The almost troublesome thing about Italy is that every inch you travel is a step toward or away from a piece of iconic artwork, a glorious landscape, or the ruins of the Roman empire. Therefore you have to be somewhat selective about your exploring when you have a limited time in a city. There is no city quite such a good example of this as Florence, or Firenze I should say. It is hopelessly beautiful, achingly romantic and every square inch of it seems filled with art and architecture I honestly never thought I would witness in real life. I will definitely do another post soon about the food of Florence but let’s start with the art and beauty of the city.
There are three main iconic sightseeing attractions in Florence, the Uffizi Gallery (home to Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus), the Galleria dell’Accademia (home to Michaelangelo’s David) and Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (home to the duomo designed by Brunelleschi). These are all well within walking distance of each other can I would say require about half a day each although if you’re pushed for time you can definitely squeeze them all in.
The Uffizi Gallery is outwardly one of the most impressive galleries I have ever visited. It sits alongside the riverbank with its huge courtyard and replica David statue, in the statue’s original location actually. We turned up early, and picked up a ticket reservation which told us to return at 4.00pm. Somehow, and I honestly still haven’t worked out how, we were in Florence during a special event where most of the museums and galleries were offering free entry. Without this, I believe our tickets would have been around €20 per person.
It is home to some of the greatest and most famous Italian artworks in existence, so therefore a hugely popular destination. Therefore, don’t be surprised if some of the more famous works such as Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Primavera (Spring) are a magnet for crowds. Just wait your turn and you will eventually make it to the front to marvel at these works. There is a fair amount of Michaelangeo’s work also on display at the Uffizi which should absolutely be on your list to view, even if you are heading for the David as well during your trip.
I was a huge fan of Caravaggio’s Medusa, which we saw toward the end of our visit. There was something genuinely quite haunting about her expression which stayed with me. The marrying together of both the Medusa’s face and also the mirrored sheild which finally defeated her is the kind of artwork that a Classics nerd like me can really get behind!
On the whole, the gallery is rammed with images of the Madonna, in one form or another. These vary from the famous (Madonna with the Long Neck for example) to the more obscure but are all worth examining, even if just for a moment. It’s incredible to see how many centuries of artists envisioned the same two beings – The Virgin Mary and Christ, in so many similar yet vastly different ways.
The gallery itself is vast, and really showcases Italian art throughout the last half millennia which is just overwhelming when you think about it. Once you’ve viewed almost all the art you can muster, the view from the rooftop terrace over the city is something everyone should see during their time in Florence.
You can also spend a very long time (and for free!) exploring the many statues that live in the squares surrounding the Uffizi, including of course the replica of Michaelangelo’s David which now sits in the original site of the statue which has since been relocated for preservation.
The Galleria dell’Accademia is around a 15-minute walk from the Uffizi, and also prone to queues and crowds so be prepared for that. Again, somehow due to the huge stroke of luck we had whilst in Florence (don’t worry, the tables turned in other ways!) we waited barely 10 minutes before being whisked inside, once again for free! The gallery itself is full largely of religious artwork over the last five to six hundred years. The quality and detail still visible in these pieces is astounding even to someone like me with essentially no academic knowledge of art whatsoever. It is definitely worth exploring these rooms of the gallery, and also the musical instrument museum adjacent to these (incredibly interesting, especially if you’re a bit of a music nerd like me!) rather than rushing straight to see the David.
I have seen pictures of the David, I have heard of its beauty but in all honesty I did not expect to have quite the reaction I did upon seeing all 17 feet of him in the stony flesh. I stopped in my tracks probably 30 or 40 feet from him and just stared, rather ungainly, at this incredible sight before me. It wasn’t so much that his human form was beautiful (although don’t get me wrong, Michaelangelo did not leave an inch of him that wasn’t muscular and defined!) it was more that the whole vast creation of him is so impressive, so detailed and so loved.
Now well over 500 years old you’d think that society would have moved on so much that a marble statue would have barely an effect but it does, he does. If you haven’t seen the David in real life yet, I absolutely urge you to add it to your list. You won’t regret it.
Our final stop on our artistic whistlestop tour of Florence was to visit the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore which feels like it is the central point of the city, at least from a tourist’s perspective. Once again we were faced with queues but don’t be alarmed, it moved relatively quickly and we were inside before long. There are free guided tours available of the Cathedral itself and for a little extra money you can visit the Duomo and/or the Crypt, both of which are fascinating. Incredibly, construction on the duomo itself began over a hundred years after work on the main cathedral however, it was worth the wait. The intricate detail and impressive plating of the ceiling of the duomo remains impressive to do this day, even when viewing from the floor many feet below. It is a thing of beauty and the whole cathedral is well worth a visit.
Check for any free days (they seem to be pretty regular) that coincide with your trip so that you can grab a bargain!
Don’t be put off by queues, they all seem to move relatively swiftly. Stock up on snacks for the wait if it looks particularly lengthy.
Don’t just rush to the famous spots of each sight, take in the lesser known artwortk and of course the incredible views of the city.