Explore Florence…

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy is by far my favorite place in the world!!! It is an absolute dream city that you could walk around for days and just get lost in it all. I have had the pleasure of visiting Florence twice and would love to return and spend a whole week walking around all of the museums, monuments, cathedrals, art galleries, boutiques and restaurants. Since it is a non-drive zone, it really has the feel of going back in time with the narrow streets, cobblestone sidewalks and carriages passing by. The pictures are absolutely inviting but Florence is a place that you must see for yourself. You will be in awe of the marble sculptures, cathedrals and the indescribable experience.



Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany. Florence has approximately 370,000 residents which increases to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area. Florence is famous for its history!!! The first time I experienced Florence, I knew I had to bring my husband back because he is a history buff. Known for being the centre of medieval European trade and finance, Florence is one of the wealthiest cities of the time. Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance.

The historic centre of Florence attracts millions of tourists each year, and in 2009, Euromonitor International ranked the city as the world’s 72nd most visited. Forbes ranked Florenceas one of the most beautiful cities in the world! The city also contains numerous museums and art galleries, such as the Uffizi Gallery and the Pitti Palace. Bet you didn’t know that Florence is important in Italian fashion, as it is ranked in the top fifty fashion capitals of the world.

The picture above is of the Facade of the Cathedral.

The original façade was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio while attributed to Giotto. It all started as a mid 15th century ink drawing in 1587, which is currently on display in the Museum of the Opera del Duomo (located behind the cathedral). This façade was the collective work of several artists which was completed in its lower portion and then left unfinished. It was dismantled in 1587-1588 by the Medici court architect Bernardo Buontalenti. Some of the original sculptures are on display in the Museum Opera del Duomo. The competition for a new façade turned into a huge corruption scandal and it was left bare until the 19th century.

In 1864, a competition was held to design a new façade and was won 7 years later by Emilio De Fabris. Work began in 1876 and completed in 1887. This neo-gothic façade in white, green and red marble forms a harmonious entity with the cathedral. The whole façade is dedicated to the Mother of Christ.


Duomo meaning “Italian Cathedral” can be seen for miles. It is probably the most recognized structure in all of Florence. The Cathedral is located at Piazza Duomo in the historic center of Florence. The cathedral complex, located in Piazza del Duomo, includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile. We visited the cathedral from the outside, but tours are available. Guided visits are available for the Duomo (€9), its dome, (€11, includes entrance fee), the cathedral terrace (€15, also includes the dome), and Santa Reparata (€9, includes entrance fee). All guided tours last approximately 45 minutes to one hour.

History of the Dome~ In the beginning of the 15th century, after a hundred years of construction, the Florence Cathedral was still missing its dome. The basic features of the dome had been designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296. In 1367, the architectural choice of Neri di Fioravante’s model was chosen over a competing one by Giovanni di Lapo Ghini which was one of the first events of the Italian Renaissance. At the time, the use of buttresses (structure made of brick or stone built against a wall for support or reinforcement) was forbidden in Florence. In August 1418, the Arte della Lana (the wool guild of Florence) announced a structural design competition for erecting Neri’s dome.  Filippo Brunelleschi, a master goldsmith, was chosen.

The Duomo, Cathedral

The Duomo, Cathedral

The dome posed many technical problems.

Bell Tower

Bell Tower

Brunelleschi researched the great dome of the Pantheon in Rome for solutions. There was not enough timber in Tuscany to build the scaffolding and forms.Brunelleschi chose to follow such design and employed a double shell, made of sandstone and marble. He constructed a wooden and brick model with the help of Donatello and Nanni di Banco which is currently displayed in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. The model served as a guide for the craftsmen. Construction of the dome started in 1420 and was completed in 1436. The dome was the first octagonal dome in history to be built without a temporary wooden supporting frame.

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio

The Palazzo Vecchio

The Palazzo Vecchio meaning “Old Palace” is the town hall of Florence. The massive, Romanesque, solid cubicle shaped building with a walled fortress-palace is considered to be the most impressive town hall in all of Tuscany. The location of the fortress-palace is what makes it  one of the most significant public places in Italy. It overlooks the Piazza della Signoria with the replica of Michelangelo’s David statue as well as the gallery of statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi. The Tower includes three bells, the oldest one was cast in the 13th century.

How did the building come about? The commune and people of Florence decided to build a palace in 1299 that would be worthy of the city’s importance and would provide security to the magistrates. Arnolfo di Cambio, architect, constructed Palazzo Vecchio so that the Uberti family (rebels of Florence and Ghibellines) homes would never be rebuilt on the same location. The tower contains two small cells, which imprisoned Cosimo de’ Medici in 1435 and Girolamo Savonarola in 1498. The tower is named after its designer Torre d’Arnolfo.

The large, one-handed clock was originally constructed by the Florentine Nicolò Bernardo, but was replaced in 1667 by a clock made by Vincenzo Viviani. Most of Palazzo Vecchio is now a museum but remains the symbol of local government housing the office of the mayor of Florence and it is the seat of the City Council since 1872.

Perseus with the Head of Medusa at Loggia dei Lanzi

Perseus with the Head of Medusa at Loggia dei Lanzi

The Perseus with the head of Medusa is quite a violent and interesting sculpture which was created by Benvenuto Cellini’s 1545. The sculpture sits on a square base with bronze relief panels located in the Loggia dei Lanzi of the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy. The piece was introduced to the public on April 27, 1554. Michelangelo’s David, Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus, and Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes were already in the piazza.

What is with the snakey head? The sculpture is about the mythological story of Perseus beheading Medusa. Medusa was a hideous woman-faced Gorgon whose hair was turned to snakes and anyone that looked at her was turned to stone. In the sculpture, Perseus stands naked except for a sash and winged sandals, standing on top of Medusa holding her snakey head in his hand. The body of Medusa spews blood from her severed neck. The bronze sculpture is surrounded by three huge marble statues of men: Hercules, David and later Neptune.Cellini was the first sculptor to introduce bronze in Perseus and the head of Medusa in the piazza.

The Loggia dei Lanzi (the arches above the sculptures in the picture) consists of wide arches open to the street.  The wide arches appealed so much to the Florentines, that Michelangelo even proposed that they should be continued all around the Piazza della Signoria. The Loggia dei Lanzi is an open-air sculpture gallery of antique and Renaissance art including the Medici lions.

Cosimo I de' Medici

Cosimo I de’ Medici

Cosimo I de’ Medici – Florence
I find it interesting how the bronze sculptures appear green in color. Why? Bronze alloys contain copper. When bronze oxidizes (comes in contact with water and oxygen) or “rusts”, the process causes the bronze to turn in a green color. More commonly recognized in the Statue of Liberty – due to oxidation.
The bronze equestrian statue of Cosimo I by Giambologna, pictured abovereflects the famous equestrian statue of Marc Aurelius located at the Campidoglio in Rome. It illustrates the relation between the Roman Empire and Florence and Cosimo I himself.
The David

The David

The David (statue of David)
By far the most moving experience in all of Florence is seeing the original David with your own eyes located inside the Galleria dell’Accademia. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the Galleria and therefore I have attached a picture of the replica of The David located in Palazzo Vecchio. The David is known as the world’s most famous statue.
The statue, which is 17 feet tall, was commissioned by the Florentine republic, who saw the biblical hero slaying the giant Goliath as a symbol for the creation of the nascent republic.
The statue was installed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio but in 1873 it was replaced by a replica and moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia to protect it from the elements. Another replica can be found at the center of the Piazzale Michelangelo.
The statue was created by Michelangelo in 1501-1504 from a single block of marble and instantly became admired for its proportions and attention to detail. Michelangelo chose to depict David as an adolescent instead of a young boy. The statue brought instant fame to the 29 year-old Michelangelo.
Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio means  “Old Bridge”. It is a Medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental (space between two arches) arch bridge which spans over the Arno River, in Florence. The Ponte Vecchio is unique as it has shops built along it, which used to be common. Butchers originally occupied the shops in the Ponte Vechhio but now they are filled with jewelers, art dealers and souvenir sellers.

Kids in front of Ponte Vecchio

Kids in front of Ponte Vecchio

History of the bridge~ The bridge crosses the Arno at its narrowest point where it is believed that the via Cassia (important Roman road) crossed. When was it built? The bridge first appeared in a document of 996.  It was reconstructed in stone, after being destroyed by a flood in 1117.  In 1333, the Ponte Vecchio was swept away again but two of its central piers were saved. Giorgio Vasari recorded that the bridge was rebuilt in 1345.   that attributed its design to Taddeo Gaddi, besides Giotto one of the few artistic names of the 14th Century still recalled two hundred years later. Modern historians present Neri di Fioravanti as a possible candidate. Displayed in a little gallery at the central opening of the bridge is a weathered dedication stone, which once read Nel trentatrè dopo il mille-trecento, il ponte cadde, per diluvio dell’ acque: poi dieci anni, come al Comun piacque, rifatto fu con questo adornamento, which means “In the thirty-third year following thirteen hundred, the bridge fell, from a watery flood: ten years later, at the pleasure of the Commune, it was rebuilt, with this adornment”. 

Structure of the Ponte Vecchio~ The bridge consists of three sections of arches. The main arch has a span of 98 ft and the two side arches each span 88 ft. The rise of the arches is between 11½ to 14½ feet.

On August 4, 1944, During World War II, the Ponte Vechhio was not destroyed like all other bridges in Florence.  The buildings at both ends of the bridge were destroyed which prevented access . The buildings have since been rebuilt using a combination of original and modern design.

Buca San Giovani

Buca San Giovani

Let’s eat!!!

Ristorante Buca San Giovanni

Ristorante Buca San Giovanni

Finding a restaurant or “ristorante” in Florence is no easy task I must warn you. There are 1797 restaurants in Florence!!! Fortunately, we were on tour and the restaurant was already chosen. We really were fortanute because we experienced the BEST baked lasagna we have ever had in our lives. Ristorante Buca San Giovani opened in 1882 and is located in the Piazza Di San Giovanni. They are open for lunch and dinner and ideally located downtown Florence. It is just steps away from the historical city centre and it’s masterpiece like the Cathedral, Palazzo Vecchio, Uffizi Gallery, Loggia dei Lanzi, Ponte Vecchio,The David at the Accademia. The wine list has a selection of 40 red wines!!! This is compared to the list of White/Pink wine which has 10 selections. Can you say heaven?? One of my favorite things about dining in Italy is that you will almost always have three glass at your setting for lunch or dinner for red wine, white wine and water. Can’t we all dine this way universally?? Here’s the real question, does the food, bread and wine taste better just because you are in Italy? Very well could be.

Buca San Giovanni Label

Buca San Giovanni Label

Since we were in a group, we had the pleasure of dining downstairs which is actually underground~ in the Gallery. It was amazing!! The gallery has red brick ceilings in an arcg form and feels as if you are eating in a wine cellar with wine bottles everywhere you look. Interesting historical fact~ the Buca San Giovanni was the former Sacristy of the Baptistry San Giovanni, before the building of the Cathedral Santa Reparata, later on was a secret meeting place where the Rosa Croce Masons started the activities. Many important people showed at the “Buca” like the Prince of Bulgaria for his bachelor party in the 30’s and th U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

Ristorante San Buca Giovanni

Ristorante San Buca Giovanni

Below you will find a list of some of their highlights~

Crunchy eggplant strudel with Buffalo’s milk mozzarella and grilled cherry tomatoes
Macaroni with meat and mushrooms sauce
Scamorza large raviolis with , saffron potato cream sauce and courgettes
Sliced beef with rocket and Parmesan cheese
Bitter chocolate basket with cream and strawberries


Dry almond biscuits with Vin Santo

Cream pudding with chocolate


Rice pears cake with warm Armagnac cream

Bitter chocolate basket with Chantilly cream and strawberries

Mille-feuille with orange cream and cinnamon

Cheese cake with morellos sauce

Crème caramel with aniseed flavour

Chocolate soft cake with vanilla ice cream


Strawberries coupe

Ice-cream coupe

Movies you ask? Florence is so picturesque that is has been the setting for many movies. Many of the movies are International of course but some that you may be familiar with are The Dark Knight Rises, A Room With a View, Tea With Mussolini, Stay As You Are, Hannibal, The Devil in Love, The Mandrake, My Friends and Romola.

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy



Shopping!!!! My favorite thing about shopping in Florence is the Italian leather.

I was sniffing purses, belts and wallets everywhere we went. Be sure to look for the label stating “genuine leather made in Italy” as there are a lot of vendors selling knock offs and faux leather.



Money Saving Tips: Don’t buy any knockoff goods from any of the hawkers selling their fake Prada (or any other high-end designer) on the streets. It’s illegal, and fines are astronomical if the police happen to catch you. The police will fine you a hefty fee while the vendors only receives a small fine. Faux leather is pretty easy to detect. Touch, feel and smell the leather. As crazy as that may seem, I opened all the zippers and looked at the lining. If it has a plastic feel to it at all, don’t buy. The vendors on the street, as opposed to in the shops, often times will offer bargains. I bought two leather purses for €10 less than if I would have purchased them individually.

5wheelsto5star was featured in the March 2014 issue of Destinations Travel Magazine

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