A trip to Tuscany would never be complete without stops in Florence. One of the top attractions in Florence, and in all of Tuscany, is the Florence Cathedral. The Cathedral is formally called the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, which means Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower. This is one of the largest churches in Italy, and the dome is the largest brick dome ever made. The three buildings that make up this complex are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Visitors will want to give themselves about an hour to explore the church. Note that it is free to visit the church, but if you would like to climb to the top of the dome, there is an entry fee.
The Uffizi Gallery is gorgeous inside and out. Start by admiring the architecture of the gallery itself, and then move into the museum. Give yourself at least two hours, possibly three, to admire all the works you will find inside. The Uffizi is known for as one of the oldest art museums in the world. The museum is actually housed in a palace. Construction began on it in 1560 (and continued through 1581), and it was home to the Italian magistrates.
In 1765, the palace officially opened to the public as an art gallery. If you visit during the high season, which is typically July, note that wait times to get into the museum can be as long as five hours, so plan ahead. You can, however, reserve tickets in advance, and shorten your wait time considerably.
Inside the Uffizi, you will find works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, and more.
Ponte Vecchio and the Palazzo Vecchio
Two more stops in Florence are the Ponte Vecchio and the Palazzo Vecchio. The Palazzo Vecchio (which means old palace) functions today as the town hall of Florence.
This is one of the most significant public places in Italy, due to its history and its gallery of statues (including a replica of Michelangelo’s David). The palace was once home to the Medici dukes. This was Florence’s principal palace, and construction began in 1299. It was designed as the seat of the Signoria, the fathers of the city’s republican government.
Palazzo Vecchio is much more relaxed, and a lot less crowded, than the Uffizi, so you can take your time and really look at the art and architecture. Grab a guidebook before you go, so that you do not miss a thing, or sign up for a guided tour. Admission is free, but there is a charge for guided tours.
And from the Palazzo Vecchio, visitors are afforded great views of the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s famous bridge. The Ponte Vecchio is a medieval bridge, made of stone. The bridge is lined with shops, as it was originally when the bridge was built. Today you will find jewellery shops, souvenir shops and even small art galleries along the bridge.
Lovers have recently begun to leave padlocks along the bridge, as is popular in Paris, as a symbol of their eternal (locked) love. The key is then thrown into the river. Just note that if you are caught locking your padlock onto the bridge, there will be a fine to pay.
Also in Florence, you can visit the famous David, a statue by Michelangelo. This statue is a must-see for visitors; he is Michelangelo’s magnificent marble statue, an ode to the biblical hero, David.
It is housed in the Galleria dell’Accademia, which was the first academy for drawing that was ever established in Europe. Later it was expanded to add more general elements of the arts, and it finally got its own gallery, which is where David now stands.
The statue of David was actually commissioned by the Cathedral Works Committee, in the year 1501. Michelangelo was only 26 at the time. The piece was actually a monument at one time, that stood outdoor’s a symbol of the city’s Republican beliefs. However, the statue had to be moved inside, out of the elements, in order to protect it.
Leaning Tower of Pisa
And finally, no trip to Tuscany would be complete without seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa, that is located in, of course, Pisa. The tower is so well known because of its obvious lean. This is a freestanding bell tower of Pisa’s cathedral. It is over 183 feet tall, with 296 steps (294 on the leaning side). Today, it leans at an angle of just under 4 degrees.
Scholars disagree on just who was the original architect of the tower, as there are no actual records and no signature. Construction of the tower began in 1173, and took over 199 years, done in stages.
The tower is considered to be stable today, so do not worry when you visit. It is not going anywhere. Tickets are required if you would like to go inside and climb the tower’s steps and take in the view from the top.