There is perhaps no city in the world that offers keener attraction to an architect than does Florence. The attraction lies in its extraordinary mingling of great art and literature, natural splendor, remarkable history, and architectural heritage. Nestled in the Apennines, the cradle of the Renaissance, home of Dante, Michelangelo, and the Medici, Florence is ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in the world by Forbes and receives about 13 million visitors every year.
To inspire your next adventure, here is a crisp look into 15 places that architects must visit in Florence!
1. Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore
An architectural masterpiece and the pride of the Florentine skyline, Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is the most famous tourist attraction in Italy. Located in the Piazza del Duomo, it was constructed between 1296 and 1436 in the Italian Gothic and early Renaissance style. More than 500 years after it was built, the dome of the cathedral which was designed by Filippo Brunelleschiremains the largest masonry dome ever built. The exterior of the cathedral is faced with polychrome marble panels in an elaborate Gothic Revival assortment of green, pink, and white. The cathedral complex is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the Historic Centre of Florence.
2. Baptistery of St. John
Right in front of the Duomo stands the oldest religious monument in Florence – the Baptistery of St. John. Constructed between 1059 and 1128 in the Florentine Romanesque style, it has an octagonal plan and an octagonal lantern with a cupola whereas, the façade is clad in geometrically patterned colored marble, white Carrara marble, and green Prato marble. The Baptistery is popular for its three bronze doors with relief sculptures designed one each by Pisano, Ghiberti, and Michelangelo.
3. Basilica di San Lorenzo
One of the largest and oldest churches in Florence, the Basilica di San Lorenzo was the Parish of the Medici dynasty and is closely connected to its triumphant rise to power. The church is part of a larger monastic complex which includes the Old Sacristy by Brunelleschi; the Laurentian Library by Michelangelo; the New Sacristy by Michelangelo; and the Medici Chapels by Matteo Nigetti, where most of the Medici family members are buried. The Basilica di San Lorenzo is one of the most impressive examples of Renaissance architecture in its symmetry and harmony. Michelangelo’s New Sacristy was designed in the Mannerist style that was becoming more popular in the 1520s.
4. Accademia Gallery
Located in close proximity to the Piazza del Duomo and the Basilica di San Lorenzo, the Accademia Gallery is most famous for the sculptures by the great Renaissance artist, Michelangelo – Prisoners, St. Matthew, and, above all, the statue of David. It also houses works by great Italian artists such as Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Pontormo, Andrea del Sarto, Allessandro Allori, and Orcagna, drawing millions of visitors every year.
5. Basilica di Santo Spirito
Another preeminent example of Renaissance architecture, the Basilica di Santo Spirito is located in the Oltrarno quarter, facing the square with the same name. In contrast to the bare and modest facade, the interiors are decorated and house Michelangelo’s wooden crucifix, some fine altarpieces, and frescoes worth spending a few minutes on.
6. Palazzo Pittiand Boboli Gardens
Originally commissioned as the home of Florentine banker Luca Pitti in 1458 with a design by Brunelleschi, the Palazzo Pitti is another famous attraction in Florence. The Palace was later purchased by Cosimo I de’ Medici and his wife Eleanor of Toledo as the new Grand Ducal residence and subsequently enlarged and modified. Today, it houses four museums: The Treasury of the Grand Dukes on the ground floor, the Palatine Gallery, and the Imperial and Royal Apartments on the first floor, the Gallery of Modern Art, and the Museum of Costume and Fashion on the second floor. Behind the palace stretch the famous Boboli Gardens which comprise the largest monumental green area in Florence.
7. Palazzo Vecchio
A microcosm of art and history, Palazzo Vecchio was built in 1299 to house the government organizations of the republic and as a symbol of the civil power of the city. Located in one of the most important squares of the city, Piazza Della Signoria, it currently houses Museo dei Ragazzi, offices of the Town Hall, and the Cinquecento Hall where special events are held. Interestingly, the entire construction rests upon an ancient Roman theatre and during a visit, one can venture underground to admire the ruins!
8. Uffizi Gallery
Right next to Palazzo Vecchio is one of the world’s finest and oldest art galleries, the Uffizi. The gallery boasts an unparalleled collection of sculptures and paintings from the Middle Ages to the Modern period with featured works of artists such as Giotto, Simone Marini, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Botticelli. The Uffizi was originally built between 1560-1580, after a design by Vasari, to house the Granduca Magjistratures of Tuscany. However, in 1590, a part of the building was converted into a private exhibition space to accommodate the large art collection of the House of Medici and, in 1769, it was finally transformed into a publicly-open museum.
9. Ponte Vecchio
A jewel in the city’s architectural crown, the Ponte Vecchiospans the narrowest point of the Arno river. It is famous for its wide span arches topped by several shops occupied by Florence’s talented goldsmiths, art sellers, and antique boutiques. The bridge was intended as a system of defense. However, when the Medici desired a private passageway that connects Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery with the Pitti Palace, the Vasari Corridor, running above the shops on the Ponte Vecchio, was commissioned. The bridge has been resilient against floods, bombing campaigns, and erosion during its centuries-long existence.
10. Basilica of Santa Maria Novella
The Basilica of Santa Maria Novella is one of the finest examples of Florentine Renaissance and combines the craftsmanship of several talented artists. The impressive green and white marble façade was completed in 1470 by Leon Battista Alberti, almost 200 years after the church was built. To complement the preexisting medieval structure, Alberti combined the ideas of humanist architecture, proportion, and classically inspired detailing. The interior of the church, with walls and ceiling covered in detailed frescoes, houses extraordinary works of art by Masaccio, Ghirlandaio, Botticelli, Ghiberti, and Giotto, among others.
11. Basilica of Santa Croce
The largest Franciscan church in the world, Santa Croce is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Foscolo, the philosopher Gentile and the composer Rossini. The church was completed in 1385 in the Florentine gothic style but the neo-gothic polychrome marble façade was added in 1863. Its most notable features are its 16 chapels decorated with frescoes, the Sacristy, the tombs, the cenotaphs, and the bell tower which was added in 1842.
12. Bargello National Museum
Imposing and fortress-like, the Bargello was used as a prison until 1786 and is presently home to the largest collection of Italian sculptures and minor arts of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance including works by Donatello, Verrocchio, Michelangelo, Benvenuto Cellini, Jacopo Sansovino, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi. It also has a fine collection of textiles, tapestries, ceramics, silver, armor, and coins, making this place one of the most suggestive of Florence.
13. Mercato Centrale
Housed in an 1870s building designed by Giuseppe Mengoni with soaring glass and wrought-iron ceiling, airy interiors, and arcades on all four sides, Mercato Centrale is Florence’s historic food and produce market. The two-level food hub is a must-see place to appreciate the energy, chaos, and spectacle of an authentic Italian market.
14. Caffé Gilli
An absolute favorite of writers, artists, and actors from all over the world, Caffè Gillies the oldest café in the city of Florence. It dominates the entire Piazza Della Repubblica with its Belle Époque style, stained glass windows, Murano glass candlesticks, crystal chandeliers, and frescoed ceilings. During a trip to Florence, one must visit Gilli to enjoy the feeling of a timeless style and a quality that for almost three centuries does not seem to set.
15. Piazzale Michelangelo
A trip to Florence will be incomplete without a stupendous look out over the city from the Piazzale Michelangelo. The sweeping panoramic view encompasses the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio, Santa Croce, and other landmarks. Dedicated to Michelangelo Buonarroti, the Piazzale has a replica of David in bronze and La Loggia, a neoclassical restaurant which was originally intended to house a museum of works by the great Renaissance master.