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Piazza della Signoria has been the hub of Florence's political life since the Republic at the end of the 15th Century. This L-shaped square is surrounded by its most famous buildings. The Palazzo Vecchio, head of the Florentine government, the Galleria degli Uffizi and the Ponte Vecchio are some of the most famous landmarks around here. Look around you to see reproductions of Michelangelo's David and the original fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati. Enjoy a full view of the Piazza from the terrace of the Loggia dei Lanzi. The place is a good starting point to begin your tour of the city.
One of the most prominent art museums in the world - Uffizi Gallery, is located in the Uffizi Complex that dates back to 1581. Much of the collection was bestowed upon the state of Tuscany by the Medici family in the 1700s to ensure that the work of some of Italy's greatest artists would remain where it belonged for the benefit of its people. The gallery consists of 40 rooms showcasing the work of some of the world's most renowned Renaissance masters, including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Caravaggio and also includes Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Primavera. Works of distinguished Flemish, Dutch and German painters are also on display here. The corridors and ceilings are anointed with splendid frescoes and lined with 16th-century Roman sculptures. Originally built to house legislative and administrative offices, the Uffizi Complex is a work of art in itself, designed by the noted architect, Giorgio Vasari.
The building which contains the Museo Nazionale del Bargello dates back to 1255. In the 16th Century, it became the residence of the bargello (head of police) and doubled as a prison. Then halfway through the 19th Century it was given to the national museum. A visit begins with the splendid courtyard and the ground floor room where some of Michelangelo's masterpieces are exhibited, including the bust of Brutus and the David-Apollo statue. There are several of the early works of Donatello on the first floor, amongst them statues of David in marble and of St George and David in bronze. Also here are terracottas, glazed by Luca della Robbia, of the Virgin Mary with Child. The museum bought some minor decorative art including ivories from the Roman and the Byzantine periods, medieval enamels, German and French goldsmith's art and Renaissance jewelry.
This pedestrian bridge is one of the city's most recognizable landmarks - a charming collection of jewelry shops that rests atop the mighty stone arches that span the Arno. The Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge, was built in 1345, but its architect is unknown. Until the 13th Century, the bridge was lined with shops of every kind, including butchers, fishmongers and tanneries, each adding to a stench that eventually induced Grand Duke Ferdinando I to issue an edict replacing all shops with goldsmiths. Additional improvements were made when the Medici family moved to Palazzo Pitti in the 1500s and commissioned Giorgio Vasari to design and construct a separate passage for their use. The resulting overpass, dating back to 1565 above Ponte Vecchio's shops, is now known as the Vasari Corridor. Miraculously, Ponte Vecchio was the only one spared by the retreating Germans on August 4, 1944, and remains a revered historic landmark. Today, the bridge is a popular choice for evening strolls, sightseeing and jewelry shopping.
The lovely Via de' Tornabuoni is situated right in the center of the centro storico, and is a shopping mecca for those who visit Florence. Named from the famous Tornabuoni family whose palace lines the street and is currently a private apartment complex. Via de' Tornabuoni was once the premier shopping street in the city, but recent development has forced many of the independently operated businesses out, i.e., Seeber International Bookstore, Doney's. Nearby is via della Vigna Vecchia, an off-shoot of Tornabuoni which leads down towards the Arno, which also has numerous swanky, luxurious shops. Nonetheless, many major shops line these two streets, such as Loro Piana, Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Emporio Armani and Tiffany's.
Outdone only by St. Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in London, the Cathedral of Florence is one of the largest churches in the world. Although the foundation stone of this architectural jewel was laid at the site of the Roman basilica of Santa Reparata in 1296, it remained structurally incomplete until 1436. The original Gothic design was laid-out by Arnolfo di Cambio, however, by the time it was complete, the cathedral came to be a collage of styles favored by the many commissioned to oversee its construction and the prevalent tastes of that moment in time. The majestic dome, one of the cathedral's defining features, is the ingenious work of Filippo Brunelleschi while the fresco that covers its interior is a vivid depiction of the Last Judgment envisioned by Giorgio Vasari. The neo-Gothic facade was added by Emilio De Fabris in the 19th Century—a masterpiece of green and pink marble, generous artistic flair and numerous sculptures. The devotion of some of Italy's most revered artists led to the creation of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, which is truly a vision beyond compare.
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo has been totally renovated and is located behind the Duomo. The museum shelters many works of art from the Duomo (cathedral), Campanile (bell tower) and Battistero (Baptistery), such as the statue of Boniface VIII, the work of Arnolfo di Cambo, or Donatello's Saint John and Magdalena. The furnishings are also important, for example, the silver altar from the Battistero and the restored panels of the Gates of Paradise.
Although the Baptistery's precise origins remain unclear, its foundations are known to date back to Roman times. The central doors are stunning works of art, depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament and they have been called The Gates of Paradise. Lorenzo Ghiberti who worked on them from 1403 to 1424 designed these ornate doors. Inside, the octagonal structure is richly decorated with Roman columns and gilded column heads. The floor's marble inlay features Islamic-style patterns and the apse is decorated with 13th-century mosaics. Coppo di Marcovaldo and Cimabue were among those involved in the cupola's decorative mosaic work.
One of the earliest examples of Italian landscaped gardens, the Boboli Gardens represent the royalty of 16th-century Italy. Dotted with glistening ponds and ornate fountains, the lush gardens spread across an area of 45,000 square meters (11 acres). Inside the Gardens lies the Buontalenti grotto (1583-1593). Decorated with Mannerist-style scenes from Greek and Roman mythology, the grotto includes reproductions of Michelangelo's famous Slave series, the originals of which were transferred to the Galleria dell'Accademia. In the 17th Century, the garden was extended as far as the Porta Romana, adding the Vasca d'Isola (pond) at the center with a fountain and a statue of Neptune. In the late 18th Century, Zanobi del Rosso built the Kaffehaus pavilion. Admission includes entry to the Museo delle Porcellane, Galleria del Costume, Museo degli Argenti and the Bardini Gardens.
River Arno is one of the major rivers in the country. At 241 kilometers (150 miles) long, it is the largest water body in Central Italy. It has its source in Mount Falterona and flows through the cities of Florence, Empoli and Pisa, and into the Ligurian Sea. It divides Florence into two, and a walk alongside its course provides breathtaking views.
Founded in the year 1784, the Galleria dell'Accademia is perhaps best-known for Michelangelo's David, removed after four centuries from Piazza Signoria, now exhibited in a specially constructed hall. Other works by Michelangelo include some of his Slave series and his sculpture of San Matteo. Also featured is an impressive collection of paintings from the 13th to 16th Centuries. Among the gallery's most noted works: a Sienese school Crucifix from the 13th Century, 24 panels by Taddeo Gaddi representing scenes from the Life of Christ and St Francis as well as Giovanni da Milano's Pietà. Embodying the artistic culture of Florence, this remarkable gallery is a must-have on the itinerary.
Renowned for its panoramic views of Florence and the Arno valley, this terrace is a popular spot with locals and tourists. Created as part of major restructuring of the city walls, Giuseppe Poggi's sumptuous terrace is typically 19th-century. In 1871, Poggi designed a monument base dedicated to Michelangelo. The monument itself was to be composed of copies of Michelangelo's works, including David and the Medici chapel sculptures from San Lorenzo. When the terrace was finished, Poggi designed the hillside building, now a restaurant, as a museum for Michelangelo's works.