This gigantic square was built in the mid-19thcentury, when Florence was the capital of Italy. It was part of the great urban renewal that transformed the city. From the viewpoint of Piazzale Michelangelo we have a majestic view of Florence´s monuments, the Arno River and the surrounding hills.
This viewpoint allows us to distinguish one by one the bridges, towers, churches and domes of the city. Santa Croce Church, Palazzo Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio and the marvellous Cathedral dome, Santa Maria del Fiore and its bell tower, built according to the plans left by Giotto. If you look up further, you can see the Etruscan town of Fiesole, almost 8 kilometres away on the hills that form the Apennine Mountains.
Don´t forget to take the view to your right. You will have a complete panoramic view over the hill of Boboli. On the top, Belvedere Fort, a strategic military point used as a protection for the town and an artillery depot. Galileo Galilei, given its elevated position, used it for his astronomical researches.
Yet, we cannot leave the place without appreciating a reproduction of David made in bronze by Michelangelo, in honour of whom the square is named after. The original sculpture is in the Gallery of the Academy. Since 1873 this copy is located in the centre of the square. It was brought to its present location by 9 pairs of oxen. It is a silent witness to the more than 20 centuries of history of Florence, founded by the troops of Julius Caesar in 59 BC as a settlement for veteran soldiers.
Getting to the square is not difficult. When you are several people, without doubt the best choice will be a taxi. There are also bus lines 12 and 13 that leave from the centre. The route will be worthwhile and we will register unforgetable images that will be engraved in our memory forever.
BISTECCCA ALLA FIORENTINA
A little bit more than just snacking, because the dish chosen is undoubtedly a gastronomic presentation of Florence. We are talking about the “Bistecca alla Fiorentina”
We must go back to the Medici times to find the origin of this dish. Every August 10th, the day of Saint Lawrence, the whole city was lit up and a lot of meat was served and distributed among the inhabitants of the city. The chroniclers of those times tell us that English gentlemen visiting Florence called this cut of meat beef steak. This is how the bistecca alla Fiorentina was born.
To prepare it, everyone agrees that the meat must be from a Chianina breed animal, have a T-shaped bone and be 5 to 6 centimetres high. It must be prepared on a very hot charcoal grill and its cooking time must not exceed 3 minutes per side and 5 minutes on the bone. Its weight can reach up to 500 grams for an individual portion. The result must be crispy on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside. As the Italians say, al sangue, but the cooking point is to the consumer´s taste.
It is not so easy to decide if the salt and pepper should be added before or during the preparation since each has his methods. But important, before serving it, a cube of butter finishes highlighting flavour to the meat. Traditionally it is served with baked potatoes or roasted vegetables, but it is up to the diner to choose. A bottle of Chianti Classico wine is also a must.
You will find this wonderful T-bone steak in many restaurants in the city.
AN LORENZO SAINT LAWRENCE MARKET
The best thing is to stroll around the main markets in Florence, where you can find a huge number of items. Once again, the choice is not easy, but without doubt it is San Lorenzo Market that offers us the greatest variety of products. And above all, at good prices. It is located in the centre of Florence, between San Lorenzo Church and the Central Market. This was created in the second half of the 19th century when Florence was the capital of Italy. The surrounding streets are populated every morning between 9 AM and 1 PM with countless stalls offering all kinds of goods.
It is undoubtedly the craft of leather goods that predominates in Florence. You can find for all tastes and pockets. Parading in front of your eyes will be a variety of bags, gloves, leather goods, belts and jackets of a thousand colours and models. The offer is completed, according to the season, with scarves and handkerchiefs in wool or silk. Of course, gentlemen can choose among a huge variety of silk ties. Bargaining can give sometimes good results, depending on the day sales and the seller’s mood.
However, once you have finished your shopping, don´t forget to take a look at the magnificent building of the Central Market, built at the late 19th century to house the Universal Architecture Exhibition. Its two-storey iron and glass structure will worth the visit.
Piazza del Mercato Centrale, Via dell´Ariento, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy.
PONTE VECCHIO OLD BRIDGE
Bridges are undoubtedly one of the favourite places to take wonderful pictures. But not all cities are the same and not all bridges have the same charm. Ponte Vecchio, or what is the same, Old Bridge in Florence is a jewel. It is one of those few covered bridges left in the world.
This medieval bridge was built between 1335 and 1345 by the architects Taddeo Gaddi and Neri el Fioravant. It is considered as the oldest stone bridge in Europe. It had the privilege, during the sad period of World War II, of being the only bridge in Florence not to be destroyed by the German Army during their retreat in August 1944.
From its origins it was a centre of great commercial activity in the city. Butchers´ and slaughterers´ shops settled in their crowded disordely built houses on both sides. This activity did not last long, since in the 16th century selling meat was forbidden due to the bad smell and the dirt accumulated on the bridge. The replacement came soon and was very different. Jewellers and gold sellers occupied their place until today. Many sold their products on tables and benches, and from all this was born a term used until today, bankruptcy. They say that the insolvency of some sellers and the failure to make payments caused the soldiers to break their work tables, thus they could not continue their activity without the table. From this comes the term we still use, being bankrupt.
If we stop at its central arch, we will see a monument that reminds us of Benvenuto Cellini, a sculptor and goldsmith whose presence dignifies the artisans who work with gold and silver in their workshops. From there we will have a wonderful view over the river and the city. The sunsets are without a doubt the ideal element for our photography. The sun sets over the river highlight the yellow and ochre colours that characterise the buildings of Florence. If we are lucky enough to have any street musician around and he delight us with his music, even better.
However, if what we want is to take a nice picture of the bridge, it will never be from the bridge itself, because being on the bridge we cannot take a picture of it. Europamundo suggests visiting the Old Bridge and then following the river bank, from the side of the monumental city, that is to say, without crossing the bridge, we will leave the river at our right-hand side and walk until we reach the Ponte alle Grazie. From there you can take the best photos of the Arno river jewel, Il Ponte Vecchio.
INTERIOR OF THE BAPTISTERY
Located in front of the Cathedral and in its shadow, few are those who visit and admire the wonders found within the 25 meters in diameter baptistery. Covered with green marble from Prato and white from Carrara and its pavement decorated with oriental motifs give it a grandiose appearance. On the outside it is imposing with its doors, Ghiberti masterwork, called The Gates of Paradise. They are admired by everyone who passes by, but the interior…the interior is of great beauty.
The Baptistery is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist San Giovanni and although its construction dates back to the 6th or 7th century, its origins are uncertain. Built over the ruins of a Roman temple from the 1st century A.D., it was consecrated in the 4th century as a basilica dedicated to Saint Lawrence. The current octagonal building was consecrated as a baptistery in the mid-11th century by Pope Nicholas II.
But let us return to its interior. Its amplitude will amaze us. It must have housed a great number of faithful since baptism was only administered twice a year. The mosaic on the floor dates from the 13th century and is made up of square tesserae representing geometric figures imitating oriental motifs and the zodiac signs. The old baptismal font was located in the centre of the mosaic. The current one, a carved work from late 14th century, is made of a single marble block, work by a student of the Tuscan artist Andrea Pisano.
It is undoubtedly its octagonal-shaped dome that will attract our attention the most. The mosaics that decorate it were made by Venetian artists under designs by Florentine painters, dating from the 13th century.nbsp; Cimabue is thought to have also worked on them. The baptistery is divided into three sections. On the altar they depicted Final Judgement scenes with a majestic Christ and the Judgement Angels on each side. The reward of the saved coming out of their tombs and the punishments of the condemned, represented in this part with details of men burned at the stake, crushed by stones and tortured by animals. The decoration is completed by scenes from the Genesis Cycle, choirs of angels, stories of Mary and Christ, the life of Joseph and St John the Baptist. On the wall of the apse the tomb of the antipope John XXIII stands out, a work carried out in the 15th century. Donatello was responsible for making the recumbent body in gilded bronze and Michelozzo the Virgin with Child and the Theological Virtues in the lower frieze.
Visiting it will not take long. Located in Piazza del Duomo, in front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, it is open from 11.15 am to 7 pm on working days and from 8.30 am to 2 pm on Sundays and public holidays.
LET’S CLIMB TO GIOTTO´S BELL TOWER
It´s true, we´ve had a wonderful view of all Florence and the valley of the Arno from the viewpoint in Piazzale Michelangelo. Now it´s time to put our desire for adventure into practice.
What could be better than exercising our legs by climbing the 414 steps of the Campanile up and down? It is a narrow staircase that in some sections only allows one person to pass at a time, that will take you up its almost 84 metres in height to have one of the best views of Florence. But don´t panic, during the climb you can stop on three platforms overlooking the city, take a rest and admire the views. Each time you´ll get a little higher, until you reach the final terrace.
Here we are, Florence at our feet, almost touching Brunelleschi´s dome with our hands. Santa Croce Church, Piazza della Signoria, the Uffizi Gallery, crossing the river by one of its bridges and seeing the Boboli Gardens and Palazzo Pitti in the distance. And many, many more Florentine palaces.
Apart from the 360-degree view of the city, we can see its 7 bells. The largest one is “Il Campanone”, 2 metres in diameter and weighing almost 6 tons, until we reach the smaller one, “L´Immacolata”, which is only 75 centimetres in diameter and weighs 237 kilos.
But let´s talk a little about its history to appreciate more the effort it will demand of us. This tower, “Il campanile del Giotto”, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in Italy in which its harmony and care for its proportions stands out. Just as the cathedral, the tower is covered in white, green and red marble. Its construction began at the early 14th century according to the original plans by Arnolfo di Cambio, who was also the cathedral’s architect. After his death, it was Giotto di Bondone who continued the work by altering the initial plans and raising the height to 115 metres. But even Giotto did not see his work completed, although he left his name on the bell tower. Finally, Andrea Pisano was responsible for carrying out the work, but cutting its planned height by 30 metres.
The exterior decoration consists of 54 bas-reliefs at the bottom, a work by Andrea Pisano representing the Arts and Human Works. At the top, niches that used to house these saints and prophets now visible in the Museo dell´Opera del Duomo.
The opening hours to visit Giotto´s campanile are from 8.15 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. on working days. Like other monuments, it is always important to see the possibility of buying tickets that allow us to visit various monuments at a reduced price.
The effort has been great but the reward is even greater...
IF WE TALK OF GRAFFITI...
L´ IMPORTUNO Piazza della Signoria has always been the strategic point of Florence, a symbol of the city´s civil power and of great historical importance.
This square is home to Palazzo Vecchio, also known as Palazzo della Signoria. Here we can admire the Loggia del Lanzi, an open-air museum with such important sculptures as The Rape of the Sabine Women by John of Bologna and “Perseus with the head ofnbsp; Medusa” by Benvenuto Cellini, the Fountain of Neptune and an impressive equestrian statue of Cosimo I, a masterpiece by John of Bologna. Another copy of Michelangelo´s David stands out in front of the palace. Remember the one we saw at Piazzale Michelangello´s viewpoint?
All of this will be explained to us by our local guide, but few, very few know of this secret... Very close to and behind the sculpture of David, almost in the corner we find what we can consider the first graffiti made in the world. This is an image engraved in the stone attributed to none other than Michelangelo Buonarroti. Legend has it that every day, on his way to his workshop, he was interrupted on and on by a charlatan who annoyed him by asking one thing after another. He was so tired of this situation that one day, looking the charlatan in the eyes and with his hands behind his back while he endured his speech, he chiselled his image on the stone wall.
Every legend has always different versions. Some say that Michelangelo won a bet for being able to chisel a face without looking at it, and with his hands behind his back. Others say that it is his own self-portrait. And for the most morbid, there arenbsp; those who argue that it represents a man condemned to death..
You can pick the version you like best, but be sure that few people will tell you about this little peculiarity of such an important monument like Piazza della Signoria.
IF WE CROSS THE ARNO...;
Florence does not end at the Arno River. On the other bank across the Ponte Vecchio, there is a city full of charms. And we will go there for a walk, in the neighbourhood known as “Oltrarno” on the other side of the Arno.
After crossing the bridge, walking along the Via Giucciardini between shops, cafes and restaurants, we are only 350 metres from the Renaissance Palazzo Pitti with its art gallery, the Palatine Gallery and the beautiful Boboli Gardens. Taking the street in front of the palace we´ll arrive, practically in a straight line, at Piazza Santo Spirito, another of the beautiful corners in Oltrarno. There we find the Church of the Holy Spirit, one of the most beloved churches by the Florentines. Built according to the plans by Brunelleschi in the mid-XV century, it presents an austere façade that has never been decorated as planned by the architect. In the interior, flanked by forty chapels, we can see in the sacristy a wooden crucifix, work by Michelangelo. He gave it to the church as a gift in gratitude for the time he spent in the convent when he was a teenager, decorating the high altar.
The streets of Santo Spirito, Maggio and Borgo San Jacopo, which runs parallel to the river, are undoubtedly the soul of the Oltrarno, their bars and cafés, the meeting place for Florentines. In its streets you can find many shops of designers, antique dealers and craftsmen. If you are in town on the second Sunday of the month you can visit the antique market that is set up there.
We will close our tour arriving again at Ponte Vecchio. When crossing we will be able to contemplate the Lungarno. That walk along the river, the one that so many and so great geniuses walked along throughout history.
This is the end of the 1 km walk which offers us a different perspective of Florence.
A PANORAMIC TERRACE IN FLORENCE
It is not difficult to find a cosy panoramic terrace with magnificent views among the hotels, cafes, museums and historic palaces in Florence. There are ones for all tastes, some more exclusive and others more accessible that will provide us with some fresh air on hot Florence summer days.
From all of them, the Bruneleschi dome, the baptistery, Giotto´s bell tower, Santa Maria Novella Church, Piazza della Repubblica, the hills surrounding the city and the characteristic red tiles of the city are presented to us in all their splendour. We chose among all of them one in the heart of Florence for being very accessible. Located in Piazza della Repubblica 1, the cafeteria La Terrazza on “La Rinascente” department store seventh and last floor. It offers us wonderful views over Piazza della Repubblica, the baptistery and the Duomo. The lift reaches only the sixth floor, the last one we have to go up by stairs.
After a busy day visiting monuments, walking around the city and shopping, a Campari or Aperol spritz, a Prosecco, a Martini or a hot cappuccino can be a good complement to enjoy an unforgettable evening. Its opening hours coincide with those of the shop, which closes at 8.30 pm, but it is worth finding out because on some summer days it is open even later.
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