Florence’s Cultural Highlights

Florence is full of cultural must see masterpieces and monuments to the past. Trying to see and do everything in a week or even two is impossible. Before you travel to Italy, plan what you most want to see and do some background research.

Purchase a Firenze card or make reservations online and check the opening and closing times of the major attractions. Consult Firenze Made in Tuscany, Florence for Free, The Florentine and Visit Florence to discover what’s happening in the city during your vacation. And, if you are a fan of mystery stories, Christobel Kent’s series about Sandro Cellini, the policeman turned private investigator with its vivid descriptions of Florence brings the city to life.

Here are just a few cultural must sees:

• The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, commonly known as the Duomo, is one of the world’s largest cathedrals. With its exterior clad in pink, white and green Tuscan marble, the church is an enormous sprawling Gothic edifice that took centuries to complete. Arnolfo di Cambio, an architect, commenced the building toward the end of the 13th century. During the 15th century, a red-tiled dome, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, was added and the marble facade was completed finally during the 19th century. Climb the 463 stone steps up the dome and see Florence spread out below. On the way up, admire the spectacular frescoes by Giorgio Vasari and Frederico Zuccari, depicting The Last Judgement; a truly breathtaking and indescribable experience. Only to be missed, if you are afraid of heights or small cramped spaces.

• Seeing Michelangelo’s David is one of life’s unforgettable moments. Carved from a single block of marble; the 17-foot high statue portrays the shepherd boy, David, as he encounters the giant, Goliath. Take a seat close to the base of the statue and gaze in wonder.

• The Uffizi Gallery houses an enormous collection of Italian paintings with works by Giotto, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and many others. With a guided tour, you can see the gems of the collection and hear an explanation of their artistic merits, which helps manage your time in the Uffizi efficiently. Follow the tour with a glass of prosecco on the rooftop terrace.

Florence's Cultural Highlights4

• The Ponte Vecchio spans the Arno at its narrowest point as the river flows through Florence. The first bridge in this location was built from stone and wood by the Romans. The current stone bridge with its three arches dates from 1345 and like a medieval bridge and is lined with small stores, which today sell jewelry and Florentine leather goods. During WWII, the Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge crossing the Arno in Florence to escape destruction by the departing German army.

• Built during the late 13th and the early 14th century, the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza della Signoria remains Florence’s town hall and the seat of civic power. During the 16th century, the palace became the home of the Medici family and Cosimo 1 de ‘Medici renovated the interior to reflect the wonders of the Renaissance. Spread over several floors, the Palazzo illustrates the history of Florence through the ages. The Palazzo’s Children’s Museum has an organized program of activities for kids to enjoy.

• Close to the Ponte Vecchio is the Museo Galileo, now home to the vast scientific collections, assembled over five centuries by the Medici and Lorraine families. Telescopes, a thermometer, and a compass, designed and built by Galileo, one of the fathers of science, are on display. And in a glass case, the bone of the middle finger of Galileo’s right hand is on display. The display reminds visitors that he suffered greatly for his belief in and support of Copernicus’s theory that the earth is not flat and moves around the sun. In addition to the unique permanent collection, the Museum hosts a special exhibit each year with a recent one, focusing on the mind of Leonardo da Vinci. Virtual exhibitions cover a range of topics, including the devastation caused by the 1996 flood.

• Enjoy a morning stroll through the Boboli Gardens, situated on the hillside behind the Pitti Palace. The elegant landscape is an excellent example of a formal Italian garden. Containing statutes, avenues of trees, an amphitheater and several fountains, the gardens that date from the 16th century were extended and further developed during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

• Founded by the Etruscans, the small town of Fiesole, which dates from the 9th-8th century BC, is on a hillside overlooking Florence. On a hot summer day, a trip by local bus to Fiesole is a good way to escape the heat of the city. The Teatro Romano features outdoor theatrical and musical performances, as part of the Estate Fiesolana, a program of culture, music, and art, held every summer from June to July.

BY RUTH HART

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