Ten Must Visit Places in Florence

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Florence is one of Italy’s most visited cities. The capital of the Tuscany region, Florence is home to Renaissance masterpieces and stunning architecture.

At one time Florence operated as the center of medieval European trade and finance, making it one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Its turbulent history includes periods of rule by the powerful Medici Family and many political revolutions. Florence served as the capital of Italy from 1865 to 1871. And the Florentine dialect became the foundation for the Italian language.

With its numerous museums and art galleries, Florence attracts millions of visitors in a typical year. Its culture, art, monuments and architecture caused UNESCO to name it a World Heritage Site in 1982.

There’s much to see and do in this beautiful, bustling city. Whether there for a day or a long weekend, take time to check out these ten must visit places in Florence.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence title meme

Cathedral of Florence

Also known as the Duomo and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, this cathedral complex is a major tourist attraction. If you only have time to see a couple of places in Florence, make sure the cathedral is one of them.

In fact, the Duomo offers four of my top ten sites to explore, making it a great starting off point on your exploration of Florence.

Completion of the church occurred in 1367. The exterior is covered in colorful marble. Most of the stained glass windows, created between 1434 and 1455, include designs by famous artists such as Donatello, Andrea del Castagno and Paolo Uccello.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence cathedral
Ten Must Visit Places in Florence – Cathedral of Florence

Brunelleschi’s Dome

The dome covering part of the Cathedral of Florence is called Brunelleschi’s Dome. When it was designed it was the largest dome in the world. As the cathedral took shape, the builders left space for the huge dome. One problem existed. No one knew exactly how to build a 150 feet wide dome atop the existing walls. Masons feared the dome might collapse inward.

In 1418 a public competition for the construction of the dome promised 200 gold florins and eternal fame. The Opera del Duomo selected Filippo Brunelleschi to supervise the dome project. Construction began in 1420 and finished 16 years later. Brunelleschi’s Dome is ingenious and innovative, a marvel of architecture that still astounds.

Visitors climb the 463 steps within the dome, appreciating frescoes on the interior and marvelous views of the city from the top. Reservations must be made in advance.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence dome
Ten Must Visit Places in Florence – Brunelleschi’s Dome

Giotto’s Bell Tower

Also called the Campanile, Giotto’s Bell Tower is the tall tower attached to the Duomo.

Giotto began construction on the Florentine Gothic bell tower in 1334. Although the tower bears his name, Giotto died three years after construction began. Andrea Pisano, following the original design, completed the first two floors, while Francesco Talenti finished the tower in 1359.

Visitors climb the 414 steps inside the tower, with much welcomed rest stops built in, for gorgeous views of Florence at the top.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence tower
Ten Must Visit Places in Florence – Giotto’s Bell Tower

The Baptistry of St John

The Baptistry is one of the oldest buildings in Florence, believed built in the 800s over the ruins of a Roman temple.

Located across from the Duomo, the Baptistry stands in the Piazza del Duomo. The giant bronze doors are the main attraction, however beautiful mosaics decorate the interior of the cupola. The bronze doors decorate three of the four sides of the building. Three different groups of statues rest above the doors, copies of the originals.

The most famous set of doors are on the east side, facing the Duomo. Called the Gates of Paradise, the panels depict scenes from the Old Testament.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence baptistry
Ten Must Visit Places in Florence – the Baptistry’s bronze doors

Uffizi Gallery

This world famous museum contains works of art by Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo and many other artists. Uffizi is ranked 25th on the list of most visited museums in the world, with 2 million visitors annually.

The Gallery occupies two floors of a large building constructed between 1560 and 1580. The building originally housed offices for Florentine magistrates, hence the name. Uffizi is Italian for “offices”.

Within find collections of ancient sculptures and paintings from the Middle Ages to the Modern Period. Additionally, the Gallery contains statues and busts from the Medici Family.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence uffizi gallery
Ten Must Visit Places in Florence – Uffizi Gallery

Palazzo Vecchio

Built in 1299, the Palazzo Vecchio, “Old Palace”, is the town hall of Florence. It overlooks Piazza della Signoria and shares space with the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi (see next paragraph).

Originally Palazzo Vecchio was built as a castle with a single tower. Within the tower are two rooms that served as prison cells. Today the palazzo houses a museum that offers Roman ruins and Renaissance chambers and paintings. The Hall of 500 is the largest room, important both artistically and historically.

At the entrance rests a replica of Michelangelo’s David. The original David statue occupied that spot from its completion in 1504 until 1873, when it relocated to the Accademia Gallery for protection from the elements.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence palazzo
Ten Must Visit Places in Florence – Palazzo Vecchio

Loggia dei Lanzi

Also located in Piazza della Signoria, the Loggia de Lanzi is a free open air museum that adjoins Uffizi Gallery. Designed in 1376, the Loggia features curved arches with a variety of statues resting beneath them.

Included is the statue of Perseo, holding Medusa’s severed head and the Rape of the Sabines, a unique statute containing three figures, all carved from a single block of marble.

Loggia dei Lanzi is a wonderful spot to take a rest break. Large steps leading up the to Loggia offer plenty of seating.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence loggia dei lanzi
Ten Must Visit Places in Florence – Loggia dei Lanzi

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio, “Old Bridge”, is a medieval stone bridge spanning the Arno River. Originally built in the late 900s, reconstruction occurred in 1345 after a major flood.

Shops line either side of the bridge, and have since the 13th century. Initially, butchers, fishmongers and tanners occupied those shops, until the stench caused Ferdinand I to issue a decree in 1593. Henceforth, only goldsmiths and jewelers could set up shop on Ponte Vecchio, for the betterment of all.

Ponte Vecchio is a popular bridge to stroll across and shop upon by day. At night it’s considered a very romantic spot with great views of the Arno River.

Special note: from the upstairs windows of the Uffizi Gallery, you have great views of Ponte Vecchio. It’s where I snapped this photo.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence ponte vecchio
Ten Must Visit Places in Florence – Ponte Vecchio

Accademia Gallery

Accademia Gallery, also called Galleria dell’Accademia, is home to one of the most famous sculptures in the world, Michelangelo’s David.

Located off of the Hall of Prisoners, so named because of Michelangelo’s unfinished statues, David captures the eye and the heart magnificently. Spend time studying this beautiful statue. Then explore Accademia’s botany, music, textiles and art exhibits.

The smaller, more specialized Accademia Gallery draws almost 2 million visitors in a typical year, making it the second most visited museum in Italy, after the Uffizi. It was founded in 1784 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence accademia gallery
Ten Must Visit Places in Florence – Accademia Gallery

Boboli Gardens and Pitti Palace

More than just a green space in Florence, Boboli Gardens is the city’s greatest open air museum. Sharing space with Pitti Palace, the gardens contain centuries old trees, sculptures and fountains along with colorful flowers and plants.

The garden’s development, primarily by the Medici and Lorraine Families, spans 400 years and inspired gardens throughout Europe, including Versailles in France.

The enormous Pitti Palace, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, was built in 1457 for the Pitti Family. The Medicis bought the palace in 1549, as their primary residence.

Today the palace is a museum, housing Medici household treasures, 16th and 17th century paintings, 19th century furnishings and a Gallery of Modern Art. The Boboli Gardens lie behind Pitti Palace.

Visit Florence Italy

This wonderful old city provides its visitors many opportunities for exploration, education and fun.

In addition to Florence’s culture and art, the city also offers fine dining and shopping experiences. And Florence claims the invention of Italian gelato!

My daughter, grandson and I enjoyed a night and a day in Florence, which feels very different from Rome. Mark Twain once described Florence as a “city of dreams”. With its art, history, culture and beauty, Florence is certainly a visit-worthy destination.

While COVID restrictions currently prevent most of these must see sites from opening, change is coming. I look forward to hearing of the museums reopening.

Have you visited Florence?

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence group selfie
Group selfie in Florence, 2017

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Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo’s David

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My daughter, grandson and I toured Italy in 2017, checking many destinations and sights off our “must see” list. The colosseum and Sistine Chapel in Rome, Venice’s canals and the Leaning Tower of Pisa were on the list, along with Michelangelo’s David in Florence.

To see those places, structures and statue, after years of reading about them and studying photos, was both surreal and wondrous.

In Florence, our tour guide, Andrea, shared stories about David, one of the most amazing sculptures in the world. Andrea’s reverence and passion kept us spellbound and listening to every word as he shared from his wealth of knowledge.

I learned much that I did not know that deepened my appreciation for Michelangelo and his incredible sculpture. These are things you may not know about Michelangelo’s David. Perhaps you will learn something new as well.

Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo's David title meme

Where is the David Statue?

David is located in the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy. Considered the most famous statue in Florence, and perhaps the world, this magnificent work of art was created between 1501 and 1504 by a young Michelangelo, who was about 26 years old when commissioned for the statue.

The museum features other works of art by Michelangelo and art by great Italian artists such as Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Pontormo and Orcagna.

We spent a couple of hours in the museum, as part of a day in Florence. One could easily spend a whole day there, studying the exhibits.

Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo's David Andrea
Our amazing tour guide while in Florence, Andrea, which is a common male name in Italy. And that’s my gorgeous daughter in the foreground.

Things You Probably Do Know About Michelangelo’s David

First, the things you probably DO know about this famous statue.

David is a depiction of the Biblical David, who killed the giant Goliath with a slingshot and a stone. Goliath taunted the Hebrew army daily…think bullying to the extreme…and because of his size, no one wanted to fight him. Although David was a youth, he accepted Goliath’s challenge to fight, one on one. Foregoing armor and a sword, David instead relied on his faith in God to help him defeat Goliath.

David is presented in all his glory, meaning the statue is naked.

The marble statue is 17 feet, 6 1/2 inches tall and weighs more than 12,000 pounds.

Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo's David first view
My first glimpse of David in the museum.

Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo’s David

And now for the things you may not know. I love learning facts about well known places and things. The stories add interest and depth.

Commissioned to Decorate the Roofline of a Cathedral

David was originally commissioned to stand along the eastern roofline of the Florence Cathedral. Because of the impressive quality of work, David ended up instead in a public square, the Piazza della Signoria, where it was unveiled on September 8, 1504. To protect it from weather and vandalism, the statue eventually took up residence in the Accademia Gallery in 1873. A replica of David replaced the original in the piazza.

And in 2010 another David replica graced the cathedral roofline, carrying out the intention from hundreds of years ago.

Carved From a Single Block of “Rejected” Marble

Michelangelo carved his masterpiece from a single block of Carrara marble. Two other sculptures began work on the block. Both stopped due to the poor quality and brittleness of the marble. Additionally, the marble contained strong veins running through it while pinholes riddled the surface.

When Michelangelo began his sculpture, the block of marble had sat abandoned for 40 years.

It took 40 men four days to move the completed sculpture from Michelangelo’s studio to the piazza.

A Unique Portrayal of David

Michelangelo broke with tradition in his portrayal of David. Other sculptures created a triumphant David, holding aloft the head of the giant after the battle. Michelangelo chose to show David before the battle, vulnerable and trusting in his nudity, his gaze analyzing the situation. A sling rests over his left shoulder and his right hand grasps a rock, indicating David was a leftie.

Michelangelo based David’s pose on Hercules, a hero with strong connections to Florence. Hercules appeared on the Florentine seal for centuries.

Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo's David full statue
Things you may not know about Michelangelo’s David – his pose mimics Hercules

David’s Hands and Head are Disproportionately Large

People have wondered if Michelangelo made a mistake, creating David’s hands and head larger than they should have been. However, even at a young age, Michelangelo was not a beginner artist. David was not his first sculpture. Additionally, Michelangelo studied anatomy, dissecting dead bodies to learn how muscles, bones and tissues worked.

One theory is that the large hands are a nod to David’s nickname, manu fortis, which means “strong of hand”. Our tour guide Andrea suggested another possibility. Because David originally intended to stand high above the ground, on the roof of the cathedral, Michelangelo enlarged the hands and head so that when people looked up, the proportions appeared correct.

Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo's David hand
Things you may not know about Michelangelo’s David – the hands and head are intentionally large

David is Suffering From Stress Fractures

More than 8 million visitors a year walk through the gallery to view David. All that foot traffic creates vibrations that are causing stress fractures in the marble. Frequent inspections reveal where repairs and restorations are necessary.

Blushing Queen

Queen Victoria of England received a replica of the David statue as a gift, in 1857. Shocked by David’s nudity, she ordered a plaster fig leaf made, to cover his privates. Leaf in place, the statue went on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo's David profile
Things you may not know about Michelangelo’s David – he’s portrayed as a leftie

Court Case

Although David has been a Florence resident for more than 500 years, the Italian government recently asked courts to determine whether David belongs to the city…or to Italy. No decision has been made yet.

Appreciation for David

My tour group spent about 30 minutes with David, as Andrea spoke passionately about him. Seeing Michelangelo’s statue was definitely the highlight of our time in Florence.

I felt strong emotions, circling the incredible sculpture. I admit that my eyes filled with tears several times.

He truly is beautiful and the artist’s genius is evident. David’s muscles show Michelangelo’s familiarity with human anatomy. The rib cage shows definition. And David’s face is extraordinary. The eyes appear to gaze intently toward his challenger. A tiny furrow creases his brow, making him seem deep in thought. His body appears relaxed and confident and powerful.

Andrea shared that Michelangelo believed God gave him the gift of releasing figures from the marble. When asked how he created David, Michelangelo reportedly replied that he simply chipped away all the stone that was not David.

I am forever grateful for the opportunity to see David and learn things I did not know about him. I hope you’ve learned new things about David as well!

Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo's David in Florence
Our Florence selfie.

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Meeting Michelangelo’s David

Today we explored the city of Florence, after checking into a hotel here last night. Our group met Andrea (which is a common man’s name in Italy) for a day of sightseeing and visiting museums. 

Meeting Michelangelo's David

We saw some amazing sights as we journeyed into the heart of Florence. The Cathedral of Florence was magnificent. The duomo (Italian for “house”) is huge, and took more than 140 years to complete. The ancient church, completed in 1536, still holds daily services. 

This afternoon we walked through the Uffizi Gallery, which houses one of the most impressive collections of Italian Renaissance art in the world. Our knowledgeable guide, Andrea, who has a deep passion for art, led us room by room, calling our attention to works of art by Michelangelo, Di Vinci, Botticelli, Raphael and Rembrandt. Andrea shared about the symbolism and history within those paintings, bringing deeper meaning to the works. 

Meeting Michelangelo's David      Cathedral of Florence

Meeting Michelangelo's David    Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo 1507

Andrea took us to another museum early in the day, the Galleria dell’Academia, where Michelangelo’s marble statue David is on display. I have been familiar with this 17 foot statue, representing the biblical figure, David, since childhood. To walk into that domed room, specially built around the statue, was surreal. This experience became the pinnacle of a day full of wonderful adventures. 

Meeting Michelangelo's David
However, before we got to meet David, Andrea introduced us to four unfinished sculptures, works that will forever remain incomplete after Michelangelo’s death at age 89. These pieces are called “slaves” because the figures are seen as  trying to free themselves from the marble. 

Michelangelo was unique among sculptors in that he purchased solid blocks of marble and using hand tools, created the sculptures by working from the front of the block to the back. He didn’t use models. He worked from his imagination and from sketches he drew. Michelangelo believed God gave him the gift of releasing the figure from the marble. 

He was incredibly gifted, that is evident. After studying his unfinished sculptures, we were taken into the next room to meet his David. 

Meeting Michelangelo's David

What an amazing sight. What an extraordinary work of art. Andrea is extremely passionate about this statue. As we quietly gazed upward, he told us that Michelangelo was only 26 years old when he began this sculpture, which was commissioned as a statue to be placed on the Florence Cathedral’s eastern roofline. 

When the statue was unveiled in 1504, the people saw how gifted and promising the young sculptor was. The powerful work of art was placed at the entrance to the Cathedral instead, where it remained until 1873. At that time, it was moved to its current location, to protect it from corrosion by the weather and from vandalism. A replica took its place. 

Meeting Michelangelo's David

We slowly walked around the statue. I have rarely seen a photo of David’s face. I was struck by the intense look in his eyes, the slight furrow on his brow. I could see the muscles of his chest and abdomen, see the ribs beneath. This wasn’t just a shepherd boy Michelangelo sculpted. This was a young warrior, naked to show his vulnerability and his complete trust in God…muscled to show his strength…confident that his simple weapon could take down a giant enemy, because he was not fighting alone. 

I stood with tears in my eyes, listening as Andrea spoke with strong emotion about this young man who became one of the most well known artists, ever, and his sculpture, David. It was a very moving experience, and one I will not forget. 

When asked how he created David, Michelangelo is reported to have said that he simply chipped away the stone that was not David. He revealed David, in all of his glory. I am so grateful that he did. And I can carry that lesson away from Florence, as we head to Venice tomorrow. I can let all that is not Cindy be chipped away, to reveal the masterpiece that already exists there. 

Like David, I am being freed. 

Meeting Michelangelo's David