Florence, Italy

Influenced by the power of the Medici family and the brilliance of Michelangelo, this World Heritage Site city has an abundance of icons, from the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchi over the Arno River, squares and bridges filled with beautiful statues and of course the famous David. Florence is one of the world’s best cities.

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1 Skyline of City from Piazzale Michelangiolo in Florence, Italy

In order to enjoy the beauty of Florence, you must go to the Oltrarno district. You will drive along a five mile, tree-lined boulevard called Viale dei Colli until you reach the Piazzale Michelangiolo. From this Michelangelo Square, which was built in 1869, is a breathtaking, panoramic view of the Cathedral of Florence (right), the Palazzo Vecchio Tower (left), the city and the hills of Settignano and Fiesole.

Piazzale Michelangelo, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
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2 Ponte Vecchio East Side and Arno River in Florence, Italy

Early morning in Florence, before all of the tourists arrive, is magical as evident by this scene of the Ponte Vecchio that I shared with a single rower and an art class. This eastern view photographed along the Lungarno (Riverside) Archibusieri captures this beauty that was first built in 1218, rebuilt in 1345 and subsequently was the only bridge to survive WWII and the devastating flood of 1966. Wow, it is gorgeous!

Ponte Vecchio, 33 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
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3 Duomo Dome from Piazza Dumo in Florence, Italy

The dome of Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is the architectural and engineering marvel of Filippo Brunelleschi. It consists of 37,000 tons of construction materials, including over four million bricks in a herringbone pattern. On top of its lantern is a bronze ball that was made by Andrea del Verrocchio and his apprentice, Leonardo da Vinci. From the dome’s initial design until its completion in 1469 took 173 years.

Piazza del Duomo, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
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4 Duomo Façade Detail in Florence, Italy

Although the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower was finished in 1436, this gorgeous façade of pink, green and white marble was not started for another 440 years and was completed in 1887. There are so many ornate features spread across its 124 foot width that it is hard to describe them all. The most beautiful ones include three rose windows, three tympanum mosaics over the doors and the row of 12 apostle statues.

Piazza del Duomo, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
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5 Duomo Upper Central Section Facade Close Up in Florence, Italy

Some Duomo critics protest that it is over decorated. However, I was mesmerized by all the intricate features on this Roman Catholic basilica and thankfully a long lens brought them up close for inspection. An example is this huge, gorgeous rose window. Below it is a statue of Mary with the infant Jesus. In fact, the entire façade is dedicated to the Mother of Christ.

Piazza del Duomo, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
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6 Duomo Central Tympanum Mosaic in Florence, Italy

A tympanum is a semi-circular wall above an entrance and an archivolt are the ornamental moldings that follow the arch. Few are more gorgeous than this one that surrounds a mosaic called “Christ enthroned with Mary and John the Baptist.” All three mosaics on the Cathedral of Florence’s façade were designed by Nicoolò Barabino. They welcome you to the artist treasures inside the Duomo.

Piazza del Duomo, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
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7 Duomo Side View from Piazza Duomo in Florence, Italy

This side view of the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower from Piazza Duomo not only provides another look at the world’s largest masonry dome, but also showcases the beautiful polychrome marble panels that are green, pink and white. Just image this elaborate pattern stretching for over 500 feet on both sides. In fact, the size of the Duomo’s nave makes it the third largest church in the world.

Piazza del Duomo, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
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8 Gates of Paradise Joseph East Door Panel on Florence Baptistery in Florence, Italy

Construction of the octagonal Florence Baptistery was completed in 1128, which makes this minor basilica one of Florence’s oldest buildings. But its doors are more famous. A young goldsmith named Lorenzo Ghiberti won the competition to create a 28 panel door. It took him 21 years. The next year, in 1425, he was asked to create the “Gates of Paradise” door which is now on the east side. This gilded panel, “Joseph Sold into Slavery,” is one of the ten panels that tell Old Testament stories. This masterpiece took him an additional 27 years to create.

Piazza di San Giovanni, 8, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
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9 Palazzo Vecchio Tower from Via Vacchereccia in Florence, Italy

The Palazzo Vecchio tower, as seen from the street called Via Vacchereccia, is one of several Florence icons. But did you know that the 308 foot, rectangular tower is not centered, that it’s Giorgio Lederle’s Clock is one-handed, and that it imprisoned the founder of the Medici dynasty in 1433? The tower is named Torre d’Arnolfo after the architect Arnolfo di Cambio who also designed Santa Croce and the Duomo.

Via Vacchereccia, 50122 Firenze FI Italy
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10 David Statue in Front of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy

In the late 15th century, two artists failed to convert a huge block of Carrara marble called “The Giant” into a statue of David that was supposed to sit atop the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo). Then Michelangelo, at the age of 26, was given the chance. After more than two years of work, the 17 foot masterpiece was unveiled in Piazza della Signoria. In 1910, it was replaced by this replica. You can see the original in the Accademia Gallery in Florence. In the photo’s background is the Monogram of Christ over the entrance of Palazzo Vecchio.

Piazza della Signoria, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
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11 Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy

This site has historically been the epicenter of political power, starting with the Romans in the first century, the Uberti Family in the 13th century and, after the Palazzo Vecchio was finished in 1322, it was used by the Signoria government, then the Medici dukes and, in the 19th century, it was the capital of Italy. Architecturally, the fortress kept evolving and growing until about 1540. Today, it is a wonderful museum.

Piazza della Signoria, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
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12 Hercules and Cacus Statue in Front of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy

When the Medici family returned to power in 1512 and again in 1530, they commissioned Baccio Bandinelli to sculpt from Carrara marble this statue of Hercules after killing the giant Vulcan Cacus. It clearly symbolized the House of Medici victory. It still stands in the Piazza della Signoria in front of Palazzo Vecchio. The Medicis were a royal family in the late 14th and 15th century that produced several dukes, two French queens and four Catholic popes.

Piazza della Signoria, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
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13 Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence, Italy

The National Central Library, called Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, is the largest in Italy and, since 1870, it has housed all new Italian publications. Despite the loss of one-third of its collection during the 1966 Arno River flood, it contains over 5 ½ million books and some manuscripts dating back to when the library was founded in 1714 by Antonio Magliabechi.

Piazza dei Cavalleggeri, 1, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
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14 Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, Italy

From 1294 through 1442, the Franciscans built this beautiful Basilica of Santa Croce with its marble façade and, curiously, a Star of David in the apex. Inside are some beautiful frescos. This Roman Catholic church is also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories because, for five centuries, the Florentine elite were buried here, including the tombs of Michelangelo and Galileo.

Piazza di Santa Croce, 16, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
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15 Bargello Palace in Florence, Italy

In 1255, Florence’s oldest public building, Bargello Palace, was the headquarters for the Captain of the People and, in the 16th century, the Captain of Police. This stark, fortified building served as a prison until, in 1865, it became the Museo Nazionale del Bargello. Inside is a wonderful collection of famous Italian statues, including several by Michelangelo.

Via del Proconsolo, 4, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
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16 Fountain of Neptune at Piazza Della Signoria in Florence, Italy

The fountain of Neptune at Piazza Della Signoria was ordered in 1565 by the House of Medici, a political dynasty in Florence, as a wedding gift for the second Grand Duke of Tuscany. Neptune’s face apparently resembles Cosimo Medici, the Duke of Florence. The base has two chained, mythological monsters plus bronze gods and marble seahorses. The statue in front of Palazzo Vecchio is a replica; the original is in the National Museum.

Piazza della Signoria, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
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17 The Rape of the Sabine Women at Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, Italy

In 1583, an enormous block of marble was transformed by Giambologna into The Rape of the Sabine Women. It does not depict a sexual crime. Instead, it portrays when Roman men abducted women from a neighboring tribe to be their wives around 750BC. It is one of several beautiful but often graphic statues inside the open-air Loggia dei Lanzi at the Piazza della Signoria.

Chiasso dei Baroncelli, 3, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
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18 Fortezza Da Basso Wall in Florence, Italy

The Fortezza Da Basso, which was finished in 1537, has massive walls that give the huge fortress a pentagonal shape. It also features an imposing tower as seen from the Porta Santa Maria Novella entrance. It never saw battle. I was surprised to learn that this military Renaissance architecture is now an exhibition center that houses two modern pavilions with a contemporary appearance. Two other Congress Centers managed by Firenze Fiera are nearby.

Viale Filippo Strozzi, 1, 50129 Firenze FI, Italy
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19 San Marco Church Facade in Florence, Italy

In a city filled with gorgeous churches, San Marco is typically not on the tourist list but its history is interesting. In 1436, the founder of the Medici dynasty invited the Dominican Friars of Fiesole to move to Florence with the promise of having Michelozzo build them this church (consecrated in 1443) and a convent which, since 1869, has been a museum of 15th century Renaissance art. Before entering the church, look up and you’ll see the Winged Lion of St. Mark which is the symbol for Venice.

Piazza San Marco 1, 50121 Firenze FI, Italy
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20 San Marco Church High Altar, Organ and Crucifix in Florence, Italy

Often times when I photograph historic buildings, I can sense its most significant features. Not so this time. In this photo, the organ and fresco were beautiful. However, what is famous is the small, gold crucifix at the bottom. It was created by Fra Angelico, also called Angelic Brother John, between 1425 and 1428 when he was only 30. Between 1436 and 1445, he painted wonderful frescos in the church and adjoining monastery before being called to the Vatican to paint several frescos in St. Peter’s. In 1984 he became the patron saint of Catholic artists.

Piazza San Marco 1, 50121 Firenze FI, Italy
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21 Basilica of Saint Maria Novella in Florence, Italy

The word “novella” means “new” but that’s a relative term because the Basilica of Saint Maria Novella is the oldest church in Florence. It was considered finished in 1360 but the Dominican friars continued enhancing it until 1470 … 250 years after construction started. An historic footnote is that the large square in front of the Roman Catholic church hosted an annual chariot race called Palio dei Cocchi from the mid-16th until the late 19th centuries.

Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
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22 Museum of Medici Chapels or Cappelle Medicee in Florence, Italy

This fairly unattractive building on the outside is the Medici Chapels which were built in 1524 to be the family mausoleum. People are willing to wait in long lines because inside are several beautiful marble sculptures by Michelangelo. He also designed the New Sacristy at the Basilica of San Lorenzo which is part of the same complex. This Roman Catholic church was built in the mid-15th century.

Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini, 6, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
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23 Porcellino Bronze Boar Fountain in Florence, Italy

Do you love Florence? Then place a coin in the mouth of this bronze boar named Porcellino while rubbing his snout. This tradition “guarantees” your return. This Piglet Fountain is located on the south side of a loggia (covered market) called Mercato Nuovo, which means “New Market.” That’s a relative term, because it was built in the mid-16th century. The original boar was sculpted by Pietro Tacca around 1634 and is now at the Museo Bardini. A marble version is at the Uffizi Museum. This replica arrived in 2008.

Piazza del Mercato Nuovo, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
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24 Arcone Triumpal Arch at Piazza della Repubblica in Florence, Italy

The Piazza della Repubblica, or Republic Square, has a long history that includes being a Roman forum, the commercial center of the city, a ghetto where minorities were segregated, a massive urbanization project that demolished medieval landmarks when Florence was the capital of Italy, and now the home of high-end hotels, stores and popular cafes. On the west side is this triumphal arch called Arcone which was built in 1895. Its inscription reads: “The ancient center of the city restored from age-old squalor to new life.”

Piazza della Repubblica, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
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25 Giovanni Delle Bande Nere at Piazza San Lorenzo in Florence, Italy

Pigeons spend far more time admiring statues than people who just walk by, which is too bad because most represent fascinating history. For example, the Giovanni Delle Bande Nere statue at Piazza San Lorenzo is a tribute to the last, great Italian condottiero named Lodovico de Medici. He was the savage head of professional mercenaries who fought battles for hire by local cities and the pope until he died shortly after being wounded in 1526. Oddly, his body was exhumed in 2012 and they determined that his foot, and not his entire leg, had been amputated in an attempt to save his life.

Piazza San Lorenzo 50123 Firenze FI Italy
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Window Security Cage and Flower Boxes in Florence, Italy

Florence is blessed with so many buildings from the Late Middle Ages, the Renaissance period, and the Age of Discovery that you feel like you are walking through history. But it is also a big, urban city which necessitates security bars on many of the lower windows. But even these contain beauty: look closely and you’ll see they often contain flower boxes.

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26 Palazzo Pitti in Florence, Italy

The Palazzo Pitti derives its name from its original owner, a banker named Luca Pitti. In 1549, it was sold to the Duke of Florence, Cosimo I de’ Medici, who expanded it to accommodate his guests. Years later his son, Ferdinando I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, made it home. It remained the Medici family residence until the dynasty ended in 1737. Today, it is home to the city’s largest museum of Renaissance and modern art. You can also see the royal apartments where the Medici family lived. And don’t miss the Boboli gardens in back.

Piazza de' Pitti, 1, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
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27 Basilica of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito Bell Tower in Florence, Italy

The façade of the 1487 Basilica of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito is very bland because it was never completed, except for this bell tower. In contrast, the Corinthian columns, arches and frescos inside St. Mary of the Holy Spirit are far more interesting. What I found most interesting, however, is that the teenage Michelangelo was allowed to study corpses here from the convent’s hospital. In appreciation, he carved a simple wooden cross that can be seen in the sacristy.

Piazza Santo Spirito, 30, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
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28 Pescaia di Santa Rosa and Arno River in Florence, Italy

This spillway across the Arno river is Pescaia di Santa Rosa, a weir that was designed to provide power to local mills (now gone), to help tame the river, and as a military defense. In the center is Chiesa di Ognissanti, a Franciscan church dating back to the mid-13th century. The white buildings are on the north bank street called Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci which, in 1857, was dedicated to an Italian navigator who lived in this neighborhood before exploring the New World in the late 15th century. “America” is derived from his first name.

Piazza di Cestello 50124 Firenze FI, Italy
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29 Ponte Santa Trinita and Arno River in Florence, Italy

Ponte Santa Trinita, which was built in 1569, is the world’s oldest Renaissance elliptic arch bridge. The red and white oars of the racing shell in the Arno river indicate this rowing team are members of the “Canottieri Firenze” Club that was founded in 1911. In the background is the distinctive Torre d’Arnolfo or the Palazzo Vecchio tower. The bridge was destroyed by German troops during WWII but reconstructed in 1958.

Lungarno Guicciardini, 9, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
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30 Autumn Statue by Giovanni Caccini on Ponte Santa Trinita in Florence, Italy

In 1608, Cosimo II de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the primary benefactor of Galileo, was getting married. To honor the occasion, four statues of the seasons were commissioned for the Ponte Santa Trinita bridge. Giovanni Caccini created two of them: Summer and this one representing Autumn.

Ponte Santa Trinita, 3455 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
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31 Primavera Spring Statue on Ponte Santa Trinita in Florence, Italy

On August 3, 1944, the occupying Germans forced all Florence residents to stay home for several days. They then destroyed five of six bridges that crossed the Arno (only the Ponte Vecchio was spared) in anticipation of the Allies’ advance. Among the casualties that night was Primavera, the Spring statue created by Pietro Francavilla in 1608 for the Ponte Santa Trinita bridge. By 1958, the bridge was rebuilt and the Four Season statues were returned to their corners. But Primavera remained decapitated until her head was found in 1961 buried deep in the mud downstream.

Ponte Santa Trinita, 3455 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
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32 Skyline View of Duomo from Piazzale Michelangiolo in Florence, Italy

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as the Cathedral of Florence, is enormous. The Duomo is 526 feet long and the dome is 375 feet tall. There is only one place where you can fully appreciate its grandeur. That viewpoint is at Piazzale Michelangiolo, also known as Michelangelo Square.

Piazzale Michelangelo, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
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33 Bronze David Statue at Piazzale Michelangeloin Florence, Italy

Fans of Michelangelo’s statue David have three opportunities to see it. A replica was placed in front of the Palazzo della Signoria when the original was moved to Accademia Gallery in 1873. This bronze cast adorns the center of Piazzale Michelangelo, also known as Michelangelo Square. At the pedestal’s base are figures representing day, night, twilight and dawn. The original marble allegorical statues by Michelangelo adorn tombs in the Medici Chapels at San Lorenzo Basilica.

Piazzale Michelangelo, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
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34 Ponte Vecchio West Side at Sunset and Arno River in Florence, Italy

At sunset, the Ponte Vecchio and the Arno below are bathed in a golden hue that rivals the goldsmiths’ showcases inside. Starting in the 13th century, the covered bridge was filled with butchers and fish markets. But when Duke Ferdinando I got tired of the stench and pollution, he declared in 1593 that only jewelers and gold merchants could sell here … a tradition that’s lasted over 400 years. At night, most of those green shutters close until morning.

Ponte Vecchio, 12 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
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35 Ponte Santa Trinita Bridge and Boat on Arno River at Sunset in Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy is captivating. It is steeped in history and art (like Michelangelo’s statue David), showcases Renaissance architecture (like the Duomo on Florence Cathedral), offers wonderful outside dining (like at Palazzo Vecchio), and is a shoppers’ delight for mosaics, leather and jewelry. At dusk, stand near the covered bridge of Ponte Vecchio and watch the sun set over the Arno River and the Ponte Santa Trinita Bridge.

Lungarno Guicciardini, 9, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
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