Arno South Bank Walking Tour (Self Guided), Florence

The area south of Arno river, also called Oltrarno ("Beyond the Arno"), is a quieter place but not less interesting. Here you can find the Pitti Palace whose collection of paintings is second only to the Uffizi and the vast Boboli Gardens once enjoyed by the Medici and the royal family. This self guided walk takes you to these and other wonderful places, along the way passing by charming narrow streets and plenty of artisan workshops.
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Arno South Bank Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Arno South Bank Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Florence (See other walking tours in Florence)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: greghasleft
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge)
  • Santa Felicita
  • Palazzo Pitti
  • Boboli Gardens (Giardino di Boboli)
  • Casa Guidi (Home of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
  • San Felice in Piazza
  • La Specola
  • Via Maggio
  • Basilica di Santo Spirito
  • Santa Maria del Carmine
  • San Frediano in Cestello
1
Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge)

1) Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) (must see)

Ponte Vecchio (or The Old Bridge) in Florence appeared in documents for the first time in 996. Of all the six local bridges crossing the river Arno, it was the only one spared by the retreating Germans in 1944. Today, this Medieval stone arch bridge stands testament to what a monarch can accomplish in terms of lasting legacy.

Still lined with shops, as was commonplace in the Middle Ages, this bridge is presently occupied by jewelers, art dealers and souvenir sellers, whereas initially, its tenants were all butchers who habitually dumped rotten animal carcasses straight into the river below. That was the case until the 16th century when Grand Duke Fernandino I de' Medici demanded that all the butcher shops were replaced by goldsmiths – thus not only did he rid the bridge of its rotting stench, but also turned it into the golden-most spot in Italy.

If looking at Ponte Vecchio from a distance, one can notice there an upper level, which is in fact a kilometer-long tunnel linking the Palazzo Pitti with Palazzo Vecchio and using which, back in the day, Duke Fernandino could walk freely between the two palaces whenever he felt insecure in public. Although the passageway is now closed since 2016 for safety reasons, the Uffizi Gallery has announced plans to re-open it by 2021.

One of the legends surrounding the bridge is it that the economic term “bankruptcy” originated right here when a money-changer who couldn't pay his debts, in punishment for his insolvency had his trading table physically broken by soldiers, so he could no longer sell anything. The table was called "banco", and thus the term "bancorotto" came into being.

Today, the Ponte Vecchio is a pleasant place to walk in the evening, if not packed end to end with thousands of tourists traversing the river over its cobblestones.

Why You Should Visit:
The sunset light here makes it a special spot to cross or watch from afar. The morning light on the river is just as gorgeous a sight to behold and, if you come here early in the day, you may stand a pretty good chance of having this “old bridge” all to yourself!

Tip:
If you do cross the bridge, be careful with your surroundings to avoid getting pickpocketed.
2
Santa Felicita

2) Santa Felicita

Dedicated to Saint Felicity – an early Roman martyr, this church ranks among the oldest in Florence, having possibly been founded in the 2nd century AD by Greek or Syrian merchants, the city's pioneers of Christianity. A new church was built in the 11th century and the current edifice dates from 1736–39, under design by Ferdinando Ruggieri, who turned it into a single-nave edifice.

Santa Felicita was on the path of the secret corridor that stretched from Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti, the Medici family residence. The Medicis used to come here to attend mass from a high balcony at the back so they would not be seen by other people. However, the main reason for a visit of the interior is the amazing Italian Renaissance painting masterpiece, the "Deposition from the Cross" (1525–28) by Jacopo Pontormo, one of the early Florentine Renaissance masters in the same era as Michaelangelo.

Pontormo's picture here is highly unconventional: from the quasi-angelic creatures bearing Christ's body to the billows of gorgeously colored drapery that almost engulf the scene; many of the figures seem to be standing in mid-air rather than on solid ground; and there's no trace of the cross, the thieves, soldiers or any of the other scene-setting elements usual in paintings of this subject – the only contextual feature is a solitary ghostly cloud. The bearded, cloaked figure on the right (Nicodemus) is believed to be a self-portrait of the artist.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 9:30am–12:30pm / 3:30–5pm

Church, Sacristy and Chapter Hall Guided tours:
Fri, Sat: 3:30–5pm
3
Palazzo Pitti

3) Palazzo Pitti (must see)

Palazzo Pitti is yet another architectural marvel in Florence to miss which would be a shame. The main highlight of the palace is undoubtedly Renaissance architecture coupled with the spectacular gardens every turn of which breathes new adventure.

Today the enormous palace brings under one roof several museums, whereas originally it was the official (last) residence of the incredibly powerful Medici family from the 16th to the 18th century. First built in the second half of the 15th century for Luca Pitti, it was still unfinished at the time of his death in 1472. In the year 1550, the palace was bought by Eleonora di Toledo, wife of the Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici. When the Medici dynasty came to an end, the property fell into the hands of the House of Lorraine and, in the early 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte used it as a power base during his reign over Italy.

Everything about this palace oozes class, be it the Palatine Gallery with over 500 paintings, or the lavish Royal Apartments of the Medicis, or the “Medici Treasury” with the priceless 15th-century silver, or the Costumes Gallery, or the Porcelain and Carriages Museums. The impressive painted ceilings, walls and ground decorations project the image of a private royal residence despite the fact since 1919, the palazzo itself and everything inside have been the property of the Italian people, nowadays attracting over 5 million visitors each year.

***MEDICI LANDMARK***
Here you will find perhaps the greatest concentration of all things Medici in Florence! The artwork formerly owned by the family, and displayed elsewhere, may possibly dwarf the contents of the Pitti in terms of value, but the palace has an incredible array of furnishings and interior decoration!

Tip:
A combined full ticket to the Pitti Museums and Gardens is valid for 2 days. Depending on how much time you've got, you can easily spend 3 hours just walking around the gardens – as long as you don't forget your hat and a bottle of water.
One way to avoid a long queue to the palace is taking a tour – yes, there is a cost involved, but the tour implies skipping the line, plus a good use of your time in Florence because the guides will direct you straight to the highlights of the collections which you otherwise would have struggled to locate yourself. Wise move!

Tue-Sun: 8:15am–6:50pm (including the Palatine Gallery, the Royal Apartments and the Gallery of Modern Art)
4
Boboli Gardens (Giardino di Boboli)

4) Boboli Gardens (Giardino di Boboli) (must see)

The Boboli Gardens is one of the most elegant gardens in Florence. Sitting just behind the Pitti Palace, they are said to have been the first few gardens of the 16th century – built for the wife of Cosimo I of Medici, Eleonora di Toledo – involving many renowned landscape architects of the time.

One of them, Niccolo Tribolo worked the gardens till his death in 1550, upon which the job was taken over by Bartolomeo Ammanati and Bernardo Buontalenti both credited with the invention of the so-called Mannerist style that succeeded the Renaissance period in Florence. Replete with long axial developments, wide gravel avenues, a considerable stone element, lavish employment of statuary and fountains, and a proliferation of detail manifested in the classical accents such as grottos, nymphaea, garden temples and the like, the Boboli Gardens thus represent an ideal showcase of the Mannerism in all its diversity. The openness of the garden, with an expansive view of the city, was also rather unconventional for the period and served as the prototype which inspired many European royal gardens, especially Versailles.

Over the years, the Boboli Gardens have undergone large-scale reconstructions as a result of which they now cover an area of approximately 11 acres of land – or 4,5 hectares. They are also often looked upon as an open-air museum displaying art, sculptures and antiquities dating back to the Roman era through the 16th-17th centuries.

Whenever you may want to take a break from it all – noise, crowds, queues – just to be surrounded by natural beauty, this is the place. 10 euros on the door may seem like a steep price, but if you pack your picnic and stick around for a while so as to soak up the atmosphere to the maximum, you will see where all the money goes. It takes some stamina to get around the garden as it is quite hilly and sometimes lots of stairs too, but in return, you will get some truly terrific views of the city, plus the numerous pretty discoveries along the way. There are several recommended walking paths in the garden to match everyone's abilities. At the end, you can take the northern exit to visit Fort Belvedere or the south-western one to visit La Specola which houses the Museum of Zoology and Natural History. The choice is always yours!

Tip:
Entry is included in the FirenzeCard and you don't need to queue if you have the card; go straight to the bookshop inside the Pitti Palace to gain access.
A full exploration will take approximately 2 hours – bring some snacks, water and good shoes.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:15am-6:30pm
5
Casa Guidi (Home of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

5) Casa Guidi (Home of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

Casa Guidi is a writer's house museum in the 15th-century patrician house in Piazza San Felice, 8, near the south end of the Pitti Palace in Florence. A center of British society in Florence, the apartment was inhabited by Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning between 1847 and Mrs. Browning's death in 1861. It is now something of a shrine to Elizabeth, who wrote much of her most popular verse here (including, naturally enough, her 1851 collection of poems, "Casa Guidi Windows").

After Mrs. Browning's death in 1861, their son, Robert Browning continued to live here until 1912. Eventually, the apartment was bought by several Browning enthusiasts – although, by that time, it retained hardly any furniture or paintings. The Browning Society in New York restored it, before giving it to Eton College which undertook further work so that the building could be used as a study centre. Today, it is part of The Eton College Collections but is administered by the Landmark Trust, who also look after the apartment above the one where John Keats died in Rome. When not being used by Eton boys, the property is available for holiday lets booked through the Landmark Trust.

Opening Hours:
Mon, Wed, Fri: 3-6pm (Apr-Nov)
There is no admission fee, but donations are welcome
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
San Felice in Piazza

6) San Felice in Piazza

The Roman Catholic Chiesa di San Felice (Church of St Felix) is located on the south bank of the River Arno, just west of the Pitti Palace. Built about the 10th century outside one of the gates of Florence's early walls, it is predominantly Gothic in style, but has a Renaissance façade by Michelozzo, added in 1457.

From the outside San Felice looks pretty ordinary, but once inside you are glad you made the right decision. The interior had a Madonna with Child and Saints by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio. Another chapel has a fresco by Giovanni da San Giovanni, depicting San Felice reviving St Massimo; the angels gathering the grapes in the painting are by Baldassare Franceschini. It had a triptych (1467) by Neri di Bicci, depicting St Augustin and St John Baptist, and St Julian and King St Sigismond. Another chapel had a Madonna and Child with St Hyacinth, by Jacopo da Empoli. The church has a Last Supper by Matteo Rosselli and over the high altar is a large Crucifix attributed to Giotto or his school.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 9:30am–12pm / 3:30–5:30pm
7
La Specola

7) La Specola

Editor's Note: Currently closed for refurbishment works, this museum is expected to reopen in Spring 2021.

Amidst the historical churches and architectural marvels surrounding Florence is the oldest science museums in Europe. Focused on Zoology and Natural History, it was established by the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo di Lorena, who envisioned a museum that would be open to the public and purchased a block of buildings very close to the Pitti Palace to serve this purpose. The museum was inaugurated in 1775 and, up until the 19th century, was the only scientific museum in the world with open admission, opening hours, guided tours and museum curators.

Spread across 34 rooms, La Specola boasts a vast collection of fossils, natural resources, minerals, animal specimens, exotic plants, and rare books. Many exhibits in the museum date back to the 14th and 15th centuries and the Medici family, who had a passion and tradition of collecting artifacts from all over the world.

However, the museum's prized possession was, and still remains, the collection of anatomical wax models, an art form introduced by Ludovico Cigoli. The wax models were made for teaching anatomy without having to cut open a cadaver.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 9:30am-4:30pm (Oct-May:); Tue-Sun: 10:30am-5:30pm (Jun-Sep)
8
Via Maggio

8) Via Maggio

Located in the Oltrarno District, Via Maggio is the broadest street in Florence. Home to numerous high-quality antiques shops, Via Maggio was initially called "Via Maggiore", which translates to High or Broad Street in English. The street once served as the most important commercial artery in the city. Today Via Maggio feels more like an open-air museum than a street, with its long rows of antiques shops displaying their wares out front. Here you can find oil paintings, marble statues and sculptures, tapestries, china figures, furniture, lamps, and weaponry from the 16th - 18th centuries spread out all along this enchanting street.
9
Basilica di Santo Spirito

9) Basilica di Santo Spirito

The Santo Spirito is another Florence building credited to the brilliant Renaissance architect – Filippo Brunelleschi. At first glance, with its plain exteriors, it may not look very impressive, but the true beauty and design can be appreciated in the interiors featuring numerous Baroque embellishments and an impressive Baldachin with polychrome marbles over the high-raised altar. The side chapels, in the form of niches all the same size (forty in all), run along the entire perimeter of the space and contain a noteworthy amount of artworks by Renaissance artists such as Sansovino and Rosselli. Some of the pieces that have been restored are fantastic in color and definition.

The two cloisters – accessed for a small fee – have walls decorated with a great number of tombstones and impressive Late Gothic frescoes, as well as a collection of sculptures from the 11th-15th centuries, including two low reliefs by Donatello, a high relief by Jacopo della Quercia (Madonna with Child), and two marble sculptures by Tino da Camaino (1320–22).

***MICHELANGELO'S MASTERPIECES***
In a side chapel is a very special find—a wooden crucifix sculpted by a young Michelangelo before he relocated to Rome. Aged seventeen, he was allowed to make anatomical studies on the corpses coming from the convent's hospital; in exchange, he sculpted the crucifix which was placed over the high altar. Today the crucifix is in the octagonal sacristy that can be reached from the west aisle of the church. Also, don't miss the copies of his Pietà (1549) and Christ (1579).

Tip:
Be sure to visit the museum, Fondazione Salvatore Romano to the side of the Basilica in the old refectory.

Opening Hours:
Mon, Tue, Thu-Sun: 9am–1pm / 3–7pm
10
Santa Maria del Carmine

10) Santa Maria del Carmine

The Santa Maria del Carmine church serves as a shrine to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the name given to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Built in the late 13th century, what one can see today on the exteriors is just the remains of the Romanesque- Gothic structure. In the 18th century, a fire nearly destroyed the entire structure and miraculously spared the Brancacci Chapel- the Renaissance Fresco, the church is most renowned for.

The Brancacci Chapel stands as a monument of the immergence of the Italian Renaissance. The fresco that adorns the wall of the Santa Maria del Carmine is among the most influential and an important turning point in the history of Italian Art. The making of the fresco in the Brancacci Chapel began in 1425, when Masolino da Panicale was commissioned to work on three walls of the chapel. Masolino called upon his associate, the 21 year old Masaccio to assist him throughout the project. His brief visit to Hungary left Masaccio in charge of the fresco, which led to a major influence of his style on the fresco which is seen as one of the best works of his life. However, Masaccio’s demise in 1428 left the fresco abandoned for 60 years till the arrival of Filippino Lippi, who also contributed immensely to the Chapel.

Corsini Chapel also makes part of the Santa Maria del Carmine church. The Corsini, probably the richest family in Florence during the 17th–18th centuries, had this chapel built in 1675, to hold the remains of St. Andrew Corsini (1301–1374), a member of the family who became a Carmelite friar and the Bishop of Fiesole, canonized in 1629. The architect Pier Francesco Silvani choose for it the Baroque style then popular in Rome. The small dome was frescoed by Luca Giordano in 1682. The elaborated Italian Rococo ceiling is from one of the most important 18th century artists in the city, Giovanni Domenico Ferretti.
11
San Frediano in Cestello

11) San Frediano in Cestello

One of the lesser visited attractions in the city of Florence is the San Frediano in Cestello. This beautiful structure represents the late Baroque style of architecture.

The present church is built on the same site as the monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli that was founded in 1450. In the early seventeenth century, the church was occupied by the Cistercians, which is where the word, ‘cestello’ is derived from. By the end of the seventeenth century, the church was commissioned for renovation under architects Gherardo Silvani and Giulio Cerutti. Work on the new design started in 1680 and by 1689 the construction was abruptly stopped leaving the façade that faced the Arno River and the town unfinished. Like many other churches in Florence, the façade of the San Frediano also remains incomplete till this present day.

Although Florentine churches may not have much in terms of craft and design on the exterior, the interiors are sure to mesmerize you the minute you step in. This is also seen at the San Frediano. The interiors of the church showcase the late Baroque style and design. The dome of the church is embellished with ornate frescos that were contributed by some great artists like Anton Domenico Gabbiani, Matteo Bonechi, Alessandro Gherardini and Antonio Puglieschi.

Today, the San Frediano in Cestello is converted into an Archiepiscopal Seminary, which is still very active.
Sight description based on wikipedia

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