This itinerary winds through what were once the streets and historical palaces where the Arts were performed. The powerful civilian corporations, between the 12th and 13th centuries, in good part due to Florence’s extraordinary economic development, contributed to render the city one of the most important in medieval Europe. The route will touch on the most important public and private buildings like Orsanmichele, Palazzo Vecchio, Palazzo Strozzi, and the squares and streets where major political events were conducted for the conquest of liberty for the republic.
Length of route: approx. 2.3 kilometers
Buses from Piazza San Marco and Piazza Duomo: # 6-10-11-17
Buses from Piazza Antinori and Piazza San Marco: # 6-11
Time needed: approx. 3 hours, not including museum visits or bar/restaurant breaks.
Suggested refreshment stops: Historic cafés Gilli, Paszkowski, Giubbe Rosse, Rivoire, Drogheria Procacci, and Cantinetta Antinori restaurant.
Leaving the Hotel Orto de’ Medici, go to your right towards Via degli Arazzieri and then left into Piazza San Marco. In front of the churchyard there are numerous ATAF bus lines (17,11,10,6) that will bring you to the center (remember to buy a bus ticket before getting on).
Get off at the first stop; Via de’ Martelli, and cross over Piazza San Giovanni on the left, and pass the Baptistery, and Palazzo Arcivescovile, and turn towards Via Roma.
Go down the entire street until you reach a large quadrangular square, Piazza della Repubblica where your itinerary begins.
The intersection of the two directives marked the exact center of the city and it was preciously in this spot that an appeasing column was erected, substituted in 1431 by the Colonna dell’Abbondanza (Column of Abundance); but the one we see today is instead from the early 1950’s. Around it extends the Forum or rather the political and social commercial center of the city.
This area extends towards the north and was fitted with walls, with additions between the 1200’s and mid 1300’s, that arrived up to the present streets of circumvallation. With Florence as the capital, at the end of the 1800’s, a radical architectural intervention transformed the medieval Mercato Vecchio (old market).
The piazza was “cleaned up” and enlarged and new edifices rose around it. A headstone found on the Arco Trionfale, gives testimony to these changes. You can have lunch at one of the three historical spots found in the piazza; “Gilli”, tea room done in Belle Epoch, “Paszkowski”, unforgettable concert café and “le Giubbe Rosse” where exponents of the Florentine Futurism once used to meet.
Crossing over the piazza, go towards the south into Via Calimala and stop on the left corner of Via Orsanmichele. In front of you find the Palazzo dell’Arte della Lana (palace of the art of wool) also called Calimala, built in 1308 and seat of the powerful citizens corporation whose coat of arms, representing the Agnus Dei, is placed on the main façade. The edifice, where the Tabernacolo della Tromba (tabernacle of the trumpet) is found, is connected to the adjacent Church of Orsanmichele, through a covered stairway redone in recent years located on Via Orsanmichele.
At one time, in this area, an orchard and little church dedicated to Saint Michele once stood. Successively, Arnolfo di Cambio planned a loggia destined to be a wheat market. During the pestilence, a sacred image inside the loggia became a place of pilgrimage and the wheat mill was transformed into a church called San Michele in orchard, today Orsanmichele. The arches were closed and the image of the Madonna of Pilastro was inserted in the beautiful tabernacle, done by Andrea Orcagna, found inside the church. Between 1300 and 1660 the church continued to collect art by great artists, still visible today, like the statues standing in the external niches of the building portraying patrons of the Florentine Arts.
Following down Via Orsanmichele, you will find yourself on Via de’ Calzaiouli, (in the past called via dei bandierai, via dei caciaiuoli, via dei fiascai, and via dei pittori), an important urban road lined with bottegas that connects the religious pole in Piazza Duomo to the commercial civilian pole in Piazza della Signoria. Turn again to your left and admire still another facade of the church of Orsanmichele in front of that of the church of San Carlo of the Lombardi, where inside one can find paintings from different epochs, from the 14th to 18th centuries.
You will have now reached Piazza della Signoria, dominated by the stately and massive Palazzo Vecchio. In Medieval times the Piazza, in small dimensions, was found in the quarters occupied by the tower houses of the Uberti family. After Palazzo Vecchio was built, the piazza was enlarged and cleaned up, sending away beggars and prostitutes. Today, the piazza is adorned with numerous statues of significant symbolism of political Florentine history.
In the left corner stands the Statue of Neptune, done by Ammannati and affectionately called “il Biancone” by the Florentines, and on the left of the fountain we find the Equestrian Statue of Cosimo I of the Medici’s (1519-1574), who directed the political life of the city while living in Palazzo Vecchio.
The stairway of this palace is lined with a series of sculptures, almost all of them copies. From the left, you can observe the Marzocco; a seated lion and emblem of Florence, a group of bronzes that represent the Florentine republic in the vestments of Judith beheading Holoferne, symbol of tyranny, and a copy of David by Michelangelo, or rather, the triumph of the republican liberty over the powers of the Medici’s.
Numerous palaces crown the piazza; to the east you can see the Tribunal Palazzo of Mercatanzia with numerous coats of arms of the Fine Arts Corporations sculpted on the façade. The tribunal was composed of six foreign advocates and six civilian advocates, chosen by the main Arts to judge law suits among Florentine merchants no matter where in the world they happened to be.
What really determines the grandeur of the piazza is the presence of Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace), initially called “Palazzo dei Priori” (Priors Palace) then Palazzo della Signoria (Seignior’s Palace) and later Palazzo Vecchio when the most famous Lord of Florence, Cosimo I, went to live in the new palace of Palazzo Pitti.
Next to Palazzo Vecchio one can admire the Loggia Lanzi, work attributed to Orcagna, that during the times of Priors served as a place for public ceremonies.
Today, numerous statues, among which the Perseo by Benvenuto Cellini, enrich the internals of the edifice.
You could stop for an aperitif at the historical Café Rivoire, noted for its hot chocolate, that you can see right in front of Palazzo Vecchio.
After taking a break here, stay to the right of the piazza and go towards Via Vacchereccia, and then cross over Via Por Santa Maria where you will find the Loggia del Mercato Nuovo or Del Porcellino. The wool, silk and precious objects markets were once held under the loggia, constructed in 1547.
Follow on to Via Porta Rossa and going towards the right you will arrive in Piazza di Parte Guelfa where you will find the Palace of the same name, judiciary seat that, up until the ascent of power of the Medici’s, had a strong control on the political life of Florence and was the representative institution of the oligarchy during the period of the republic. It was the seat of the Guelf generals quarters during the years of disputes with the Ghibellines, and therefore its name. The façade, as well as a little loggia with the Vasari staircase, presents the coats of arms of popes, the municipal, and those of the Guelfs and Medicean, done by Giambologna.
Go back to Via Porta Rossa and follow on until you reach Piazza Davanzati. On the right, at no.13 you find Palazzo Davanzati built in the14th century and purchased in 1951 by the Italian State who instituted the Museo della Casa Fiorentina antica (Museum of antique Florentine houses). Inside, there is a collection of various types of furnishings that document the typical aspect of the Florentine dwelling. Continue your itinerary going left into Via Porta Rossa and then right into the short street of Via Monalda and you will arrive in Piazza Strozzi. Commissioned by Filippo Strozzi, fierce enemy of the Medici’s, Palazzo Strozzi is the most grandeur Renaissance building in Florence. It appears like a small fort in the heart of the city. Inside you will find different cultural institutions, among which the Gabinetto Viesseux, hosting an important international library. It is also seat to numerous exhibitions.
Crossing over the courtyard of the palace, you will find yourself in Via de’ Tornabuoni. Around 1400, this street was dedicated to the Tornabuoni family and through the centuries has had different names including “Belli Sporti”. Today, still, this via is considered the “salotto di Firenze (Florence’s salon) because of the numerous high fashion shops like Gucci, Prada, Trussardi, Coveri and Ferragamo and precious jewellers like Tiffany and Cartier. We suggest that you stop at Procacci’s at no.64/r, one of the few epochal food shops remaining in the original area where one can taste famous truffled sandwiches. And if it’s already time for lunch, go to the nearby Piazza Antinori where, besides admiring the beautiful church of S. Gaetano, one of the few examples of Baroque style in Florence, and the Renaissance Palazzo Antinori, you can enter the palace. To your right find the Cantinetta Antinori that proposes refined Tuscan dishes and renown wines of the winery of Antinori.
Leaving the Palace, cross over the piazza and in front of the newsstand on the sidewalk, you will find the bus line ATAF no’s. 11, 6, 36, 37 that will take you to Piazza San Marco. Get off in front of the San Marco bar and from here, on foot, turn left into Via degli Arazzieri, turn right into Via S. Gallo and you have arrived back at your hotel.
Buildings and Museums of historical and artistic interest along the way
Open from 10 am to 5 pm; Closed on Mondays.
Open daily from 9 am to 7 pm; Sundays and Holidays from 9 am to 2 pm including the Epiphany, Easter Monday, April 25th, June 2nd, November 1st, December 8th, December 26th.
Closed on: Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter, May 1st and August 15th.
Open daily from 8:15 am to 1:50 pm.
Closed on the 2nd and 4th Sunday of each month and on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Monday of each month. Also closed on New Year’s Day, May 1st and Christmas.
You can visit the loggia on the ground floor, the first floor halls of; Salone Madornale, Sala of the Pappagalli, the Studiolo, Camera of the Pavoni and the two new halls dedicated to lace.
On the second floor you are limited to visit the Bedroom of Castellana di Vergy, the Studiolo and the Dining Room. Second floor access is organized for groups, on appointment only for the hours of 10 am, 11 am and 12 midday on the days that the museum is normally open.
Opened according to programmed exhibits.
Loggia del Porcellino
Open from 8 am to 7 pm; Closed on Monday mornings and Sundays.
Cantinetta Antinori (inside Palazzo Antinori)
Open from 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm and again from 7 pm to 10:30 pm.
Closed on Saturdays and Sundays and the entire month of August.