniture and household items from the 14th to the 19th century. Bedrooms feature linen chests and cots, while the audience hall on the first floor features a seldom painted cabinet by a 16th-century Siennese artist and a wooden picture by Giovanni di Sera depicting The Game of Civettino. Giovanni, nicknamed “Scheggia,” from the 15th century, and Antonio Rossellino’s marble bust of a child, also from the 15th century. The museum also has a wonderful collection of antique pottery, as well as 17th-century hand warmers in the shape of shoes.
On the third level, the kitchen displays furniture and everyday home items, as well as working gear such as looms, warping machines, and spinning wheels that document some of the house’s operations.
The Museum also has a wonderful collection of lacework and samplers from the 16th to the 20th century.
Admission fee: 6€ /7$ p.p. or a combined ticket for the price of 18€ /21$ p.p. (see point 20 for more details).
24. National Museum of Bargello
The National Museum of Bargello is housed in Florence’s historic Palace of the Podestà and is dedicated to medieval and Renaissance art. It was Italy’s first national museum, founded by royal decree on June 22, 1865.
Bargello’s collection, which was drawn from the Medici-Granducal collection, brought together some of the most important works of Renaissance sculpture from the moment it was founded: masterpieces by Donatello, Luca della Robbia, Andrea del Verrocchio, Michelangelo Buonarroti, and Benvenuto Cellini. Bronzes, ceramics, waxes, enamels, medals, ivories, tapestries, seals, and textiles, some from the Medici collections and others from suppressed convents or private collectors, were added to the museum’s holdings.
Admission fee: 10€ /12$ p.p. or a combined ticket for the price of 18€ /21$ p.p. (see point 20 for more details).
25. House of Dante Museum
At the beginning of the 20th century, after several studies and researches, the Municipal Administration of Florence ordered the building of a house to celebrate the place of birth of Dante Alighieri in a location that was most likely in the same area where he greatest Italian poet and the father of the Italian language lived.
Today, the building is the seat of the House-Museum of Dante, which is arranged on three floors according to the three most important stages in his life.
The first floor displays a series of documents on some aspects of 13th century Florence and the youth of Dante. The second floor exhibits documents relating to his painful exile of 1301, the year of his condemnation. After visiting several cities (Forli, Verona and Bologna), the poet spent his last years at Ravenna, where we would die (1321) in the home of Guido da Polenta.
The third floor offers a collection of documents concerning the iconography and fortune of Dante over the centuries, which are represented through excellent reproductions of works of art painted by important artists, ranging from the 14th century to the present day. Reproductions include works by artists like Giotto, Beato Angelico, Andrea del Castagno, Ghirlandaio, Luca Signorelli, Raphael and Michelangelo.
Admission fee: 8€ /9.3$ p.p.
26. Porcellino Fountain
The Porcellino Fountain is near the Ponte Vecchio, beside the arches of the New Market. It’s a famous tourist destination and a local hangout because, according to folklore, touching the Porcellino’s nose brings good fortune. Putting a coin in the pig’s mouth after rubbing its nose ensures good luck; if the coin falls into the grates where the water strikes, it will bring you luck; if it does not, it will not.
The common name “Porcellino” (piglet) is technically inaccurate, as the piece depicts a boar.
The current fountain is a replica of Pietro Tacca’s (1633) sculpture, which is based on a Hellenistic marble statue at the Uffizi Galleries. On Cosimo II’s command, the sculpture was put in front of the named apothecary in via Por Santa Maria in 1640. They then moved the fountain to its current location on the south side of the street in front of today’s former goods exchange in the 19th century to make it simpler to walk down the street.
The fountain served both a practical and decorative purpose, as it provided water to the market merchants who specialized in buying and selling luxury fabrics like silk, brocades, and woollen clothes.
The base is an octagonal shape with a bronze depiction of the marshy environment in which the wild boar lives, complete with wonderfully realistic vegetation, frogs, reptiles, and molluscs.
The wild boar, according to mythology, would transform into a young man every night and fall in love with a girl during one of his nocturnal trips. She fell in love with him as well, and they planned to marry, so the boy revealed his secret and made her swear she would keep her lips quiet or he would turn into a pig for the rest of his life. The girl did not keep the secret, and the young man was forever transformed into a boar.
27. Piazza della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria represents the heart of Florence’s political life. It hosts the “Palazzo Vecchio”, or “Palazzo della Signoria”, Florence City Hall and a museum; the “Loggia dei Lanzi”, or “Loggia della Signoria”, an open-air sculpture gallery; The “Tribunale della Mercanzia”, on the left side of Palazzo Vecchio and formerly a courthouse for trials between merchants; “Palazzo Uguccioni”, attributed to Michelangelo, Bartolomeo Ammannati and Raphael, standing in front of the north entrance of Palazzo Vecchio; “Palazzo delle Assicurazioni Generali”, the local headquarters of the General Insurance Company and house to the historical Café Rivoire; and The Fountain of Neptune, the famous, huge fountain built by Bartolomeo Ammannati and his assistants between 1563 and 1565, also known as “Il Biancone” (The White Giant), meant to be an allusion to Florence’s dominion over the sea.
Aside from those under the Loggia, other statues in Piazza della Signoria include a copy of Michelangelo’s David (the master copy is in the Accademia Gallery), a Donatello-sculpted Marzocco (the original is in the Bargello), Baccio Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus, and a bronze representing Cosimo I on horseback by Giambologna.
A spherical marble plaque marks the location where Girolamo Savonarola was hung and burned on May 23, 1498, right in front of the Fountain of Neptune. This Dominican friar and preacher, a key figure in Florence’s history, preached Christian renewal and denounced clerical corruption, despotic rule, and the exploitation of the lower classes; his followers were known for their “vanity bonfires,” in which supposedly sinful objects were publicly burned. He was denounced by a Franciscan friar after being accused of heresy, taken to trial, and burnt at the stake alongside two of his disciples.
28. Palazzo Vecchio
Palazzo Vecchio, the city’s most important building from a political standpoint, used to be the seat of political power and still houses the Florence city council.
The “Hall of the Five Hundred” (Salone dei Cinquecento) is its major attraction today. Even though the Palazzo’s brick exterior is fairly imposing, there is a republican frieze over the entryway that reads “Christ is King.” This underlined the fact that no earthly king possesses absolute power.
This massive 14th-century structure, with its 91-meter tower overlooking Piazza della Signoria, was the seat of the Medici dynasty until Cosimo I moved his court to the Pitti Palace in 1540. It served as the seat of the Italian government for a brief while in the 19th century.
Admission fee: 12.5€ /14.5$ p.p.
If you’re interested in a private or small-group guided tour of Palazzo Vecchio, I’d recommend checking out this 2-hour tour.
29. Loggia dei Lanzi
The Loggia dei Lanzi, a 14th-century loggia named after the “lancers,” Cosimo II’s bodyguards who lived there.
It is now a public Renaissance sculpture gallery featuring statues illustrating Florence’s history. Giambologna’s “Robbery of the Sabine Virgins” is one of the most famous statues. A single piece of marble was used to create the fighting characters in this statue. Cellini’s “Perseus” is another well-known statue. Perseus is shown with Medusa’s severed head. This served as a warning to Cosimo I’s adversaries. Giambologna’s “Hercules overcomes Centaur” and Pio Fedi’s “The Robbery of Polyxena” are two other well-known sculptures.
30. The Uffizi Gallery
The Uffizi Gallery is one of the most well-known and oldest museums in the world, with a vast collection of one-of-a-kind artworks and masterpieces, most of which are from the Renaissance period. The Medici left most of the collections to the state of Tuscany in order for them to “adorn the State, be of utility to the Public and attract the curiosity of Foreigners”.
Giorgio Vasari erected the building between 1560 and 1580 under the direction of Grand Duke Cosimo I de Medici to house the administrative and legal offices of Florence. They positioned it close to the Palazzo Vecchio and served as a government building. Francesco, Cosimo’s son, was the first to convert the palace’s upper floor into an art gallery. After that, the collection grew and grew, eventually becoming the vast museum it is today.
It now comprises the first and second floors of a palace that was donated to the city of Florence in the 18th century.
From the Middle Ages to the present, the museum is noted for its outstanding paintings and classical sculptures. Many well-known Italian artists, such as Botticelli, Rafael, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Giotto, Cimabue, and Piero della Francesca, but also many Flemish, German, and Dutch artists, such as Rembrandt and Rubens, created absolute masterpieces during the period from the fourteenth century to the Renaissance.
Admission fee: 20€ /23.2$ p.p.
If you’d like to experience walking through the Uffizi Gallery in private or small-group with the assistance of an expert, I’d recommend checking out this 1.5-hour guided tour or this 2-or-3-hour other.
31. Ponte Vecchio
The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) was Florence’s only bridge across the Arno until 1218, when it was built next to the Roman crossing. After a flood in 1345, they erected the existing bridge. It was the only bridge across the Arno River that the fleeing Germans did not burn during World War II. Instead, they obstructed access by razing the medieval structures on both sides. When the Arno burst its banks again on November 4, 1966, the bridge amazingly resisted the enormous weight of water and mud.
The initial bridge, built in 966, and its repair after the flood of 1345, are both documented, but the current structure is a bit of a mystery. The Dominican friars, with their powerful sense of proportion, harmony, and use of numbers, appear to have been involved in the construction. We know, however, that they created the bridge as a defence system, and that the windows and decorative aspects that we see now were added when the merchants purchased the shops.
Since the 13th century, stores have been on the Ponte Vecchio. Initially, there were a variety of establishments, including butchers and fishmongers, as well as tanners, whose “industrial waste” emitted a foul odour. In 1593, Ferdinand I commanded that only goldsmiths and jewellers be permitted to have shops on the bridge, to increase the well-being of everyone, including themselves, as they went across it.
A bust of Benvenuto Cellini, a 16th-century goldsmith, may be found on the bridge. The wooden shutters of the stores take on the appearance of suitcases and wooden chests at night, making it a very appealing route for an evening stroll. With its wonderful views of the river and the bridge itself, the Ponte Vecchio is a highly beautiful place in Florence.
32. Vasari Corridor
The Medici felt they required a connecting passage from the Uffizi to the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the Arno when they moved from Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti. This would allow them to stay out of contact with the people they dominated. The result was the Vasari Corridor, built in 1565 by Giorgio Vasari and which runs above the little goldsmiths’ shops on the Ponte Vecchio.
It is a nearly kilometre-long covered walkway with an overhead corridor that begins in the Gallery’s West Corridor, continues towards the Arno, and then follows the river as far as the Ponte Vecchio, raised by massive arches. On the other side of the Arno, the corridor leads through the interior of Santa Felicita church, down the tops of the Guicciardini family’s residences and gardens, and into the Boboli gardens (one of the entrances is beside Buontalenti’s Grotto) and the Pitti Palace apartments.
Vasari thus designed a massive urban “footpath” that carried the ruler’s absolute power right into the city’s historic core. A second corridor, above Via della Ninna, connects the Uffizi’s other side with Palazzo Vecchio, the Florentine government’s headquarters since the 13th century.
Apart from offering some spectacular and little-known views of the city through its round windows, the passageway houses over 1000 paintings, all of which date from the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as an important collection of Self-portraits by some of the most famous masters of painting from the 16th to the 20th centuries.
Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici founded this world-renowned collection in the mid-17th century, a golden age for collections, and continues to grow to this day. Self-portraits by Andrea del Sarto, Beccafumi, Bernini, Annibale Carracci, Guido Reni, Salvator Rosa, Rubens, Canova, Hayez, Corot, Ingres, Delacroix, Ensor, and others are on show.
The Vasari Corridor, which was closed to tourists in 2016 for security reasons, will reopen regularly in 2022.