Category : Florence
If any city in the world should be expected to have a vibrant museum scene, than Florence, the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance would be it. And the city does not disappoint. The most politically, economically and culturally important city in Europe for over two centuries – and the two centuries that mattered – Florence gave us Michelangelo, Donatello, Dante, Boccaccio, Botticelli, Galileo, Machiavelli and Amerigo Vespucci, the mapmaker whose name graces the entire western hemisphere. Even the term “Dark Ages” was invented by the Florentine Petrarch, and Florence is where that little thing known as opera was invented. The best thing about present-day Florence is how much of Renaissance Florence is still there, in everything from its architecture to its museums, which is where we’ll be going today.
Galleria degli Uffizi
Starting with the obvious, we go to the Galleria degli Uffizi, or just the Uffizi. Set in a 1560 palace built for Cosimo I de’ Medici himself, this is one of the world’s greatest and most famous museums. Be assured that you will find yourself standing in line here, especially if you visit in the summer. But be assured that it will be worth it. Here you’ll find such iconic paintings as Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and the Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci. Here you’ll find important works by Dürer (The Adoration of the Magi), Caravaggio (Bacchus, The Sacrifice of Isaac, Medusa), Rembrandt Van Rijn (Self-portrait as a Young Man, Self-portrait as an Old Man) and Titian (Flora, Venus of Urbino). With the gorgeous painted and sculpted ceilings, there is no direction you can look and not be overwhelmed by the beauty of the place. Even the caffè has a large balcony overlooking the main piazza with views of the Palazzo Vecchio.
The Bargello National Museum
What the Uffizi is to painting, the Bargello National Museum is to sculpture. Once a barracks and a prison, the name Bargello means “fortified tower” (think “burg” in German) and you’ll see why when you’re blocks away. Featuring some of the best examples of Renaissance sculpture, the Bargello features the work of Michelangelo and Donatello, as well as Ammannati, Andrea and Jacopo Sansovino, Desiderio da Settignano and Antonio Rossellino. And though everyone comes to Florence to see Michelangelo’s David, the Donatello version found here is also worth seeing. The building itself is as much of an attraction as the artwork. Originally known as the Palazzo del Podestà, this austere edifice dates back to well before the Renaissance and is the oldest public building in the city of Florence.
Yes, this is where you’ll find Michelangelo’s David. The real thing, not like the copy in Las Vegas’s Caesar’s Palace. Again, you may be standing in line for at least an hour. Here you’ll also find Michelangelo’s unfinished Prisoners, intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II, as well as Giambologna’s original plaster for the Rape of the Sabine Women. Part of the Accademia di Belle Arti, which has been around since the year 1563, the Galleria dell’Accademia was created in the 19th century to be a Michelangelo Museum. And though there is a small collection of his work, like the Pietà discovered in the Barberini Chapel in Palestrina in 1939, you can also find work by other artists from the 15th and 16th century. There are paintings by Paolo Uccello, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli and Andrea del Sarto and a collection of Russian icons once belonging to the Grand Dukes of the House of Lorraine.
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
One of the most prominent features of the Florence skyline is the Cathedral, known as the Duomo. And if visiting the Cathedral itself leaves you wanting more, you have only to go to the rear of the Cathedral to discover the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Created in 1891 by Luigi del Moro, the designer of the city’s opera house, this museum is one of Italy’s most important Church museums. The museum features a second version of Michelangelo’s Pietà, different from the one in Saint Peter’s Basilica. There are also models and drawings used to build the Cathedral, as well as many works of art originally outside at Santa Maria del Fiore, the Baptistery and the Campanile that have been moved inside for the sake of preservation.
If you’ve had enough art and you’re ready for some science, then welcome to the Museo Galileo. The museum was founded by the University of Florence in 1927 in the Palazzo Castellani in this wonderful spot by the River Arno Previously known as the Institute and Museum of the History of Science, the Museo Galileo presents a fascinating collection of scientific instruments spanning the ages. You can see a wonderful sampling of maps in the Spheres and Globes room, and the room of Galileo Galilei displays some of the Galileo’s actual instruments. But the exhibit that makes the Museo Galileo truly unique has to be the middle finger of Galileo’s right hand, which was, for some odd reason, removed when his body when it was transported to a new burial spot on March 12, 1737.
Originally built as an Augustine convent way back in the 13th century, the Hotel Degli Orafi now provides the services and comforts of a four-star hotel. Set in the heart of the city, the hotel is on the prestigious Lungarno Archibusieri, right next to the Museo Galileo and a block from the Galleria degli Uffizi.
If you’re looking for more intimate accommodation, the three-star Palazzo Ruspoli – B&B features just 14 guest rooms located near the Cathedral and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. All boast excellent city or courtyard views.
The three-star Morandi alla Crocetta is also set in a historic convent. Not only is it just a few steps from the Accademia di Belle Arti and its Galleria dell’Accademia (home to the David statue), but it’s also next to the Archeological Museum, and is the Academy of Fine Arts.
There are many other Florence hotels to suit every taste and price range.
If your love of multi-tasking extends to your European travels, then going out to see the opera is a no-brainer. Where else can you experience some of the continent’s most magnificent architectural gems from the inside and be entertained at the same time? And you even get to dress up! Here are five of Italy’s most notable opera houses.
Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Let’s start at the top. The top of Italy (Milan) and, after the Paris Opera House, perhaps the second most famous opera house in the world: La Scala. Opened in 1778 as the Nuovo Regio Ducale Teatro alla Scala (New Royal-Ducal Theatre at La Scala), it has long since shed its long name. Since opening night’s presentation of Europa Riconosciuta by Antonio Salieri (you’ll remember him from “Amadeus”), Italy’s greatest operatic artists, and many from the rest of the world, have appeared on this stage over the last 233 years. And La Scala is still going strong. Home to the La Scala Theatre Chorus, La Scala Theatre Ballet and La Scala Theatre Orchestra, it’s still one of the world’s leading opera and ballet theatres. If you can’t make it to a performance, you can still experience La Scala through its Museo Teatrale alla Scala (La Scala Theatre Museum), which is actually attached to the theatre’s foyer and features paintings, drafts, statues and costumes relating to the theatre’s history. If you plan to stay in Milan, there are many hotels that make visiting La Scala most convenient.
Teatro della Pergola, Florence
Known as one of the planet’s foremost cities of Renaissance art, it’s no wonder that Florence would boast such an amazing Renaissance opera house. The Teatro della Pergola dates back to 1656 when it was built by the architect Ferdinando Tacca, son of the sculptor Pietro Tacca. Like many Florentine icons, the Teatro della Pergola was revolutionary in its design, as it was the first opera house with superposed tiers of boxes rather than the Roman-style raked semi-circular seating that all others used at the time. Considered to be the oldest opera house in the country, the Teatro della Pergola features two auditoriums, the 1,500 seat Sala Grande and the 400 seat Saloncino, which started out as a ballroom and provides a much more intimate experience. Important in the history of Florence, the theatre is also important in music history. This is where the great operas of Mozart were heard for the first time in Italy and was also the site of premieres of the work of Donizetti, Verdi and many others. Set in the centre of the city on the Via della Pergola, La Pergola is also close to many of Florence’s best hotels.
Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, Rome
Rome. The Eternal City. Ironically, the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma is one of the newer opera houses on our list, dating only to the year 1880. Still grand by any accounting, the 1,600 seat Rome Opera House started life as the 2,212 seat Costanzi Theatre and has undergone many modifications and improvements along the way. Many of its performances of note occurred more recently than the Florence and Milan opera houses, from Maria Callas’s controversial performance of Norma in 1958 to the Carlo Maria Giulini-conducted performances of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro in 1964 and Verdi’s Don Carlos in 1965. If you happen to be in Rome in the summer, you can take advantage of the Opera’s summer venue: The outdoor theatre at the Baths of Caracalla, which feature Roman ruins in the background. No matter what time of the year you visit, there are many Rome hotels from which to choose.
Teatro Massimo Bellini, Catania
Nearly 200 years in the making, plans for what was to become the Teatro Massimo Bellini were first discussed following the devastating earthquake of 1693. Construction began in 1812 and ended in 1890, and now you get to reap the benefits by visiting this 1,200 seat masterpiece. Named for local composer Vincenzo Bellini, it opened with his famous opera “Norma.” The opera house’s relationship with Bellini has continued through the years, with nearly all of his work having been performed here, with Maria Callas performing “Norma” for his 150th birthday in 1951. From the outside, the opera house appears to match the 17th century Sicilian Baroque style of its neighbors, and classic detail continues inside with the plush red interiors and the ornate stucco and marble foyer. Once in the auditorium, look up to see four of Bellini’s most famous operas depicted on the ceiling. After the show, you can retire to your choice of nearby Catania hotels.
Teatro La Fenice, Venice
In addition to being one of Europe’s most famous theatres, the Teatro La Fenice (The Phoenix) is one of its most aptly named. That’s because the theatre has burned down and been rebuilt twice, most recently in 2003, after a 1996 fire. Of course, you’d never know it, gazing up at what seems to be a magnificent 19th century treasure. That’s because a talented team of two hundred plasterers, artists, woodworkers, and other craftsman recreated the original theatre’s ambience in just 650 days… with €90 million. It was well worth it, and the theatre represents Venice’s fierce determination to survive in spite of the elements. Like the other opera houses, the original 1792 Teatro La Fenice also played a major part in musical history, premiering works by Giovanni Paisiello as well as Bellini and Donizetti. Many of the Venice hotels in the area were around to witness this history.
As the hot summer heat begins to fade and huge crowds of tourists dwindle, Florence becomes an even more attractive holiday destination. After its awe-inspiring churches and famous art museums, the Italian city is known for its fantastic shopping. High-end leather goods, designer fashions, mouthwatering foodstuffs—these are only a few of the many great things for purchase in Florence. So book a room at one of the hundreds of great hotels in Florence—like the AC Firenze or the Adler Cavalieri—and hit the streets to discover the city’s treasures.
Florence’s Ponte Vecchio (“Old Bridge”) is an iconic part of the urban skyline. Aside from simply connecting one neighborhood to another, the famous bridge serves an important purpose to locals and tourists—it sells the finest jewelry in the entire city. For over 400 years, the Ponte Vecchio has been lined with purveyors of fine gems and goldsmith workshops. Whether or not you can actually afford the sparkling baubles for sale, you will surely find yourself being tempted by the window displays.
The World-Famous Ponte Vecchio
San Lorenzo Market
It is no secret that Florence boasts a remarkable culinary scene. Its gelato shops, cafés and pizzerias are some of the best in the world. Between leisurely lunches and refreshing fruit gelatos, take your taste buds on a tour of San Lorenzo Market. The sprawling indoor marketplace is where those in the know flock to pick up freshly made pastas, fruity olive oils, colorful candies, bottles of wine and balsamic vinegar, produce and jars of local honey infused with truffles.
Nestled beneath the 16th-century Loggia del Porcellino, this “New Market” is the place to find Florentine leather goods and other souvenirs. Each morning, various vendors set up shop around a bronze sculpture of a wild boar (Il Porcellino, from whom the market got its name.) Intricate lace tablecloths, buttery soft wallets, hand-blown Murano glass pendants, colorful Venetian masks, quality shawls and pashminas, and doll-sized replicas of The David and Pinocchio are easy to find—but don’t forget to barter!
Il Porcellino and surrounding market stalls
Got a penchant for precious antiques? Head to Via Maggiore! Once the main thoroughfare of the city center, Via Maggio (as it is commonly called) is now the place to go to find Renaissance-era trinkets. The bustling street is lined on both sides with one-of-a-kind antique shops, some of which boast wares dating back to the 16th century. Bronze statues, vintage clothing, fine art prints, refurbished furnishings—you never know what hidden gem you will stumble upon here.
Via Tornabuoni & Via della Vigna Nuova
The chicest of Florentines know these roadways well. Often referred to as “the Rodeo Drive of Florence,” this district is home to many of the city’s most renowned fashion houses. The likes of Gucci, Ferragamo, Dolce e Gabbana, Armani, Prada and Versace boast sleek and stylish façades overlooking Via Tornabuoni and Via della Vigna Nuova. These and the nearby streets of Il Corso, Via Por San Maria and Via Calzaiuoli attract window-shoppers and those with serious cash to burn.
fashionable storefronts along Via Tornabuoni
Bold. Thick. Creamy. KaPOW!
Ok, maybe the last word sounded like an episode of Batman, but one taste of this frozen treat and you’ll be begging for more.
If you have a sweet tooth and need to answer its calling, forgo ordinary ice cream and treat your tastebuds to much more intense flavors of gelato.
Unfortunately, what you pick up in the store pales in comparison to some of the best gelaterias in Italy.
Here’s a short list of some of our favorite gelaterias in Italy:
While we may not be able to tell you where the best gelato in Italy is located (who can, really?), we can point you in the right direction for planning a trip in Rome, Florence, Milan and San Gimignano. Book a hotel, spend some time in Italy and then YOU can be the judge on the best gelato in Italy!