Contents : Introduction | Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, aka Duomo | Galleria degli Uffizi | Galleria dell’Accademia & Michelangelo’s Statue of David | The Hotel Corona | The Santa Maria Novella Train Station | Travel Tips
“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” – Giuseppe Verdi
The most populated city in Tuscany, Florence can be described in a single word : ravishing. As the birthplace of the Renaissance, its historical significance, particularly as a hub of banking, cuisine and trading beginning in the 14th century, cannot be overstated. It’s radiant glow, especially at sunset when the city’s skyline is bathed in gold, merely hints at the architectural splendor the city possesses.
The perfect time to visit here is autumn or spring. Having said that, understand hundreds of thousands of other travelers have reached the same conclusion. Don’t be surprised, therefore, by the number of people filling the streets and piazzas, which are so densely crowded at times, you will wonder if they ever empty. They don’t. Ever. The city is packed year-round, a situation made even more obvious by many of Florence’s narrow, byzantine streets. Ironically, this is one of her charms. And everyone, from experienced photographers to those traveling with smartphones, is taking pictures. You will find, however, when you have that perfect shot framed in your screen, whether it be at the Duomo, the Galleria degli Uffizi, or of Michelangelo’s spectacular David, people will kindly step out of your way…an interesting result of Florence’s rapturous hold on her visitors.
You don’t need to be a fan of architecture to appreciate the design and brilliant construction techniques of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, commonly referred to as “The Duomo.” After nearly 150 years of construction, the Duomo was completed in 1436. Although it was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, the building’s hallmark is its red-tiled dome by Filippo Brunelleschi. It’s hard to tell what makes the structure so fascinating–Cambio’s beautiful and methodical architecture, so apparent from the outside. Or, Brunelleschi’s dome, an engineering masterpiece the scope and scale of which needs to be appreciated from within.
“…the Creator made Italy from designs by Michelangelo.” – Mark Twain
With more than 1,500 original works, the Galleria degli Uffizi houses the world’s greatest collection of Renaissance art in a building commissioned and owned by the city’s famous and powerful Medici family. Designed by Giorgio Vasari, the Uffizi features masterpieces by Botticelli, Caravaggio, Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, and others throughout nearly 50 rooms. The collections, which are designed to be seen and appreciated in chronological order, are so extensive in fact it takes a couple of visits to see everything. No trip to Florence would be complete without experiencing it, however. To avoid the queue altogether at its entrance, which can easily cost you half a day, reserve your tickets ahead of time at the Galleria’s online booking page on their website.
As you travel throughout Florence’s numerous attractions you should expect long lines, none of which can compare to that which will greet you at the Galleria dell’ Accademia–and for very good reason. Another gift to the city from the Medicis, the institution served as a modern-day lab for artists. What draws people now of course is Michelangelo’s Statue of David, a sculpture so stunning it’s not uncommon for people’s breath to be taken away. Its attention to details, ever menacing gaze, height and sheer scale must be experienced in person.
Located near the Santa Maria Novella station in the heart of the city’s San Lorenzo district, the Hotel Corona was more than a pleasant surprise. The building itself, made of stone, gives the illusion of being stately and historic on the inside. I found it, however, to be contemporary enough for the modern traveler while acknowledging in subtle ways its presence in the heart of renaissance Florence. The staff is friendly and fluent in a number of languages; the public spaces are clean; the rooms are immaculate and spacious; the mattresses comfortable; and the bathrooms are huge, tiled in a beautiful shade of aqua marine, and featuring both a large tub and a shower stall. I was impressed with the price of my room which was far below what I would have expected to pay. Within walking distance is the Statue of David, Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, San Lorenzo Church and the Santa Maria Novella Basilica.
“For us to go to Italy and to penetrate into Italy is like a most fascinating act of self-discovery.” – D.H. Lawrence
We traveled from southeastern France via Eurail into Florence. The city’s Santa Maria Novella Train Station, despite the fact its more than 80 years old, is surprisingly modern and accessible. There is rail service to several Italian cities nearby as well as regular bus service to the city’s international airport, Amerigo Vespucci.
Travel Tip # 01. Milan is Italy’s undisputed capital of fashion. Make no mistake, however, when it comes to Florence. Her citizens, acutely aware of their city’s place in the world of art and culture, can hold their own. When you pack, bring clothes which are comfortable but stylish. Leave the sweatshirts, sandals and fanny packs at home. Even more importantly, pack light and be prepared to bring clothes back with you, along with leather goods.
Travel Tip # 02. To avoid lines at the museums, reserve your tickets online as far in advance as possible. There is a shared site for all the major museums and the prices are nominal.