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10 Essential Experiences in Florence

15thCentury Frescoes
Santa Maria del Carmine
Piazza del Carmine

Viewing numbers are limited so you have the chance to get up close and personal with this unmissable visual tour de force. Masaccio’s frescoes in this small chapel achieved instant celebrity status for their ground-breaking use of perspective and psychological drama. Make this your first stop, then head out to see its influence all over the art galleries, museums and churches across this city.


Filippo Brunelleschi
First Cloister
Basilica Santa Croce

It wasn’t all about the dome, you know. Within the first cloister of Santa Croce, that renaissance bruiser, Brunelleschi created a building for the powerful Pazzi family that is more temple than chapel. A perfect harmony of cool grey and white stone calms the mind and raises your spirits. Inspired by antiquity yet revolutionary for its time, the Pazzi chapel is a perfect place to rest and reflect after all those eye popping Giotto’s and Gaddi’s inside the basilica. Try and visit when it is raining for a truly celestial experience.

Wood with Polychromy and Gold
Museo dell’Opera de Duomo

Stark. Desolate. Shocking. You don’t expect those words to be connected with the exquisite artistry of Donatello. However, his wooden Mary Magdalene will stop you in your tracks when you discover her standing disconsolately in this bright, airy and uncrowded museum. She is a symbol of the hard core Florentine religiosity that still exists today. Beneath the colour, harmony and beauty of the renaissance ideal, lurks the price to be paid for faith.



So you have made the trek up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, gaped in awe at the mosaics in San Miniato and have photographed ‘the view’ from every angle. Now you can relax and amble back down to the city.

Take the Viale Galileo and turn down either Via del Monte ale Croci or Via del'Erta Canina. Along the way down you will find benches,little walls, flower beds and hedges all discretely positioned for your viewing pleasure. Beyond is the classic Florentine landscape of cypress trees and villas merging into an ever changing panorama. These streets are indeed a perfect dialogue between architecture and nature.

Palazzo Spini Feroni 
At Piazza Santa Trinita 5/R

You no longer need to make an appointment in store to view this gorgeous tribute to the master shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo. All his greatest designs are exhibited, including the shoe blocks of the great, good and not so good.

On the top floor, you will see shoes that belonged to Audrey Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, Wallis Simpson and many more. The whole space is stunning. You don’t have to be a shoe fetishist (who…me?) to be mesmerised by the smell of leather, the spikiness of a stiletto heel and the simple chic of a ballet flat. The museum shop is pretty fabulous too. Great fun.


Something very special happens when you wander into Piazza Santo Spirito at dusk. Space seems to collapse in on itself and the slightly eerie and austere church of Santo Spirito seems to grow large and ominous. Everything grows still and suddenly you feel very small and insignificant. Could you be shrinking?

Shake off your nerves with a meal at the wonderful Osteria Santo Spirito which is tucked into a corner of the square. When darkness descends and you head out into the night, all will be well. Look around the square. There was nothing to worry about. The church is back in its rightful place, you can hear night sounds all around you, perhaps it was just your imagination….or was it?

Chiesa Santa Felicita
Piazza Santa Felicita

Not freaked out enough after your visit to Santo Spirito at sunset? Continue your journey into the weirder aspects of Florence with a visit to the Chiesa Santa Felicita, just a few steps from the Ponte Vecchio in the Oltrano.

Trippy, dippy and slightly hippy, Pontormo’s ‘Pieta’ is possibly the strangest painting in the city. Acid colours, languid forms, strange faces and a format that is well… in your face, makes it feel like everything is taking place in extreme slow motion and possibly on another planet.

Tip the church warden to open the gate in front of the work and you will receive the startling impression that Christ is is just about to be lowered onto the alter in front of you! Beautiful in its bizarreness, this work may revisit you in your dreams.


If Venice is a city of Annunciations and Rome is a city of Depositions, then Florence is Last Supper Central. You will find that some like the Ghirlandaio’s in San Marco and Ognissanti are easy to view, others are well off the beaten track like Andrea Del Sarto’s stunning work in San Salvi and Perugino’s masterpiece in Sant Onofrio.


Use your charm and the slightly alarming nuns of the Calza may let you take a peep at their prized work by Franciabigio. If you are an art head, there is no better way to discover the city.

Benozzo Gozzoli
Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Via Carvour

Finding this delightful work is half the fun. You enter into what looks like a municipal building.. well, it is a municipal building actually but that is another story. You buy a ticket from a stone faced Florentine matron and then figure out your own way to the chapel.

Now this may take you up and down stairs, past startled office workers, cleaners and other assorted unusual types. You may come across a hall of gilded mirrors or a serene Lippi Madonna propped in the corner of what seems to be a council chamber. Never mind that, sooner or later you will walk into the tiny space that features Gozzoli’s who’s who of Florence all packed into the Procession of the Magi.Exotic animals, strange birds, brightly attired people are all on their way to see the Christ child. There is no end to it. You keep discovering tiny details. Something to make you smile like the Star Trek salute of the painter himself or the gorgeous landscape at its edges. You can still see the exact landscape from the vantage point of the Porcelain museum at the top of the Boboli Gardens.
Don’t be startled to find yourself sharing the space with a sharp tongued lady guard, who seems to be constantly arguing with her hapless husband on her cell phone. ‘Shhhh’ her at your own risk. It doesn’t matter anyway, the zany atmosphere matches the walls. Give yourself a laugh and visit.


Piazza San Marco

Like it’s most famous inhabitant, Fra Angelico, this beautiful museum is unassuming and serene but boy, does it pack a punch. You enter into a lovely cloister and then head into a room lined with exquisite Angelicos. The artist’s versatility is on full display. Beautiful colours and imagery in some paintings, gruesome horrific imagery in others. Fascinating stuff.

At the far end of the room, a monochromatic Madonna Enthroned dominates the wall. It is by another resident of the monastery Fra Bartolommeo and stands in contrast to the bright colours and energy of Angelico’s work.


But really you go to San Marco for the cells. The monks cells which feature Angelico’s work depicting scenes from the life of Christ. Cell Three gains the most attention. It is an Annunciation in pale washed tones with a beautiful sense of dignity and circumspection. However, there is something for everyone here. Children in particular will be spellbound by the surreal images of floating hands surrounding a blindfolded Christ or a levitating Virgin enthroned with the saints lurking around below her. The cells are small with one window each. They offer an immediate sense of both the isolation and consolation of their inhabitant’s faith.

Don’t miss the cell of Savonarola. This puritanical monk took the city by storm preaching fire and brimstone. This was the guy who thought up the Bonfire of the Vanities in which so much Florentine art and literature was lost forever. Both Botticelli and Fra Bartolommeo were gaga over him. Suffice to say, the Florentines became fed up and invited Savonarola to a bonfire of his own! Beware… the cell has a strange energy about it, it feels different to the others, it may make your skin crawl. Funny how some spaces hold a malevolent atmosphere.

On the way out, don’t miss Ghirlandaio’s Last Supper. It is in the book shop! Only in Florence…..

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