Our Time In Florence, Part 2

Return to International Travel – Introduction
Review: SWISS A340-300 ORD-ZRH and Marhaba Lounge ZRH
Lodging Review: Sina Villa Medici, Florence, Italy
Our Time In Florence, Part 1
Our Time In Florence, Part 2
Lodging Review: Park Hyatt Vendome, Paris, France
Our Time In Paris, Part 1 (Louvre, Sainte-Chappelle, Arc, Eiffel Tower)
Our Time In Paris, Part 2 (Versailles)
Our Time In Paris, Part 3 (Catacombs, Musee d’Orsay)
Viking Kari and an Afternoon in Montmartre
Our Time in La Roche-Guyon and Vernon/Giverny
Our Time on the Normandy Beaches
Our Time in Les Andelys and Le Pecq
Lodging Review: Renaissance Republique, Paris, France
Review: Air France A350 CDG-ORD

Galleria dell’Accademia

Our timed ticket for the Accademia Gallery had us leaving our hotel without breakfast though we’d had a cup of tea in the room. We didn’t know exactly where we were going but thanks to Google Maps we had a good idea of how to get there and how long it would take. Once again we’d pre-purchased timed-entry tickets and that is definitely the way to go here. I believe they sell out (almost) every day so if you want guaranteed entry, pre-purchase.

Once inside everyone else walked briskly to the back of the museum where I (rightly) assumed the David statue would be. We took a leisurely route to get there, including veering off to a separate wing to look at old musical instruments. We saw some beautiful old instruments including several made by Antonio Stradavari. One thing that fascinated me was this pair of hurdy-gurdys.

A pair of hurdy gurdys dating to 1775

The white handle you see on the top one (and pulled out for demonstration purposes on the lower one) is used to crank the wheel (which is covered by the decorative strap in the top model) and there are keys on the left side of the strings (hidden under the long neck cover) used to play individual notes. The strings outside the cover are used for rhythm.

While not as famous as his Pieta in the Vatican, the Accademia has another one called the Palestrina Pieta from Michelangelo. Dating from the mid-1550s there is apparently some controversy as to whether or not it was finished by someone else. Regardless it’s in the style of the master with sharp details of Christ and rougher figures of Mary and one of the apostles. But note how large the right arm and hand are in comparison to the rest of the body.

Pieta, perhaps begun by Michelangelo

I hadn’t really expected to come upon the David statue so soon. As it turns out, the Accademia is really quite small, especially compared to the Uffizi and the Palazzo Pitti. But he’s easy to spot and has a perfectly designed space to show off Michelangelo’s work. In person the size of the hands and feet in proportion to the rest of the body is really noticeable.

Michelangelo’s David

I got quite ticked off at a couple who went behind the statue and just sat there. They had to see all of us taking photos and had to know we didn’t want them in our scrapbooks but they just kept sitting there. At least I got one good photo without people.

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower, better known as the Duomo (Dome), is a character in its own right in the city. It’s a navigation point as the dome, the largest brick dome in the world, is visible from much of the area. We took photos at various times but shortly after our visit to the Accademia decided to stand in the free line to go inside. By the time we joined the line it already spilled along the side of the church and this was before it opened! However, once the doors opened it moved rather quickly. The exit is on the side of the building so at least you don’t have folks going in and out the same doors.

Work on the cathedral began in 1296 and it took until 1436 for it to be structurally complete, with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The cathedral complex is comprised of the cathedral itself, the campanile (bell tower) and the baptistery.

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The main entrance to the cathedral has huge bronze doors that are relatively “new” as they date from 1899-1903 and display scenes from the life of the Madonna.

Massive front doors

All three buildings are covered in marble of green and pink with white trim. The various colors are found in different regions of Italy.

Many shades of marble


The interior is huge and filled with statues, stained glass and paintings of religious figures. But there are also figures of famous men and military leaders as this cathedral was built with public funds. I tried to get an upward-looking photo into the dome but the light flowing through the side windows made that a no-go.

On the wall above the main entrance is a lovely stained glass window to back the rose window on the exterior. Below it is one of the world’s oldest functional mechanical clocks, dating to 1433. It marks the Italic hour, measuring time from sunset to sunset. The clock’s hand runs counter-clockwise through 24 hours with the first and 24th hour being located at the bottom of the circle. It must be manually adjusted throughout the year so that the 24th hour corresponds to the setting of the sun. Italy adopted French time (the time system we use today) under the reign of Napoleon.


The baptistery is one of the oldest buildings in the city, as it was constructed 1059-1128.

The East doors are known as the Gates of Paradise (though these are copies) which depict scenes of the life of Christ. Designer Lorenzo Ghiberti was only 21 years old when he won the competition in 1401 to create the doors and it took him another 21 years to create all the panels.

The South doors by Andra Pisano were installed on the east side (facing the Duomo) in 1336 before being moved to their present position in 1452. The top twenty panels are scenes from the life of John the Baptist while the lower eight represent these virtues: hope, faith, charity, humility, fortitude, temperance, justice and prudence.

South Doors of the Baptistery

Lower floor

The lower floor features the catacombs (a separate ticket, which we did not buy), the gift shop and this one rather simple grave that was afforded a highly favorable location. It is the grave of Filippo Brunelleschi, who finally figured out a way to make the dome work, likely considered his crowning achievement.

Brunelleschi’s Grave

Leonardo da Vinci Museum

Looking around for other things to do in the area we ran across the Leonardo da Vinci museum. We just wandered in and there was no line and it was not crowded at all. Much of the museum is below street level and I do not recall seeing an elevator so if you are mobility-challenged you’ll want to ask if you’ll be able to see the exhibits before purchasing a ticket.

We all know da Vinci was a genius but to see the breadth of applications that his inventions have is amazing. From items used in the kitchen, to farming, military uses and more it is truly astonishing how his brain worked. Here are a few things I found interesting.

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Palazzo Medici Riccardi

While eating lunch at a small outdoor cafe near the Duomo we realized we were at the back entrance of another museum. It turned out to be the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, which was the first palace of the Medici family, home to Cosimo the Elder and Lorenzo the Magnificent.

A brief history:

  • In 1444 Cosimo I de Medici commissioned a new family residence
  • Just 50 years later, in 1494, the Medici were forced from the city and the palace was confiscated by the new government
  • In 1512, thanks to the intervention of Pope Leo X (son of Lorenzo the Magnificent), the Medicis are able to return to the city and reclaim their home
  • In 1659 it is sold to Marquis Gabriella Riccardi who expanded and modernized the palace.
  • In 1814 it was sold to the state who, after considerable renovation, convert it to administrative offices
  • In 1874 the Province of Florence buys it from the federal government and eventually restores it to its original appearance

Upon entering you find yourself in the Courtyard of Michelozzo, named for the architect and sculptor who was a favorite of the Medici family.

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Upstairs is the Magi Chapel which is quite small but is beautifully frescoed by Benozzo Gozzoli. The frescoes feature members of the Medici family. And, of course, don’t forget to look at the ceilings!

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The next three rooms are the Salon of Charles VIII, named for the French king who met with the Senator of the Republic in 1494. This great hall has magnificent Baroque tapestries though it is set up for a modern presentation.

Salon of Charles VIII Meeting Room

These other parts of the salon are equally impressive.

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This bedroom is still reserved for the Italian head of state whenever he visits Florence.

The Hall of Luca Giordano is glorious with its fresco of the Apotheosis of the Medici on the ceiling and gilded walls.

Other rooms also combine the modern and Baroque like this council room with a dispenser for hand sanitizer!

A modern meeting room with extremely old tapestries

Just before leaving you pass through the Medici Garden, a lovely green space which must have been so relaxing and a great place to escape the heat in the summer.

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In the end

If you go:

  • Buy timed tickets well in advance for the Accademia and the Uffizi and related museums. You don’t want to have to spend the day standing in line. It will be crowded enough!
  • Wear good walking shoes. Much of the old city is cobblestones and you don’t want to twist an ankle.

We felt like we crammed a lot into just over two days in Florence. What we saw may not be to your tastes and we didn’t even try to venture outside the oldest part of the city. I’m quite sure there is a lot more to see but I felt we did pretty well for the time we had allowed. But we enjoyed what we saw and were able to dine al fresco each evening as the temperatures were still quite warm even in early October.

Categories: Attraction Review, Award Travel, Europe, Historical Site, Italy, Trip Report, UNESCO World Heritage Site | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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