After our far too short detour to Assisi, we hopped back on the tour bus and continued our journey to Florence, Italy. Much to my dismay, a great deal of the third day of our trip was primarily reserved for traveling. Luckily for me, the seats on the bus reclined and were extremely comfy, allowing me to spend a good portion of the ride sound asleep. When we arrived in Florence, the evening was only just beginning! Dusk had fallen on Florence making the streets glow bright with promise; the night was still young! After quickly settling into our hotel for the next two nights, our group traveled to a nearby local restaurant for dinner.
Sights to See
Florence is known as the birthplace of the Italian language and opera. For this reason, it is one of the most cultural cities across the globe, rich in breathtaking architecture. In ancient times, Florence was a Roman city and before long it transformed into a prosperous medieval commune. During the 14th to 16th century, Florence became known as the focal point of the Renaissance movement, solidifying its historical importance. Similarly, the city was the home of prominent figures like Machiavelli, Lorenzo Medici, Dante, Michelangelo, Donatello, Galileo and Raphael.
If you are searching for real Italian culture, monumental creations like the Florence Cathedral will surely draw you in. The Florence Cathedral, also known as the Duomo, is one of the most celebrated cathedrals in the world! There is no denying that the Duomo is the prized jewel of Florence. Located in the middle of the old city, the structure is visible for miles on end, an imposing yet grand sight amidst all else. Thankfully, the Duomo was only a short walking distance from the hotel we stayed at! If you ever find yourself lost in Florence, the sight of the Cathedral will be enough to steer you in the right direction. When our tour group was navigating the streets and perusing the local shops, I found its magnificence comforting and many times I came close to pinching myself in an effort to make sure I was not dreaming.
The construction of the Florence Cathedral began in 1436, but the spectacular facade remained incomplete until the 19th century. The exterior of the Duomo is covered in white marble with red, pink, and green poly-chrome designs. In person, the colorful style is simply breathtaking; pictures will never be a sufficient method to do its distinctiveness justice. For this very reason, Florence’s Duomo holds a special place in my heart! In my opinion, one of its most interesting designs is the large dome that sits at the head of the cathedral and the best part is that it is open for public access! After climbing the 463 steps to the top, the sight before your eyes will be enough to shock you: the entirety of Florence’s beauty on display.
Directly across from the Florence Cathedral is Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise at the Baptistry. The bronze door, designed by the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti, was intended for the north entrance of the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence. Yet, upon its completion, the door was installed at the east entrance instead. Each side of the gate contains five large rectangular designs that showcase scenes from the Old Testament. The ten panels are among the greatest works of the Early Renaissance. I learned that the original doors were restored early in the 21st century; they reside in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo while replicas furnish the entrance to the baptistery.
On our second day in Florence, we toured a famous local leather shop and shopped around for over an hour! This was such a neat experience because we also had the opportunity to listen to an artisan talk about the leather industry in Florence. If you are traveling to this beautiful city, you should put aside money to spend on Florentine leather products. If you have not considered doing this, you most definitely should! For hundreds of years, Florence has been home to some of the world’s best leather craftsmanship. If you know where to look, shopping in Florence will gift you with expertly crafted products—ranging from change purses to much larger items. I found that the products are of an unbeatable quality and retail at much lower prices than in the United States.
Since Florence is known for its leather, it truly pays to do your homework! Although there are plenty of authentic shops, Florence has attracted a suspicious trade in poor-quality items, which are often sold to tourists who do not know any better. Buyers beware: it is not only illegal to sell knock-offs in Italy but it is also illegal to purchase them!
Later that day, we found ourselves at the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge where many of Florence’s famous leather and gold artisans have shops. Italian history dates the bridge as early as 996 but its true origin remains unknown. Situated on the Arno river, the Ponte Vecchio is an extremely famous bridge with decorated history. The structure is admired for the several jewelers, art dealers, and souvenir shops built into the sides of the bridge, making it stand out like no other. After admiring the exterior and taking several pictures, we walked the length bridge and when we reached the middle, we were immediately rewarded with a fantastic view of the river Arno and the beautiful buildings outlining each side.
Located in close proximity to the Duomo and our hotel was the Galleria dell’Accademia of Florence, an extremely famous museum! Much to my surprise it appeared to be a simple building that one might pass by if they did not know where it was. I found this very ironic because the Gallery is home to masterpieces of Renaissance art including Michelangelo’s original sculpture of David. The museum is divided into several interesting halls, some containing other famous works from Michelangelo. I spent hours surveying the remarkable artwork and ornate sculptures, truly captivated by the grandeur of it all. The experience was surreal to me because I was in the presence of historical art I learned about in school, a great deal of it prevailing in 14th and 15th century Florence.
While the Duomo is the most important religious building in Florence, the Palazzo Vecchio is the highest revered administrative building in the city. Constructed in 1299, the Palazzo was designed by the same architects that helped build the Duomo and the church of Santa Croce. In early times, this structure was the palace of the Signoria of the Republic of Florence and many years later it became the town hall. The building has a square design and a number of crenelations, resembling a large castle. On the exterior, a series of nine coats of arms represent the Florentine citizens, influential figures, and important alliances that have greatly shaped the history of the city.
Although Florence may not be the first city that comes to mind when you think of Italy, it will likely become a favorite after you visit and I promise that its never-ending mystery will keep you coming back. When I ventured through Florence, I found my mind wandering hundreds of years back in time and it was almost as if all of the stories unfolded right before my eyes. Time and time again, I found the history of the city so inspiring. Simply put, Florence is a magical place full of hope and promise. The energy in the air is buzzing with creativity and there are gorgeous sights to be seen nearly everywhere you look!