It is only 21 kilometers to
Pisa, with its unique monuments in Campo dei Miracoli - the huge lawn-covered 'Miracle Square' in which we can gaze in wonder at the Romanesque
cathedral, with its bright, solemn interior, the Baptistery, the Leaning Tower and the adjoining cemetery (camposanto), built to bear witness to the prosperity
and might of the ancient Marine Republic, which gave rise to a completely original type of pre-Renaissance architecture
and sculpture whose main representatives were Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, and Arnolfo di Cambio. We must also see the Piazza, Church
and Palazzo dei Cavalieri (16th c.). the Church of S. Paolo a Ripa d'Arno (11th-12th c.), and the Pisan Gothic Church of S.
Maria della Spina, the National Museum of S.
Matteo (valuable collection of Pisan sculpture and 12th-15th c. Tuscan
paintings), as well as all the line buildings that line the River Arno, and Pisa's many splendid mediaeval churches.
And so to
Pistoia, to see the group of beautiful churches: S. Domenico, S. Francesco,
S. Giovanni Fuorcivitas (12th-14th
c.), with its extraordinary white and green marble-clad facade, the Renaissance church of the Madonna dell'Umiltà, the 12th c. S. Andrea, with the famous parchments and wooden crucifix
carved by Giovanni Pisano. In the Piazza del Duomo, the center of Pisa's history and art, is the octagonal Baptistery,
Palazzo Pretorio, Palazzo del Comune, and the Cathedral with its three tiers
of Loggias adorning the facade, and the priceless altar of S. Jacopo on which Tuscan goldsmiths worked for over two centuries. The municipal museum (Museo Civico)
and the Ospedale del Ceppo, with
Giovanni della Robbia's polychrome terracotta frieze are also worth a visit. Not far away is Prato. Visit the cathedral the Galleria Comunale, the 13th
c. Emperor's Castle.
Which brings us to
Florence, an extraordinary city, whose art treasures are unparalleled anywhere in the world - a
city of refinement and elegance, which gave Italy its national language, the cradle of Humanism and the Renaissance.
Before venturing into the center of this captivating city, let us first drive up to Piazzale
Michelangelo and survey it from above (if we have time, we can also see
the nearby Romanesque church of S. Miniato al Monte, with its polychrome geometrical façade). Take Viale
dei Colli down to the city, or go via Forte
Belvedere. We should take at least three days to visit Florence, and so we will suggest a rough
guide for lack of sufficient space.
The first day starts in
Piazza del Duomo, with the octagonal Baptistery, and its splendid bronze doors by Andrea Pisano and Lorenzo Ghiberti (Michelangelo called one of
Ghiberti's two doors, 'the gate of Paradise'), the Campanile by Andrea Pisano
and Giotto, and the Cathedral of S. Maria del Fiore itself, begun in 1296 by Arnolfo di Cambio, crowned by Brunelleschi's dome. The harmonious interior
is a most worthy setting for the masterpieces it contains (works by Ghiberti, Paolo Uccello, Andrea del Castagno,
Benedetto da Maiano, Giorgio Vasari, Luca della Robbia); then the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo with a Pietà by Michelangelo and the Donatello and
Luca della Robbia's choir stalls; Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, by Michelozzo (1444-64), the Palace of Lorenzo
il Magnifico, with its chapel decorated by the Benozzo Gozzoli's brilliant
frescoes, Brunelleschi's S. Lorenzo,
the Cappelle Medicee (Medicean Chapels),
with the tombs sculpted by Michelangelo between 1524 and 1533.
We can then walk along via Calzaiuoli, passing the church of Orsanmichele which looks more like a fortress, to Piazza della
Signoria, for one thousand years the center of Florence's life, and the
scene of quarrels, celebrations and civil strife, dominated by the high tower ('Arnolfo tower') of Palazzo della Signoria, from which the square takes
its name and whose Loggia is a tiny
open air museum of masterpieces of sculpture. Palazzo Vecchio, the other name for Palazzo della Signoria
is the handwork of leading artists between 1299 and 1500, building its courtyards in styles of different ages, adding richly decorated halls, and contributing
masterpieces of art acrossthe centuries: this is where one can capture the spirit and the history of Florence,
which has produced more art and culture than any other city in the whole world. Nearby is the Uffizi Gallery, which is probably the most famous in the
world, with its masterpieces of Italian painting of every age (Cimabue, Giotto, Fra Angelico, Simone Martini, Botticelli,
Leonardo, Piero della Francesca, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, Veronese, Caravaggio), and a representative selection
of foreign schools (Dürer, Cranach, Van der Goes, Rubens, Rembrandt, etc.).
Another day we can stroll along the ancient streets, lined with handsome palaces and
buy handicrafts and antiques in the many excellent shops for which Florence is justly famed. We can visit
Palazzo Davanzati (Museo
dell'Antica Casa Fiorentina), Ponte
Vecchio (1345) with its traditional goldsmiths' shops, the monumental Palazzo Pitti (Brunelleschi and Ammannati) with
its Galleria Palatina (works by
Titian, Tintoretto, Rubens, Raphael, Ghirlandaio, Velazquez, etc.), and the Museo
degli Argenti; not to mention Boboli
garden, the Brunelleschi's Church of S. Spirito, and S. Maria del Carmine,
with frescoes by Masaccio (1425-27). We will now go back across the Arno by Santa
Trinita bridge, to visit the S.
Trinita Church, Palazzo Rucellai, and then walk along Florence's most aristocratic street, Via de' Tornabuoni, lined with
houses of the Florentine nobility, of which perhaps the best known is Palazzo
Strozzi (1500), where the Antiques Fair is held every two years. Nearby
is the Gothic-Renaissance Church of S. Maria Novella with its adjacent cloisters.
Our third walk will give a glimpse of yet more of Florence's masterpieces: the
Museo di S. Marco (works of Beato Angelico), the
Church of the Cenacolo di S.
Apollonia frescoed by Andrea del Castagno, Brunelleschi's Spedale degli Innocenti with terracotta decorations by Andrea della Robbia, the Church of SS. Annunziata, the Archaeological Museum, the Galleria
dell'Accademia which is mainly famed for a groups of works by Michelangelo.
Our next visit in the center will be to the Museo del Bargello (works by Michelangelo, Donatello, etc.) and the Gothic Church of Santa Croce - the Pantheon of Italy's great men (Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, Rossini and Foscolo
are buried here). Inside are works by Donatello and a cycle of frescoes by Giotto. To the right of the church stands
Brunelleschi's magnificent Pazzi Chapel.
For the leisurely visitor there is therefore an infinitude of museums, art galleries, palaces and churches to marvel
But there are also interesting things to do around Florence: the
Medici villas at Poggio
a Caiano, Cafaggiolo and Castello, or the peaceful Fiesole above Florence (Romanesque cathedral, Etruscan and Roman archaeological zone, Gothic Chapel of S. Francesco). One very pleasant run outside Florence
is through the Arno Valley, Mugello, Pratomagno and Casentino
through the verdant, hilly Tuscan countryside, amid grazing lands and woodlands in which the hermitages of Camaldoli and La
Verna stand, far from the bustle of modern life, imbued with the stories
and mystical legends surrounding the life of Saint Francis of Assisi.We will then drive up Colle della Consuma to the magnificent forest of Vallombrosa, Poppi, with its castle, Bibbiena and the ancient hamlet of Caprese Michelangelo, where we can see Michelangelo's birthplace, and Sansepolcro where two masterpieces of Piero della Francesca are preserved in its Municipal Museum.