Best Sight Seeings:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Buenos Aires "Best urban adventure"

Buenos Aires (official name Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, also called Capital Federal ) is the capital of the Argentine Republic. The name means fair winds in Spanish. It is one of the largest cities in Latin America, with a lot of cultural offerings, and is the point of departure for travelling to the rest of the country. Inhabitants of Buenos Aires are called porteños, "people from the port". Buenos Aires is a singular, open and integrating destination that allows the visitor not only to view the city but the opportunity to have an exceptional urban adventure.

Cementerio de la Recoleta | Recoleta Cemetery
Even if you land in South America knowing nothing about Buenos Aires, a likely first stop will be the Cementerio de la Recoleta. The cemetery is world famous and is the pride of the city’s living and dead. And why not when it is so glamorous and appeals to art lovers and weirdoes alike? It is also one of the few ultra user-friendly attractions in Buenos Aires, going so far as offering guided tours in English. The cemetery in Recoleta is the hippest zip code in town and there have been blood, sweat, and tears in this city’s history vying for a space.

Casa Rosada
Built under President Julio Argentino Roca in 1882, the Casa Rosada has been the center of presidential activity ever since. With the pink side facing the Plaza de Mayo, and the beige sides calling less attention from surrounding streets, it is Buenos Aires’ version of The White House.

El Obelisco | The Obelisk
How does one digest that a smooth 223 ft. column stretching to the sky is the representation of a city and its people? The Obelisk of Buenos Aires has little historical significance and no real purpose of function in the city, unlike its national symbol counterparts worldwide including US’s Statue of Liberty, Italy’s Vatican, or England’s Big Ben.
Its lack of utility does not stop the Obelisk from being one of the main tourist attractions since its completion in 1936 and a fun conversation topic amongst mixed company. Porteños really do claim the phallic tower as representing their society.

Congreso is a dense downtown area of Buenos Aires that houses the legislative branch of government at the opposite end of Avenida de Mayo from the "pink house" seat of the executive branch.

One of the main Tango and historical spots in the city, the streets of Boedo offer to native and tourist public a huge variety of cafes in the best “porteño” style, cultural centers , Tango houses, libraries, theaters and nice pubs and restaurants. Places that please people from all ages and tastes.

Puerto Madero
Just like the London docklands, the antique port of Buenos Aires has been renewed and now represents the latest architectural trends of the city. It has a mixture of restaurants (ranging from high end to american chains such as Hooters and TGIF, as well as apartment buildings and a few expensive hotels. The Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur , an excellent alternative for nature lovers, lies nearby.

Centro Cultural Borges | Borges Cultural Center
The Centro Cultural Borges boasts some of the best exhibits in Buenos Aires. Not limited to simply still art, the center hosts a variety of events from modern dance to theatre and independent films. Here’s is where one can find the big-name exhibits combined with up-and-comers. Some of the most recent exhibits include war photographer Robert Cappa and painter and sculptor Salvador Dali.

Centro Cultural Recoleta | Recoleta Cultural Center
Since its recent inception in the 80’s, the Centro Cultural Recoleta has become one of the city’s most important resources. The center is housed in a former convent and is conveniently located just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Recoleta Cemetery. The inside of the building has been gutted and renovated to include large, modern exhibition halls with rotating and exceptional exhibits (check website for details). There is also a cinema and a large auditorium, which hosts events for the Tango Festival when it rolls around. Upstairs scores of enthusiastic children enjoy the hands-on Museo Participativo de Ciencias.

Feria de Mataderos
20 years ago, the Feria de Mataderos (Mataderos Fair) brought the best of the pampas to the outskirts of the city – just an hour by bus from Microcentro and all the richness of Argentinean gaucho and folk culture awaits you. Every Sunday more than 100 artists and craftspeople cram the Mataderos barrio on the corner of Avenida Lisandro de la Torre and Avenida de los Corrales. Most people just get off the bus and follow the hypnotizing smell emanating from the parrillas.

Tierra Santa
Tierra Santa is almost too strange for words. This is the place where visitors can, “visit Jerusalem in Buenos Aires all year!” From the sand covered alleys, 18 meter high mechanical Jesus (resurrected for your viewing pleasure every 30 minutes!), to grubbing down in the Baghdad Café, the world’s only religious theme park really delivers. The strange blend of the commercial and religious reaches terrifying new heights here as tourists stroll by a life size statue of Jesus being flogged in the street next door to the kiosk where you can purchase “authentic” handicrafts made right there in the holy land.

Caminito is compiled of three streets that join up along the river in La Boca - one of the more working-class neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, tucked away behind San Telmo and sitting on the filthy riachuelo. It is also one of the most high-traffic tourist zones in town. Here poverty is colored - literally. The corrugated tin, two and three story houses are painted brilliant colors while life-size caricatures sit on balconies, peek out of windows, and wave from steps. They mock tourists walking by who can’t help but snap photos. Meanwhile, the people behind the plaster figures sit and watch from their homes in this poor neighborhood hidden from and the wealth of the Buenos Aires that tourists enjoy.

Galerías Pacífico
Galerias Pacifico is the downtown mall with entrances on both Avenida Córdoba and Calle Florida. With bookstores, wine shops, leather boutiques, and cafés Galerías Pacífico has it all. High glass-paned ceilings create an expansive area for strolling, shopping and sipping espresso. The spectacular building was built in the late 19th century and inspired by Paris Bon Marché. High glass ceilings with gothic-style arches line the multi-floored gallery, and sit above wide walkways and open-air center space. On the outside, the Parisian influence oozes out the high walls, tall windows, and stately roof.

Floralis Genérica
The Floris Genérica is one the most recognizable images of Buenos Aires. Walking along Avenida Figueroa Alcorta from the Facultad de Derecho (University of Law) to the MALBA, it is not unheard of to be asked directions to “the big metal flower”. Standing in the center of the Plaza Naciones Unidas (United Nations Plaza), in a 40-meter reflecting pool, the flower was erected in 2002 as a gift from architect Eduardo Catalano. The use of the term 'Genérica' in its name suggests that it is a symbol of all flowers in the world. Opinions differ about it’s beauty but there is no questioning that the flower is a powerful, modern symbol of technology and nature.

Teatro Colon
This theater is a metaphor for Argentina. Not to be mistaken for the Paris Opera House, the exterior is a classic, grandiose, old building modeled after European greats and taking up an entire city block. Once one gets inside for a closer look, the great beauty, elegance, and grace are both humbling and spell-binding.
El Teatro Colon is a major source of Argentine pride. It is second in size in the Southern Hemisphere only to the Sydney Opera House as a venue. The Colon can seat up to 2500 people with standing room for 500 more. This is the central venue for performing arts in Argentina. For musicians, dancers, and actors alike, an opportunity to perform in the Colon is a once in a lifetime experience. Equally, the opportunity to attend a performance is a must for visitors.

Museo Ernesto Che Guevara | Ernesto Che Guevara Museum
The first thing visitors will realize about the Museo Ernesto Che Guevara is that it is not a museo at all. In fact the museum is located inside a shop (Bagatela) owned by one of the founders of the original museum, which was located just a few blocks away. When hard financial times hit Buenos Aires, the museum – one of the only true landmarks to the memory of the famous Argentine doctor, soldier, and political revolutionary – was forced to close its doors. The ever dedicated and hard-working Eladio González (whose English is far better than he claims) scooped up some treasures and moved them to his store. These days, the reason to visit is ‘Toto’ himself, who believes that Che was a man full of love and that the world is full of ‘Ches’.

Buenos Aires Design
This is the theme park of home decorating, the center of the shower curtain universe, the place to sort through piles of sheets in search of the perfect shade of green, the place to find antique-looking new furniture, and the place where one can find classic clear wine glasses seated next to over-the-top beaded pillows.
Buenos Aires Design seems to always be full of people, both locals and tourists, shopping for the necessary items of day to day life. Somehow shopping here is nothing of a chore but rather a destination. Porteños often come to spend a full day or afternoon plotting out the perfect bathroom or bedroom. Clearly, Argentine style extends well beyond clothing as much energy is put into bedclothes as into an outfit destined for the Teatro Colón.

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
The 32 rooms of modern and classic, tragic and beautiful art can keep one awe-inspired for hours. Roam through Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh, then note the big-name Argentine artists including Xul Solar, Candido Lopez, and Eduardo Siviori.
A trip to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is necessary for any visitor to Buenos Aires, if only to marvel at yet another impressive and important pink building. Formerly located on Avenida Florida, the current building was designed by architect Alejandro Bustillo and inaugurated in its current location on May 23rd, 1933. Its stately front columns, high staircase, and widespread wings welcome visitors with open arms.

Bosques de Palermo
The park is not only an attraction in itself, but contains many of the popular visitor sites in Buenos Aires like the Rosedal, the Galilieo Galilei Planetarium, the Eduardo Sívori Plastic Arts Museum, and is only a stone’s throw away from Plaza Italia, the Japanese Garden, Zoo, and the Botanical Gardens. Designed with the help of prominent French landscape designer Carlos Thays, the park was first inaugurated in 1875 and has since provided porteños a place to exercise, relax, picnic, and play for over a century. As the “Central Park” of Buenos Aires, the Bosques de Palermo (Palermo Woods) encompasses an impressive 198 acres on the northwest side of the city. Besides expansive green lawns dotted with everything from pine trees to palms, the park contains two manmade lakes, sculptures, rose gardens, and both running and biking paths, enclosing much of the Parque 3 de Febrero, the largest individual park within the Palermo Woods.

Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo | The Mothers of the Plaza de

While it could be argued that a person or people cannot be considered an attraction, there is no doubt that Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayoare a “must see” of Buenos Aires. These courageous and diligent women (and men) are a living, breathing, fighting reminder of the atrocities of the military dictatorship that grasped Argentina from 1976 to 1983. During the years of the dictatorship, many oppositionist were murdered or “disappeared” and while exact numbers elude, estimates range to 40,000. On Thursday, April 30th, 1977, some mothers of young men who had disappeared congregated and marched in front of the Casa Rosada in the Plaza de Mayo to show their solidarity and demand answers. These women, many of who are now very old, along with family, friends, fathers, brothers, sisters, and supporters have congregated every Thursday since to continue their plight and finally find what became of their children during what is now known as La Guerra Sucia (The Dirty War).

Planetario Galileo Galilei Planetario Galileo Galilei | Galileo Galilei Planetarium
The planetarium is impossible to miss as it rises out of Palermo’s busy and popular park district like a spacecraft or a giant eggcup. Between the appropriate architecture and the giant hunk of space rock on display outside the front door, those on the lookout can’t miss it. The Planetarium has been a popular attraction since it opened in the late 60’s – particularly with the youngsters. On any given day the place is stowed with eager young minds.
Inside the giant dome there is an auditorium displaying the night sky and it seats a few hundred for regular shows. There is also a large telescope for a more hands-on stargazing experience. The planetarium offers a wealth of fun and educational free activities – though most are in Spanish, many are visually focused – including the night sky show, astronomy courses, and interaction with visiting scientists. Schedules vary but check their informative website for current schedules.

Plaza Francia
During weekends, this is a popular porteño destination for lingering over mate and listening to whichever informal band has set up shop in the grassy areas. Extensive people-watching is openly indulged as crowds wander through the park, especially when the weather is agreeable. During the week Plaza Francia is merely and obstacle on the way to other places, but on Saturday and Sunday it becomes a destination in itself. The long, circling pathways are lined with artisans selling their crafts. Almost everything sold here is handmade and sells at all-too-reasonable prices. From wooden toys to jewelry, artwork, handknit shawls and sweaters, shoes and silver-crafts, tourists are bound to find a trinket to take home with them.

Museo Participativo de Ciencias | Children’s Participatory Science Museum
Though it’s tucked away inside the Centro Cultural Recoleta, all the way up on the 2nd floor, the Museo Participativo de Ciencias cannot be missed – mostly thanks to the throngs of screaming children bulging at its seams. Visitors should not fret, as the screams are generally jubilant. What else might one expect from a place whose motto is Prohibido NO tocar (Prohibited NOT to touch!)? During the school year kids flock here by the classroom to listen, learn, and play.

El Rosedal | Rose Garden
El Rosedal, also known as the Jardín de las Rosas or simply the Rose Garden, is the picturesque centerpiece of the sprawling Bosques de Palermo (Palermo Woods) in Buenos Aires. Winding red gravel paths guide park-goers through more than 15,000 different rose bushes and 1,189 species of roses in every color of the rainbow. Each brick-colored walkway is lined with green wooden benches, offering plentiful places to stop and enjoy the scenery. From evergreens to palm trees to islands of perfectly manicured lawns, the Rosedal forms a small oasis bursting with greenery amid the concrete jungle of the city.

Biblioteca Nacional | National Library
Apparently there were a great many problems leading up to the opening of the National Library in 1992. How else to explain the 30 years leading up to the inauguration? Tours are offered in Spanish daily except Sunday and they will tell you all about it. Designed by beloved Buenos Aires architect, Clorindo Testo, the building now begs the question: work of art or urban disaster? It’s worth taking a stroll through the Northern part of Recoleta to decide for yourself. The structure might remind visitors of an orange on a toothpick. However, it is surrounded on all sides by plazas and parks making it a peaceful rest stop, stowed with studious youngsters even on Saturday afternoons when they should be drinking mate and making party plans.

MALBA – Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires
MALBA, or the Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires, is a good crash course in contempory art from all over the continent for the unfamiliar. The building is beautiful, modern and feels huge making the permanent exhibition deceptively small in an attractive gallery space of wood floors and muted lighting. Argentinean architects Atelman, Fourcade, and Tapia created the impressive glass on steel edifice. The work mostly spans the 20th century and is displayed chronologically to allow visitors to muse over trends and artistic influences in Latin American culture. The gallery is filled with porteños visiting for the umpteenth time that just can’t get enough. Artists range from celebrated Argentine surrealist Xul Solar to the incomparable Mexican tag-team of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The variety is conducive to learning some lesser-known geniuses of the continent. Several mediums are explored from traditional oils to giant sculpture and modern light installations. At couple of hours should be allowed for wandering through the permanent collection.

Hipódromo Hurlingham
With all the hoopla in Palermo, it is hard to ignore that Argentina is a great country to enjoy the pleasures of putting a little green behind your favorite horse. The European influence in the form of the love of cricket, horse racing, polo, and other wealthy, outdoor spectator sports is alive and well in Hurlingham, which is widely known as an English barrio. Hurlingham is a great choice for beginners and seasoned gamblers alike and manages to set itself apart. The Sunday races in Hurlingham are for chariot racers instead of traditional jockeys so visitors feel immediately like they stumbled into a time machine to the 19th century.

El Ateneo Gran Splendid
El Ateneo is Buenos Aires' premier bookstore, and the largest in South America. El Ateneo is a popular and well known bookstore with several locations throughout the city, though a far cry from the omnipresence of US bookstore chains.
The main store on Avenida Santa Fe is worth a visit for the unique architecture and design. Some say the interior resembles theTeatro Colon, with its three-story balconies wrapping around the center floor, all lined with literature from around the world. It was originally known as the Teatro Gran Splendid, built in 1919 by Max Glucksmann, with a capacity of 1050 spectators. It was also a popular cinema before being converted into a bookstore.

Parque Rivadavia
Covering four city blocks, parque Rivadavia is a generous green space amidst an area that hives with porteño activity. While most tourists will be attracted to the range of greenery available in the Palermo area, Parque Rivadavia provides for a relaxing alternative with few other tourists in sight. As always the park is in honour of an Argentine political or military hero: this time Bernardino Rivadavia, Argentina’s first president. There are a few slabs of towering stone depicting his glory and honour. Besides the marble and granite, the park offers sumptuous shade beneath mighty macrocarpa. At the south-east end of the park there is a small play area where frazzled house-wives chase their various progeny, and these same progeny chase the pigeons, and the pigeons chase the bread that the pensioners fling on their way about.

Abasto Shopping Ciudad de Compras
A mall is a mall, and I hate malls. That said, Abasto Shopping is an incredible mall. The imposing façade on Avenida Corrientes looks more like Union Station or some huge train terminal than an upscale centro de shopping, but inside this multi-storied structure occupying a square city block, visitors will find a luxurious and elegant palace of consumerism. In the nature of all malls, one can obtain just about anything he or she desires, from brand name apparel like Puma, Adidas, Levi’s, and Wrangler (actually very fashionable here, not like the in US where it’s only sold in places like Sears and Big R), to cell phones, flat-screen TVs, perfumes and colognes, banking services, and concert tickets or bus tickets to destinations around the country.

Calle Florida | Florida Street
When the giant South American cruise ship tours dock in nearby Puerto Madero, most tourists alighting head directly to Calle Florida. This is where the tourists of Buenos Aires come to shop for fur, leather, souvenirs, and whatever great deal they can get their hands on. A trip down the pedestrian-only street could take up a couple of hours, an entire day, or multiple trips depending on a person’s affinity for sideshow style street performance, battling for sidewalk space, and, of course, shopping.
The strip begins at Avenida de Mayo just west of the Plaza de Mayo where the seemingly endless array of kioskos, retail stores, and street madness begins. In the evening, local artisanos gather here to sell their wares from blankets. As the walk continues the stores unfold in the many galerías leading off the street and major retailers like the department store Falabella hold fort. Shoppers can stop and rest at many of the cafes like Havanna or the famed Café Richmond. Anyone taking a stroll is likely to find street tango or some street performance on the corner of the other intersecting pedestrian street, Calle Lavalle.

Museo de La Casa Rosada | Casa Rosada Museum

Located inside the Casa Rosada is the Museo de la Casa Rosada. Here you’ll find the presidential seat of Santiago Derqui, the presidential banner of Juilo Argentino Roca and many other expected items such as flatware, furniture, and dolls of past presidential families. Temporary exhibits frequent the museum including a remembrance of Eva Perón 50 years after her death, performance by the National Folklore Ballet, an exhibition of ritual Bolivian clothing, and 100 years of history inside the Casa Rosada. Exhibits often change, so call ahead for more information.
Tours of the house and museum are offered, both of which will inevitably provide you with some fun presidential facts. Ever wonder why the Casa Rosada is pink? Historically, it was painted with pig’s blood. Thankfully they have abandoned that tradition and today traditional paint is used. No matter what your pleasure, the Casa Rosada is great entrance into the complexities of Argentine culture and politics and a good step towards making sense of it all.

Plaza de Mayo | May Plaza
One could easily call the Plaza de Mayo the heart of Buenos Aires – the streets on all sides the arteries, the drums of the piqueteros (protesters) the beat, and the pink walls of La Casa Rosada the (literal and figurative) blood. Indeed, the plaza is often number one on the destination list of visitors to the city. The plaza gets its name from the date in May when the city declared independence from its Spanish roots in 1810. May 25th is still a national holiday.
Depending on the day and time, there are a number of experiences to be had at the plaza. It is sometimes referred to as the Plaza de Protestas due to the seemingly constant throngs of protestors bused into the city from the provinces to demand justice for one thing or another and make their voices heard. To this day, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo meet every Thursday at 3:30pm to make their walk of protest around the Pirámide de Mayo – a small obelisk in the center of the plaza to commemorate a year of independence.

Estadio Alberto J. Armando - La Bombonera

As interesting and encyclopedic as the Museo de la Pasion Boquense may be, there is no substitute for the first-hand experience of a Boca Juniors game inside Estadio Alberto J. Armando, more commonly and affectionately known as La Bombpnera. A large proportion of what one is likely to read and hear about this stadium is devoted to the inherent dangers of coming here as a foreigner, to the point of outright injunctions to stay away unless escorted by some tourist agency. While there is certainly plenty of evidence to justify these warnings (a friend of a friend of mine was followed into the bathroom in the middle of a game by five guys, who pinned him against the wall and fleeced him for everything he had, included the hat off his head), with some planning and prudence it is not only worth a visit, it is a must.

Get Around
The public transport in Buenos Aires is very good, although crowded during rush hour. The metro (or underground railway, called the "Subte") network is not very large, but reaches most tourist attractions of the city, and there is a large range of bus routes and several suburban railways used by commuters.
Finding your way around is easy. Most of the city grid is divided into equal squares with block numbers in the hundreds. Most streets are one way with the adjacent parallels going the other way, so beware that the bus or taxi won't follow the same route back. If traveling by taxi, you simply need to tell the driver the street and block number, eg. "Santa Fe 2100"; or two intersecting streets, eg. "Corrientes y Callao".
City maps are issued by many different publishers (Guía T, LUMI) and the local tourist authority. They are indispensable for those wanting to use public transportation, since they include all bus routes. Be aware that some maps are bottom up (South on the top of the map). This is true for the maps at the official taxi booth at Ezeiza airport.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Florence "The Birthplace of the Italian Renaissance"

Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with 367,569 inhabitants (1,500,000 in the metropolitan area).

The city lies on the River Arno and is known for its history and its importance in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance, especially for its art and architecture. A centre of medieval European trade and finance and one of the richest and wealthiest cities of the time, Florence is often considered the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance; in fact, it has been called the Athens of the Middle Ages. It was long under the de facto rule of the Medici family. From 1865 to 1870 the city was also the capital of the Kingdom of Italy.

The historic centre of Florence attracts millions of tourists each year and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982. Florence is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and its artistic, historic and cultural heritage and impact in the world remains vast up to this day. The city has also a major European impact in music, architecture, education, cuisine, fashion, philosophy, science and religion. The historic centre of Florence contains numerous elegant piazzas, Renaissance palazzi, academies, parks, gardens, churches, monasteries, museums, art galleries and ateliers.

The city boasts a wide range of collections of art, especially those held in the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi, (which receives about 1.6 million tourists a year). Florence is arguably the last preserved Renaissance city in the world and is regarded by many as the art capital of Italy. It has been the birthplace or chosen home of many notable historical figures, such as Dante, Boccaccio, Botticelli, Niccolò Machiavelli, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Donatello, Galileo Galilei, Catherine de' Medici, Antonio Meucci, Guccio Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Roberto Cavalli and Emilio Pucci, to name but a few.

Michelangelo's David

In Autumn 1504 the Florentines witnessed an exceptional event: after four days travelling round the city, transported with the care and attention normally reserved for great events, inside a wooden cage running on greased beams, Michelangelo's David finally reached its destination, the Piazza della Signoria - and was immediately celebrated as one of the greatest masterpieces of the Renaissance.

The statue was first intended to be displayed in the Cathedral, but was then felt to be of so great merit as to deserve a more important position.

Chronicles tell us of the immense surprise and marvel that the Florentines showed as it was uncovered. 'It took the voice away from statues both ancient and modern', wrote Vasari, author of a famous biography of the artist. Such a superb work had never been seen before either in Florence or elsewhere, with its manifest expression of awareness of power.

The Florentines, who called it Michelangelo's "giant", considered it the most explicit example of the spirit of the New Republic that had chased the Medici from Florence in 1494. When he created his David, Michelangelo was not even thirty, but had already produced works of great value such as the Tondo Doni which can be found in the Uffizi today. His David was so successful that he was called back to Rome by the Pope himself, Giulio II, for whom he would then paint the famous Sistine Chapel.

The Florence where Michelangelo was born was already the city of art and trade that we know of as the driving centre of the period of cultural rebirth that we call the Renaissance. It had known artists like Giotto, Masaccio and Donatello, but it was in Michelangelo, and naturally Leonardo da Vinci, that Florence saw the incomparable genius that could best represent its cultural supremacy.

Michelangelo took three years to finish his David. This great work would confirm him as even more than just Florence's greatest sculptor. What the Florentines saw that day in 1504, was a masterpiece with no equal. A giant almost four and a half meters high and the only large nude sculpted after ancient times, as no-one had previously dared to challenge the Greek and Roman masterpieces. But though it does remind us of ancient models, the David sculpture is daringly anti-classical. Its position, though expressing perfect balance, alludes at movement, with its left heal raised off the ground. The attitude is strong, arrogant and, above all, filled with inner life like no other similar classical statue. Behind the apparent equilibrium, his David represses strong energy and tension.

Michelangelo then does something of genius: he doesn't show us David after Goliath's defeat, triumphant over the giant's head, as in typical iconography, but at an unspecified moment, perhaps just after his victory. Michelangelo does not want to portray the action, but rather the possibility to carry it out and he prefers to show David's strength in power more than in the evidence of historical narration. Strength is expressed in the exceptional vitality of his challenging look, below those frowning eyebrows and in the muscular tension shown by his meticulous design of anatomical parts. So much attention was paid to careful anatomic description that Michelangelo worked on the statue even after it had been put on show, in order to improve the plastic effects in daylight.

Michelangelo also uses an ingenious technique, giving authority to his characters through lack of proportion for some parts: the hands, knotted and extremely beautiful, the face which with the neck is bigger than half the chest. It is in the hands and face that the virtues of universal man are to be found, in other words, physical strength and the intellectual reasoning of man. The entire work represents, in this sense, a perfect synthesis of the Florentine Renaissance.

On display in the city's most important square and in front of the seat of its government, the David by Michelangelo often risked serious damage. In 1872 they decided to move it into the Academy Gallery, into a specially designed room where it can still be seen today, while it was only in 1910 that a copy was to be placed on its original site in Piazza della Signoria.

Artist, architect, scholar, but most of all Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor: and it is in the sculptor's action of hitting marble with a chisel in an effort to draw his primary idea, the universal concept out of matter, that his incomparable genius can be found and the reason why, as Vasari said, 'his fame will live on gloriously, despite death'.

Palazzo Vecchio

In 1293, after the political success of the guilds, the new Priors wanted to build a monument which would become the most important civic monument in Florence, the Palazzo dei Priori, seat of the Signoria, later called Palazzo Vecchio. According to tradition, the central nucleus of the building was erected by Arnolfo di Cambio between 1299 and 1304.

It has the appearance of a fortress, topped by a huge open gallery, from which rises the slender tower known as the Arnolfo tower and which repeats in the belfry the design of the top of the palace. The two rows of elegant ogival mullioned windows; this is the only measured proportion to the Palace. It was subsequently enlarged by Vasari, in the sixteenth century and by Buontalenti, in the seventeenth century. Palazzo Vecchio, after having been the seat the seat of the town authorities, became the home of the Medici family.

Later it was the seat of the provisional governments (1848-49 and 1859-60), and when Florence was the capital of Italy from 1865 to 1871 it housed the Chamber of Deputies and the Foreign Ministry. It has been the seat of the municipal authority since 1872.

The Loggia dei Lanzi

The equestrian statue of Cosimo I de' Medici, Neptune from the Ammannati fountain, and the copy of Michelangelo's David slyly survey Piazza della Signoria and sculptures of all periods look out with them from the Loggia of the Signoria, dominated by Benvenuto Cellini's Perseus, symbol of the Renaissance. From the tables of the historic cafés, or overwhelmed by the splendour of the monuments overlooking the square, you can't miss that protected place full of immobile observers, who in turn cannot help but be observed.

Brought back to light after restoration in 2002, the Loggia of the Signoria, or Loggia of the Lanzi, so called because the Lanzichenecchi (German mercenaries) used it for their encampment in 1527, became an open-air museum and one of the symbols of Florence, dominating the square in spite of its detached position. For a certain period it was also known as the Loggia dell'Orcagna, from the nickname of the architect Andrea di Cione, to whom it was wrongly attributed. In reality the Loggia was built by his brother Benci di Cione together with Simone Talenti.

It was built between 1376 and 1382, as a place where popular assemblies and the official ceremonies of the Florentine Republic, all public, were to be held. The building, with its late-Gothic forms, testifies to the taste for the classical, but already announces the Renaissance; it seems to be the forerunner of the style adopted by Filippo Brunelleschi to create the Hospital of the Innocents, the first Renaissance building.

The four panels, with allegorical figures of the Cardinal Virtues decorating the simple, linear façade, were the work of Agnolo Gaddi. The terrace above the Loggia, now part of the Uffizi, was built by Bernardo Buontalenti to enable the population to watch the ceremonies being held in the square below. Now it is part of the museum bar and is a splendid viewing point for watching the busy life in the square.

With the advent of Cosimo I, the Loggia was originally designed as a kind of workshop for sculptors, who by means of their works had the task of representing the clean break with the republican institutions in the city. It thus became a veritable exhibition space reserved for sculptures. Every statue displayed was to symbolise a part of the history of Florence, with numerous political references which must have been perfectly clear to the Florentines of the time.

Piazza della Signoria (Signoria Square)

Built around the end of the thirteenth century as a symmetrical contrast to the city's religious centre, Piazza della Signoria was enlarged through demolitions of the tower-houses of the Uberti, Foraboschi and other powerful Ghibelline families.

Right from Medieval times, Piazza della Signoria has always been the civic centre of Florentine life. Although some original buildings (the Loggia dei Pisani and the Church of St. Cecilia) and the ancient brick paving, which gave it greater unity of style, have now disappeared, it remains in all its aspects a square of incomparable beauty and elegance. Dominated by the fourteenth century Palazzo della Signoria with its high crenellated tower, it is surrounded by other important buildings: the Loggia della Signoria and the Palazzo degli Uffizi on the south side, the sixteenth century Palazzo degli Uguccioni on the north side and the Palazzo del Tribunale di Mercanzia (about 1359) on the east side.

The Palazzo delle Assicurazioni Generali on the west side of the square, a could imitation of Renaissance style, was built by Land in 1871. The square, where public tournaments and feasts took place between 1400 and 1500, was transformed almost into an open-air museumseveral statues. in the sixteenth century by the addition of

From left to right one can admire: the bronze equestrian statue of Great Duke Cosimo I, a late work of Giambologna (1594); the large and monumental Ammannati Fountain (1575), ironically called "Biancone" because the remarkable difference between the ugly and heavy central statue of Neptune and the slender figures of the satyrs and nymphs leaning on the waved border of the fountains.

In front of the fountain, almost at the centre of the square, a granite disc commemorates the place where Savonarola and his faithful followers, Fra' Domenico and Fra' Silvestro, were hanged and burned (May 23rd, 1498). On the steps of Palazzo della Signoria from left to right: a copy of the Marzocco, a lion with the Florentine lily (the original preserved in the Bargello) and a copy of the group of Judith and Holofernes (original is in the Piazza della Signoria Museum), outstanding works by Donatello (about 1460), a copy of the famous David by Michelangelo, the original of which is in the Academy Gallery, and the marble group of Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli (1536).

In the same square, at no. 5, one can visit the collection of Alberto della Ragione, donated to the city of Florence in 1970. This important collection of Italian contemporary art includes works well-known painters and sculptors of our time, as for example, Carrà, De Chirico, De Pisis, Guttuso, Morandi, Fontana and Manzù.

Accademia Gallery

From the maze of narrow, winding streets, witness to the old medieval town, the Gallery of the Academy appears on via Ricasoli, camouflaged among the other buildings but preannounced by a long line of visitors. Famous for hosting Michelangelo's David (the original; the one in Piazza della Signoria, is only a copy) and the famous Prigioni (Prisoners). In reality it is an enormous museum displaying a large number of splendid masterpieces and also includes the Museum of Musical Instruments, which became part of the complex in 1966.

The Gallery of the Academy came into being in 1784 when the Grand Duke Leopold of Lorraine set up the Academy of Fine Arts with the idea of gathering all the works of art owned by the art school in one museum. The statue of David was brought there only in 1873; in 1882 Emilio De Fabris made the tribune on which the imposing statue still stands today. During the 1900's numerous works were purchased, including Michelangelo's St. Matthew, Palestrina's Pity and the Prigioni (Prisoners) – the statues that Michelangelo had sculpted in 1530 for the mausoleum commissioned by Pope Julius II – which until then had been in the Boboli Gardens.

Immediately after entering, on the ground floor, we find the gallery with its splendid perspective, to be crossed under the gaze of St. Matthew, and then of the Prigioni until we find ourselves in front of David. Michelangelo sculpted this statue between 1502 and 1504; this was the most commonly portrayed Biblical character in the Renaissance, because he symbolises astuteness winning over brute force. The statue, became the symbol of the city right from the time of the Medici family.

It was created as one of the personages that were to decorate the façade of the Duomo, but in the end a commission of experts decided to place it in front of the Public Palace (which then became the Palazzo Vecchio). The iconography is revolutionary; David is not portrayed after the fight with Goliath but in the moment of greatest tension, immediately before facing his enemy.

Among the other rooms of the museum are the Orcagna Room, from the nickname of the three painter brothers Andrea, Nardo and Jacopo Di Cione, the International Gothic Room, the Late 1300s Room and the room of the Giotteschi, the artists who followed Giotto, who worked in the 14th century.

Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge)

Ponte Vecchio, the oldest of Florence's six bridges, is one of the city's best known images. Probably going back to Roman times with its stone pillars and wooden planks; it was built in stone but then newly destroyed by a flood in 1333. It was built again twelve years later, perhaps by Neri da Fioravante (or Taddeo Gaddi, according to Giorgio Vasari).

The five arches became three and the main part was widened. The shops, housed under the porticos, first belonged to the Commune which then rented them out. But later on, towards the 15th century, they were sold to private owners and began to change through subsequent additions, raised parts and external terraces, extending towards the river and altering the original architecture in an anarchical, suggestive way.

In the 15th century these shops were greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers. But then perhaps because of their bad smell, Ferdinando I replaced them with goldsmiths, making the road more elegant and cleaner.

In 1565, Cosimo I de' Medici, Duke of Florence, had the famous Corridor built by Vasari on the upper side passing over the shops. There's a curious story about that. The Mannelli family who owned a medieval tower at the southern end, towards Pitti Palace, did not want to give the Duke right of passage. So the corridor had to be deviated, as we can still see today, around the tower.

The row of shops is interrupted in the center and the bridge opens over the Arno with two splendid, panoramic terraces. Here in 1900, they put up the bust of Benvenuto Cellini, that ingenious Florentine goldsmith and sculptor.

Uffizi Palace (Palazzo degli Uffizi)

Of the building renovation works started in Florence during the Grand Duchy of Cosimo I dei Medici the most important was undoubtedly the one started in 1560 in the space south of the square towards the river where Vasari was charged with building the main State Magistracy buildings (hence the name Uffizi).

After demolishing one of the oldest town quarters, Vasari built a monumental u-shaped portico building, a real masterpiece of late-Renaissance period architecture. To avoid the unpleasant effect of a long, monotonous facade, Vasari split it using a recurrent motive that allowed him to elegantly connect the two ends to Palazzo Vecchio and to the Loggia dei Lanzi, along with the happy solution of the arched bridge at the end, overlooking the Arno.

Once most of the building had been completed at considerable expense, Cosimo had Vasari undertake another ambitious project: a raised communication passageway connecting Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti, his official residence. This is the famous Vasarian Corridor, a route from Palazzo Vecchio across the Uffizi, along the Arno above a portico, crossing it over Ponte Vecchio and on to Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli gardens.

During the XIX century, following indications left by Vasari, they sculpted 28 marble statues portraying the most important Tuscan personalities and placed them in the pillar niches outside the portico.

On entering this great U-shaped square, you notice that difference between the light and shade of the side porticos and the luminosity of the arches in the background anticipating the river presence. From here, looking in the opposite direction, this simple yet complex architectural plant is a perspective spy-glass towards Piazza della Signoria, including in one single backdrop the façade of Palazzo Vecchio with its statues, the fountain in the center and even the Cathedral cupola.

Uffizi Gallery

The collection of works in the Uffizi Gallery cannot be compared to any other world collection and is probably the only one to have just masterpieces of exceptional value.

The Gallery is housed in the building built by Cosimo I of Medici and designed by Vasari in 1560. But the collection was started in 1574 when Cosimo's son, Francesco I, transformed the second floor of the Vasarian building into a place 'to walk in with paintings, sculptures and other precious things' and entrusted Buontalenti with the creation of a Tribune where art objects could be exhibited.

Vasari, who died that same year, could hardly have imagined that inside that building, born to house the Magistracy, almost all the major painters (not just Florentine) whose biographies he had written in one of the most interesting documents on the history of art, Lives, would have been on show.

It was based on an idea of Vasari, who had put the portrait of each artist with his biography, that Leopoldo de'Medici started the rich collection of artists' self-portraits. This kept on growing over the centuries with a further 250 self-portraits arriving in the 20th century, often gifts from the artists themselves. Like Chagall who went to Florence himself to hand over his portrait.

In the Gallery we can see (Art Gallery):

  • Tuscan Painting. Florentibne Primitives and Trecentists (including Cimabue and Giotto)
  • Sienese Trecentists (including Simone Martini)
  • Late Gothic period
  • First Renaissance (including Paolo Uccello, Beato Angelico)
  • Filippo Lippi
  • Piero della Francesca
  • Pollaiolo
  • Botticelli
  • Ghirlandaio
  • Filippino Lippi
  • Verrocchio e bottega
  • Signorelli
  • Perugino
  • First Florentine Cinquecentists (including Michelangelo)
  • First Mannerists (including Rosso Fiorentino, Pontormo)
  • Second Mannerism (including Bronzino, Vasari)
  • Florentine 17th and 18th centuries
  • Italian painting from the 14th and 15th centuries – excluding Florence (including Mantenga, Bellini, Carpaccio)
  • 16th century Italian Painting – excluding Florence and Venice (including Raffaello, Parmigianino)
  • Painting in Venice in the 16th Century (including Lorenzo Lotto, Giorgione, Tiziano, Tintoretto, Veronese)
  • Italian Painting in the 17th Century - excluding Florence (including Guido Reni, Caravaggio, Artemisia Gentileschi)
  • Italian 18th and 19th century painting (including Guardi, Tiepolo)
  • German Painting (including Durer)
  • Flemish Painting - XV and XVI century (including van der Weyden, Memling)
  • Flemish and Dutch Painting - XVII century (including Rubens, van Dyck, Rembrandt)
  • French Painting (including Lorrain, Le Brun)
  • Spanish Painting (including de Zurbaran, El Greco, Velazquez, Goya)

Duomo of Florence: Santa Maria del Fiore

Built on the ancient sacred area of the Roman castrum, the Basilica of Santa Reparata, together with a number of other religious buildings, formed the original nucleus of what was to become the religious heart of today's Florence. There was almost certainly a Baptistery as evidence of the ancient connection with the Cathedral.

What is certain is that between the XI and XIII centuries this area was enlarged and embellished as part of the city's more generalised economic and cultural rebirth. The Basilica of Santa Reparata was enlarged and the Baptistery was probably entirely rebuilt to become what we can see today. In that same period, the city's walls were enlarged, Palazzo Vecchio was built (then called 'of the Priors) and so were two monumental churches: Santa Maria NovellaSanta Croce. and

Some buildings linked to social solidarity grew up around the Cathedral, that is the Arch-confraternity of Mercy, the Bigallo Orphanage, the Hospital of St John Evangelist. The latter, a hospital complex that would make Florence famous, is now completely lost. Before all these exceptional scale changes, the old Cathedral though enlarged was decidedly inadequate for the new city image that Florence was building for itself.

The need to build a new Cathedral was born, something that could rightly represent the power and stability of the Florentine Republic: thus a civic value to be assigned to a religious monument.

The new Cathedral, built by the official Municipal architect, Arnolfo di Cambio (builder of Palazzo Vecchio), was born as public works and financed by the Town Hall itself, 'so that the industry and power of men cannot invent nor ever undertake something that is bigger or more beautiful'. A new dedication was decided on: no longer to the oriental martyr, Saint Reparata, but to the Virgin Mary and the reference to the Fiore (Flower), symbol of Christ, seemed to want to unite the Cathedral to its city, whose ancient name was Florentia, in a sacred bond.

Brunelleschi's Dome

The building of the dome on Florence cathedral, by Filippo Brunelleschi, can be considered one of the Renaissance's main building enterprises. The highest expression of a new attitude, placing man and his abilities at the centre of the world and finding in classic antiquity the premises for cultural rebirth after the dark Middle Ages.

Brunelleschi had a brilliant idea: modeled on great Roman architecture, like the monumental Pantheon dome, that he'd studied and redesigned as a young man; he designed an octagonal, self-supporting dome, that didn't need a centre, built from different materials: stone down below where the curve was minimum, for greater resistance, and bricks above as they were lighter. Furthermore, the double pensa was formed by two spherical vaults placed one on top of the other, the internal one more than two meters thick and the external one just 80 centimeters.

These two parallel shells are connected by brick 'spurs' and have two different functions: the internal one is the real roofing while the external one, besides protecting from water, is there to thicken the dome profile, making it visible from afar.

But the most talented, really brilliant idea was how the bricks were fitted into each other, 'fishbone fashion', in the way that had been used in Tuscany prior to that, but never in similar circumstances. The secret of this colossal structure's balance lies in this knowledgeable jointing game, making the dome a complex, but perfect mechanical device.

Once finished, the dome was something extraordinary, never seen before.

Two years after the Cupola was finished in 1436, they added the crowning lantern in white marble, taking the total dome height from 91 to 114 metres, a really impressive height, and not just for that era.

Brunelleschi died in 1446 and managed to see his work practically finished, except for some decorations added afterwards. He was always aware that he had created a unique art and engineering masterpiece.

'It's as though the sky is envious' wrote Vasari,' as it keeps on shooting thunderbolts down at it, believing that its height has almost exceeded the height of air'.

Inside Giotto's Bell tower

Giotto's activity as an architect is documented not just in Lives by Vasari (where he is called a sculptor and architect) but especially for the assignment he was given in 1334 as magister and gubernator of the Florence Cathedral factory.

This interest is also shown by the care and attention he always placed on defining architectural space in painting. Giotto is also attributed the construction of the Scrovegni Chapel, in Padua, where we can find many similarities in buildings painted by the artist.

And still, perhaps, as magister, Giotto built the Bridge of the Carraia, opened in 1337 and which has now disappeared, appreciated for its structural simplicity and advanced technique.

We are certain that the project for the Florence Cathedral Bell-tower known as the Giotto Bell-tower, was his. Giotto dedicated from 1334 to 1337, year of his death, to this tower, created more as a decorative monument than as something purely functional, preferring it to work on the nearby Cathedral, assigned to him in the meantime.

Building proceeded slowly seeing as how Giotto created both the external covering and the structure simultaneously, thus slowing work down. At his death he had not managed to see more than just a first part completed, just up to the height of the pointed entrance.

In 1348, Andrea Pisano took his place and was then followed by Francesco Talenti who terminated the works in 1359. The Bell-tower, 84.70 meters high, has a square plant with strong angular, octagonal shaped pillars running the whole way up giving the building a considerable feeling of continuity.

The clarity of the volume's geometry together with its decorations create a bell-tower in perfect synthony with the Cathedral and the square's town space.

Baptistery of Florence

After centuries of barbarian invasions cultural life in Florence started again in the X-XI centuries. Florentine works of that period, like St John's Baptistery (XI century), built on preceding Roman remains, express strong links to classical models: the shapes are geometric, simple and immediately reveal, their rationality and how they aspire to perfect balance.

The building is the earthly image of a higher, divine reality, and for this reason tends to show itself in absolute, direct shapes. In the Romanesque of this sober, rigorous architecture there's no room for excessive ornaments and decorations and often the insides are just the essentiality of geometric volumes (see inside the Florence Cathedral). A distinctive element of Tuscan Romanesque, and especially of the Florentine one, is duotone obtained through the use of Carrara white marble and the green one from Prato.

The Baptistery comes across as a compact, imposing geometric volume. Its octagonal structure has a really strong symbolic value: the octagon represents the eighth day, the one outside human life's earthly cycle in which Christ rises and lives eternally and is an image associated with the rite of baptism since Early Christian times.

Outside, the famous bronze doors scan three fundamental steps in the history of this monument besides the evolution of figurative culture in Florence. Between 1330 and 1336, Andrea Pisano had created a first door in bronze with golden figures in relief, of a decidedly gothic type. Later in 1401, a competition was launched for a second door (and seems to be the first public competition in the history of art) and was won by Lorenzo Ghiberti with a work that was basically like the first one though with greater depth and naturalism.


Orsanmichele (or "Kitchen Garden of St. Michael", from the contraction in Tuscan dialect of the Italian word orto) is a church in the Italian city of Florence. The building was constructed on the site of the kitchen garden of the monastery of San Michele, now gone.

Located on the Via Calzaiuoli in Florence, the church 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 (see below).

Loggia del Mercato Nuovo (Porcellino)

The Loggia del Mercato Nuovo, popularly known as the Loggia del Porcellino, is a building in Florence, Italy. It is so called to distinguish it from the Mercato vecchio (old market, [merˈkato ˈvɛkkio]) located in the area of today's Piazza della Repubblica.

The loggia was built around the middle of the 16th century in the heart of the city, just a few steps from the Ponte Vecchio. Initially it was intended for the sale of silk and luxury goods and then for the famous straw hats, but today mainly leather goods and souvenirs are sold.

In the corner niches statues of famous Florentines were intended to be placed, but only three were made during the 18th century: Michele di Lando, Giovanni Villani, and Bernardo Cennini.

The focal point of the loggia is the Fontana del Porcellino, "fountain of the piglet"), actually a copy of a bronze wild boar by Pietro Tacca from the sixteenth century; the original can be found at Palazzo Pitti. Popular tradition has it that rubbing the nose brings fortune, so that the statue has acquired over time a certain shine in that spot. Visitors are encouraged to place a coin in the mouth of the boar after rubbing its nose, and superstion implies that the wish will be granted if the offering tumbles through the grate whence the water flows. The slope of the grate is such that most coins do fall through, and are collected by the city.

Palazzo Strozzi (Strozzi Palace)

This is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful Florentine palaces and is a splendid example of Renaissance architecture. This Palace was built by Filippo Strozzi, a rich, capable merchant belonging to one of the wealthiest families in Florence, traditionally against the Medici. Building on it began based on specific astrological calculations as was the norm at the time for rich, illuminated patrons.

Probably designed by Benedetto da Maiano, this building with its imposing almost colossal structure took its place in the city context as a single geometrical block symbol of its owner's prestige.

The building also expressed a new way of considering private residences, considering the family society's main nucleus. Renaissance family life rotated around the courtyard, the home's real core. The Palace one, work of Cronaca (who completed the building left unfinished at Filippo Strozzi's death) has an arched portico on slim Corinthian columns covered by a floor with large windows and above an open gallery covered in wooden roof frames.

The Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti)

When the rich Florentine merchant Luca Pitti died, the palace on the other side of the Arno was still unfinished. It was never proved that Brunelleschi was the author of this Palace. What is known for sure, though, is that the building was much smaller than the present one. At that time, Florence was governed by Pitti's implacable adversaries, the Medici, and destiny was to have it that the building end up in their hands when the rich wife of Cosimo 1 bought it with the park and square lying in front of it as the House's official home in 1550.

Palazzo Pitti, opening on to the Boboli gardens, was a more prestigious and appropriate alternative for the Medici than their residence in Palazzo Vecchio, still the symbol of Florence's Republican past. Cosimo and Eleonora decided to turn it into a princely palace and charged Bartolomeo Ammannati with completing and, above all, enlarging the building.

By doubling its internal volume depth and adding side wings, this bare 15th century building was transformed into the most monumental of the late Renaissance Florentine buildings.Giorgio VasariVasarian Corridor). The Medici did not, in fact, move into it stably until many decades later and the Palace was used as a kind of representative hotel for ambassadors and kings besides being the place where they held the court's worldly events. Furthermore, to make the Palace easier to reach without having to mix with the crowds, Cosimo charged his architect and artistic consultant with the building of a raised passageway connecting it to Palazzo Vecchio (the so-called

Inner court of Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti)

When the rich Florentine merchant Luca Pitti died, the palace on the other side of the Arno was still unfinished. It was never proved that Brunelleschi was the author of this Palace. What is known for sure, though, is that the building was much smaller than the present one. At that time, Florence was governed by Pitti's implacable adversaries, the Medici, and destiny was to have it that the building end up in their hands when the rich wife of Cosimo 1 bought it with the park and square lying in front of it as the House's official home in 1550.

Palazzo Pitti, opening on to the Boboli gardens, was a more prestigious and appropriate alternative for the Medici than their residence in Palazzo Vecchio, still the symbol of Florence's Republican past. Cosimo and Eleonora decided to turn it into a princely palace and charged Bartolomeo Ammannati with completing and, above all, enlarging the building.

By doubling its internal volume depth and adding side wings, this bare 15th century building was transformed into the most monumental of the late Renaissance Florentine buildings.Giorgio VasariVasarian Corridor). The Medici did not, in fact, move into it stably until many decades later and the Palace was used as a kind of representative hotel for ambassadors and kings besides being the place where they held the court's worldly events. Furthermore, to make the Palace easier to reach without having to mix with the crowds, Cosimo charged his architect and artistic consultant with the building of a raised passageway connecting it to Palazzo Vecchio (the so-called

Boboli Gardens (Giardino di Boboli)

Together with Pitti Palace, in 1550 the Medici bought the Boboli gardens behind the building. The name of Boboli is thought to come from the prior owner.

Nicolò Pericoli, called the "Tribolo", was called in to transform the area into one of the most spectacular Renaissance gardens. Pericoli worked at what he called his "green architecture" masterpiece until he died.

With the intervention and mannerist inventions of famous artists like Buontalenti (who created the Large Cave), Michelangelo (whose Prisons decorated the four corners of the Cave itself, before being replaced by concrete copies and transferred to the Academy Gallery) and Giambologna, Boboli became a model for all European Royal gardens, including those in the Palace of Versailles.

Besides the above mentioned Large Cave, you should visit the Amphitheatre, the Basin and the Island Tank, originally meant for the cultivation of flowers and citrus fruit trees, one of the gardens most evocative scenarios.

Palace of Bargello

The Bargello Palace, a beautiful example of Gothic Florentine architecture, is one of the city's oldest public buildings. It was built for the People's Captain, a kind of Prefect foreseen in the constitution of the free City of Florence developed around the middle of the 13th century.

Built about fifty years before Palazzo Vecchio, its story is strictly linked to Florence's political happenings. With the fall of the republican institutions and the return of the Medici in the second half of the 15th century (who transferred political functions and representatives to Palazzo Vecchio), the Bargello Palace first became the seat of the Council of Justice of the Wheel Judges and, as of 1574, during the princedom of Cosimo I de' Medici, was transformed into a squalid jail with torture chambers and capital executions.

The Bargello name goes back to this period: Bargello was the Head of the Guards who arrested, questioned and ordered convictions. During an execution, the bell inside the tower called the 'Volognana' sounded slowly till the final moment.

And as a clear warning and indication of what the building was for, outside there was a stump which they used to put the victim's head on. During this stage in its history the Palace went through some changes: windows were closed, others were opened and, in general, it was considerably damaged.

It was only at the end of the 19th century, during the recovery period for Middle Ages historical-artistic heritage, that the Palace was returned to its ancient splendour: with restoration directed by Francesco Mattei the additions that had altered its original structure were demolished and decorations in that style were put in.

It became a National Museum in 1865 and the Palace was enriched by some of the most important Renaissance sculptures including the masterpieces of Luca della Robbia, Verrocchio, Donatello, Michelangelo, Cellini. Thanks to a number of important private art donations today the museum has a special place in the applied arts sector.

Ospedale degli Innocenti

The Ospedale degli Innocenti, was a children's orphanage in Florence, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, who received the commission in 1419. It is regarded as a notable example of early Italian Renaissance architecture. The hospital, which features a nine bay loggia facing the Piazza SS. Annunziata, was built and managed by the "Arte della Seta" or Silk Guild of Florence. That guild was one of the wealthiest in the city and, like most guilds, took upon itself philanthropic duties.

The façade is made up of nine semicircular arches springing from columns of the Composite order. The semicircular windows brings the building down, earthbound and is a revival of the classical style, no longer a pointed arch. In the spandrels of the arches there are glazed blue terracotta roundels with reliefs of babies suggesting the function of the building. There is an emphasis on the horizontal because the building is longer than it is tall. Above each semicircular arch is a tabernacle window (a rectangular window with a triangular pediment on the top).

The clean and clear sense of proportion is reflected in the building. The height of the columns is the same width of the intercolumniation and the width of the arcade is equal to the height of the column, making each bay a cube. The simple proportions of the building reflect a new age, of secular education and a sense of great order and clarity. Also half the height of the column is the height of the entablature, which is appropriate for a clear minded society.

Children were sometimes abandoned in a basin which was located at the front portico. However, this basin was removed in 1660 and replaced by a wheel for secret refuge. There was a door with a special rotating horizontal wheel that brought the baby into the building without the parent being seen. This allowed people to leave their babies, anonymously, to be cared for by the orphanage. This system was in operation until the hospital's closure in 1875. Today the building houses a small museum of Renaissance art.

Church of Santa Maria Novella

The Basilica of the same name with its famous Leon Battista Alberti facade overlooks the square. Alberti, really a scholar, is one of the main Renaissance figures, codifier of perspective principles and author of a series of important theoretical treatises. Santa Maria Novella is one of the first Florentine Basilicas. Its name comes from the substitution of a preceding IX century oratory dedicated to Santa Maria delle Vigne. From 1221, when the entire area was acquired by the Domenican order, they started building the new church under the management of Iacopo Talenti and it was then to become the new, sumptuous seat of the powerful, monastic order.

The Basilica facade is a Renaissance art masterpiece. Here Alberti, framing this first fascia of the mid Trecento in the duotone of the general drawing (strong reference to the XI century Baptistery) used the Renaissance principles, that he himself had codified, of architecture as application of a regular design, ordered by mathematical and geometrical rules. Here architecture is considered a scenario of elements organized in a ratio of balance and harmony, to be looked at as if it were a painting.

Alberti integrates the existing facade fascia into a Roman temple design and invents two side volutes connecting the upper, new and lower parts. Amongst other things, this was a useful way to hide the sloping roof over the side naves. Under the tympanum you can see writing in large letters with the name of Giovanni Paolo Rucellai, the rich Renaissance merchant who financed the completion of the work (unfinished for lack of money) and assigned said work to Alberti.

Inside, the Basilica has one of the early Renaissance masterpieces: the magnificent Trinity done by Masaccio between 1425 and 1427, just before the frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel in the church of Carmine. In a daringly innovative perspective design reproducing a chapel as though it were an extension to the church architecture, Masaccio inserted the imposing figures of Father and Son on the cross. Further forward, to the sides, the Virgin and St John, while in the forefront you see the fresco donor, a member of the Lenzi family, in a Gonfalonier costume (the highest civil position in the Commune of Florence), kneeling with his wife. Just a bit further down there's a skeleton on a tomb with the inscription: 'I am what you were and you will be what I am', alluding to the frailty of life.

Basilica di San Lorenzo
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, and the burial place of all the principal members of the Medici family from Cosimo il Vecchio to Cosimo III. It is one of several churches that claim to be the oldest in Florence; when it was consecrated in 393 it stood outside the city walls. For three hundred years it was the city's cathedral before the official seat of the bishop was transferred to Santa Reparata. San Lorenzo 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 eleventh-century Romanesque rebuilding. Filippo Brunelleschi, the leading Renaissance architect of the first half of the fifteenth century, was commissioned to design it, but the building, with alterations, was not completed until after his death. The church is part of a larger monastic complex that contains other important architectural works: the Old Sacristy by Brunelleschi; the Laurentian Library by Michelangelo; the New Sacristy based on Michelangelo's designs; and the Medici Chapels by Matteo Nigetti.
Piazza della Repubblica
Piazza della Repubblica is a city square in Florence, Italy. It is on the site, first of the city's forum and then of the city's old ghetto, which was swept away during the city improvement works or Risanamento initiated during the brief period when Florence was the capital of a reunited Italy, work that also created the city's avenues and boulevards. The ghetto's remains may still be seen in the square, as may the Mercato Vecchio, the Loggia del Pesce. Among the square's cafes, the Giubbe Rosse cafe has long been a meeting place for famous artists and writers, notably those of Futurism.



Most of the major tourist sights in Florence are within easy walking distance of each other. It is possible to walk from one end of the historic center of Florence to the other - North-South or East-West in a half hour. Walking is not only an easy way to get around, it also offers the chance to 'take in' much more of the city life. Be warned though, that electric motor scooters are small enough to fit where cars cannot. They are silent but quick and in the summer they often times travel into the plazas. Some of the streets in central Florence are closed off to traffic, and many more are simply too narrow for buses to get through. Therefor, bus and car tours are not recommended. This is a very small, very compact city that really needs to be seen by foot. And, of course, if you need to, you can always buy a new pair of shoes in Florence.

By bicycle

There is a bike rental service organized by the city. Bikes can be hired at several points in the city (and returned to the same place). One of the most convenient for tourists is located at SMN station. There are other locations at many railway stations, but often with restricted opening hours.

While there are hills north and south of the center of town, almost all of the historic center of Florence is easy for bikers, because it is as flat as a hat - flatter than that. But there is a problem: Traffic is terrible, and buses, trucks, cars, motorcycles, motorbikes bicycles, and pedestrians are all fighting for almost no space at all, so you'd better pay attention.

Beyond the city bikes, some of the hotels in town provide their guest with free bicycles. Bike shops also often rent bikes and some of them organize guided bike tours in the countryside.

By taxi

Taxis are available, but it may be best if you have your hotel or the restaurant you are eating at call ahead. Taxis should be called by phone and the nearest one available is sent to you through the company's radio system with its meter ticking away. In Florence, it can be difficult to hail a cab from the street curb. You either call for one or get one at the very few taxi stands. One popular taxi stand is at the central Santa Maria Novella Train Station and in a few major squares. The first taxi in the taxi stand line should be free - ask in case of doubt. Be aware that most taxis do not take credit card for payment. Be sure to have cash and ask in advance in case you only have a credit card with you. Please note that taxis in Florence are relatively expensive. Tipping is not expected, unless the driver helps you carry luggage etc.

By bus

Another way of getting around is by using the public buses from ATAF. A day ticket costs €5 and a 3 day ticket costs €12. A four-ride ticket costs €4.50. You can buy tickets at tabacchi (shops selling tobacco, which are marked with official looking "T"s out front." kiosks/newsagents/bars where the symbol "Biglietti ATAF" is shown, as well as at the ATAF ticketing office at the bus station outside Santa Maria Novella train station. Several ticket options are available. One very convenient is the 4-rides ticket and the "Carta Agile". The former needs to be stamped when entering the bus (from the front and rear doors of buses - the central door is supposed to be exit only; though now it is more accepted to enter from the central door). The latter has an embedded electronic chip and needs to be held close ("swiped") to the upper part of the ticket machine inside the bus: the "beep" of the machine will inform you that a ticket has been paid and the display will show you how many more tickets ("swipes") you have left. Within 1hr of stamping/swiping you can hop-off & hop-on on any bus of the urban ATAF network. Unfortunately and completely against Italian law, it is not uncommon to see bus drivers talking merrily on their mobile phone while driving. Don't expect riders to complain about it and don't panic - they will still drive with the same non-comfortable style as when they are "only driving". Hold tight to hand rails as Florence traffic is very unpredictable and frequent sudden breaking is necessary. Bus rides are not by all means "smooth". Buses are "safe" but pick pocketing is quite common. Please keep a close eye to your belongings and avoid showing off cash/jewelry/etc. especially in very crowded buses (especially for lines 17/23/14/22 - generally speaking any crowded bus can give a chance to pick pocket).

You can also get ATAF maps on paper at tourist offices, such as the one in the Piazza della Stazione.

By car

Driving inside the historic center of Florence is virtually impossible.

Only residents with permits are allowed to drive there. Enforcement of the "Limited Traffic Zone" or "ZTL" is by camera. Violators will be tracked down and fined, but the fine may not arrive for a year or more after the infraction. The fines start at about €90. Once you enter the forbidden zone, it is virtually impossible to pass only one camera, and each time you do, it is a separate fine.

Official information on the ZTL is available at:

In addition, Florence has some of the teeniest streets in Europe, an amazingly fiendish one-way system that confuses even the locals, and some streets that just come to an abrupt end, with little or no warning.

Parking on the street in the historic center is out of the question. It may only be done by residents with a permit, and all other cars are towed away instantly - if not sooner - to some godforsaken suburb from which it will cost you hundreds of euros to get yours returned.

That said, you may be able to arrange a very temporary - about 30-minute - exemption through your hotel, which will need your license number and other information to make arrangements with the authorities. You will then have to get the car from the hotel out of the ZTL before the exemption expires.

A car can be useful to reach some destinations just outside the city centre, like Fiesole or Settignano (these sights are also reachable by bus service), or for day trips to wonderful places such as Siena, Volterra, Arezzo, etc. It is possible, if a bit tricky to rent a car in Florence and get out of town and back to the car rental agency without violating the ZTL. Those tempted to do so, should make sure to get precise directions from the rental agency.

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