Florence: Italy’s Artistic Soul

Everywhere you go in Florence, art bursts out of the street to greet you like a welcoming friend.

Of course, this is of little surprise – the Tuscan capital is home to some of the most famous galleries in the world, such as the Uffizi Gallery and Galleria dell’Accademia – the latter being home to Michelangelo’s original statue of David.

While lovers of classical art would loathe to miss exploring these somewhat pricey galleries, the casual tourist will find enough sculpture and beautiful architecture elsewhere to keep their artistic curiosity satisfied without having to fork out those extra Euros.

Palazzo Vecchio and, to the right, Loggia dei Lanzi

Indeed, David’s statue has become something of a symbol in Florence, and its replicas are to be found around the city’s most famous sights. A perfectly reconstructed bust flanks David’s original position outside the city’s ancient town hall, Palazzao Vecchio (whose courtyards are well worth poking your head in to see how the in/famous Medici family used to live), adjancent to the open-air Loggia dei Lanzi. This building, whose impressive archways open onto the Piazza della Signora, is jam-packed with Renaissance sculptures as well as restored artworks from antiquity.

But if you’re trying to find David at his best, there’s no better located statue than that which perches atop the Piazzelle Michelangelo, just outside the city’s historical centre. Arguably Florence’s most famous square, the Piazzelle overlooks the river Arno and the old town; the Duomo di Firenze’s intimidating and architecturally innovative dome rising over the plains, seeped in the lights of Tuscany.

There’s arguably nowhere more romantic in Italy than the views over Florence from the Piazzelle Michelangelo or the nearby San Miniato al Monte, where you can hear music playing and the Palazzo and Vecchio and Duomo rising from Florence’s flatlands like ancient skyscrapers

Here, David overlooks the city that has been home to Machiavelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Italy’s most celebrated poet, Dante Alighieri, whose Medieval house museums charts the history of the region as well as displaying restored rooms from that era.

It may not be the original, but there’s no better place to see David than in the square which holds his sculptor’s name

Masonry is not a forgotten art, and contemporary sculptors’ workshops which line the city often have open windows, offering visitors a sneak peek to potential future Italian masterpieces.

For budget holidaymakers or those who are more interested in modern art, the Aira gallery hosts a revolving door of exhibitions from contemporary artists from all around the world; while the Academia della Arti del Disegne hosts some spectacular free exhibitions.

The other Italy: If you weren’t interested in sculpture before going to Florence, you’ll have a taste for it after – Saura Cavallini at the Academia della Arti del Disegne

But, as anywhere in Italy, if you’re searching for art you only have to look up. The city is populated with a plethora of churches and cathedrals which decorate the skyline like deliciously picked pizza toppings. The Duomo, formally the Cattedrale di Santa Maria, cast in stones the colour of the Italian flag, may be the most impressive (and worth the long queues for entry), but the cloisters of San Lorenzo and the city’s smaller churches are not to be missed.

More worth a visit still is the Moorish Revival Great Synagogue. Architecturally stunning and situated amongst some pretty gardens with trees somewhat reminiscent of Jerusalem, the awesome hall is joined by exhibitions and a special video detailing the history of Jews in Tuscany, while also offering harrowing images of the Jewish ghettoes in the city.

The Great Synagogue’s design is reminiscent of Middle Eastern architecture

Nearby is Florence’s Sant’Amborgio market. If Italy has two great passions, one must be art, while the other is food. The restaurants which flank the Arno are reasonably priced, and offer pasta and pizza as high quality as can be expected from central Italy; and the cafes which flank the Duomo and spill out into the square are charming; but if you’re after a true taste of Florence, there’s nowhere better to go for a quick and cheap bite than Sant’Amborgio and the Mercato Centrale, stuffed to the brink with street food and a variety of regional salamis and cheeses.

Octopus trapazzine from Mercato Centrale – seafood in Florence, as anywhere in Italy, is world-class

Everywhere you go in Florence, art, music, and beautiful aromas follow you. Florence, like all great Italian cities, is a city to get lost in – write a short itinerary based on the sights which appeal to you the most, but spend your time following your feet as they glide you over the Ponte Vecchio, past the open-window gift shops of this ancient bridge selling golden souvenirs to honeymooners to the tune of street singers; outside unassuming church facades out of whose closed doors flow opera and hymns set to classical pieces at all hours of the day; and along the banks of the Arno at Terzo Giardino, turning back as the tide begins to rise with the growing of the beautiful orange moon over the city.

Above: view of Ponte Vecchio.
Below: crowds gathering for buskers, such as Claudio Spadi, who serenade tourists and locals alike on the ancient bridge

Florence feels timeless – its narrow streets erupting into piazzas which buzz with life, cars struggling through the charming alleyways, and people gathering at street corners all hours of the night like the Medieval City Which Never Sleeps. Let yourself get lost in it, invite the sights and smells of the city to worm their way into your mind without a guidebook, only your must-see sights at hand just to stop you from spending all your time doing the easiest, and the best, thing to do in the city – drift from charming street to charming street, falling in love effortlessly with every single thing that you see.

Just like Rome, history rears its head around every corner in Florence

Matteo Everett

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