Dante's Florence Walking Tour, Florence

Dante's Florence Walking Tour (Self Guided), Florence

Dante Alighieri was arguably the greatest – albeit also most controversial – of Italy's poets. After having served as one of the six priors governing Florence, his political activities – including the banishing of several rivals – led to his own banishment, upon which he wrote his masterpiece, “The Divine Comedy”, as a wanderer, seeking protection for his family in one town after another. This self-guided tour will take you on a trip through Dante's life and work in Florence, before and after the exile.

Born in May 1265, Dante was baptized in the Florence Baptistery, diagonally opposite the Duomo Cathedral, and was later trained as a doctor. His life changed dramatically when, at only 9 years old, he set eyes on Beatrice Portinari and fell in love with her. They ended up marrying other people, but Beatrice remained Dante’s muse, inspiring him to write lofty poetry. You can even visit the stone from where Dante would contemplate and write poems on summer evenings while watching the Florence Cathedral being built. Further along the way, the Church of Santa Margherita dei Cerchi is where the poet officialized his arranged marriage and also where Beatrice, his lifelong love, is said to be buried.

Although Dante’s own resting place is in Ravenna, Florence owns one of his death masks that you can see at Palazzo Vecchio – one of the oldest and most interesting of the many palaces in the city. At the very end of the walk, Basilica di Santa Croce houses Dante’s empty sarcophagus, while a monument to the poet stands in the piazza outside.

Dante left a large footprint in Florence, both during his lifetime and since his death. With so much to see, take this self-guided walking tour to follow in the steps of the Divine Comedy’s famous author.
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Dante's Florence Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Dante's Florence Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Florence (See other walking tours in Florence)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles
Author: greghasleft
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Basilica di Santa Maria Novella (Basilica of Santa Maria Novella)
  • Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore (Church of Saint Mary Major)
  • Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistery of St. John)
  • Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral)
  • Sasso di Dante (Stone of Dante)
  • Chiesa di Santa Margherita de' Cerchi (Church of St. Margaret)
  • Casa di Dante (Dante House-Museum)
  • Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace)
  • Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross)
1
Basilica di Santa Maria Novella (Basilica of Santa Maria Novella)

1) Basilica di Santa Maria Novella (Basilica of Santa Maria Novella)

Built in the 13th century, Santa Maria Novella is, chronologically, the first grand basilica in Florence, and stands as the city's principal Dominican church. Within its walls, along with the adjacent cloister and chapter house, lie a multitude of art treasures and funerary monuments. Especially famous are frescoes crafted by Gothic and early Renaissance masters, generously funded by prominent Florentine families, securing for themselves funerary chapels on consecrated ground.

The exterior showcases architectural elements inspired by antiquity, including the pediment and frieze; however, the upper portion introduces a novel and unprecedented design feature: S-curved scrolls. These scrolls, or variations thereof, can be found in churches across Italy and owe their origins to the innovative design of Santa Maria Novella, which ingeniously addressed the challenge of transitioning from wide to narrow storeys.

Beyond its architectural splendor and captivating cloisters, the basilica houses an array of artistic treasures, including frescoes, statues, paintings, and wooden crosses. Notable among them is the world-famous fresco "The Holy Trinity" by Masaccio, which had a profound impact on Florentine painting, inspiring future generations with its groundbreaking use of perspective and mathematical proportions. Additionally, the pulpit designed by Brunelleschi himself is of historical significance, as it was from this very pulpit that the first verbal attack against Galileo Galilei was launched, ultimately leading to his indictment.

Be sure not to overlook the Cappella Strozzi di Mantova, situated at the end of the left transept. Adorned with frescoes inspired by Dante's "Divine Comedy", this chapel portrays the Last Judgment (on the back wall, featuring a portrait of Dante), Hell (on the right wall), and Paradise (on the left wall). Executed between 1350 and 1357, these remarkable artworks vividly bring to life the essence of Dante's renowned literary masterpiece.
2
Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore (Church of Saint Mary Major)

2) Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore (Church of Saint Mary Major)

Originally constructed in the 11th century, Florence's Santa Maria Maggiore may not possess the same grandeur as other churches in Florence, but it is undeniably beautiful. In the 13th century, it underwent extensive Gothic-style renovations to its facade and sides; however, the exterior retains a relatively plain appearance, characterized by stone walls and portals crowned with tympani. The bell tower, a remnant of the Romanesque structure, still stands, albeit reduced in height. Interestingly, it features a mysterious carving of a woman's head – popularly known as "Berta" – embedded in its walls.

The interior, restored in the 17th century, is simple with a nave and two aisles, ogival arches and groin vaults. Artworks include frescoes by Bernardino Poccetti, a Nativity by Matteo Rosselli, and, above the altar of the left transept chapel, a polychromed stucco relief panel, the Madonna del Carmelo, long attributed to the 13th-century artist, Coppo di Marcovaldo. If you need a place to rest and/or pray peacefully, this off-tourist-path church is the right place in Florence.

The interior, restored in the 17th century, showcases a simple layout with a nave, two aisles, ogival arches, and groin vaults. Noteworthy artworks include frescoes by Bernardino Poccetti, a Nativity painting by Matteo Rosselli, and a polychromed stucco relief panel, and the Madonna del Carmelo, positioned above the altar in the left transept chapel. For those seeking a tranquil space to rest or pray away from the tourist crowds, this off-the-beaten-path church in Florence provides a serene sanctuary.

***DANTE'S FLORENCE TOUR***
Within the church's chapel, take a moment to find the tomb of the renowned scholar and philosopher Brunetto Latini, who once served as Dante's mentor and introduced him to the writings of ancient authors. Latini was also a prominent figure in Florentine politics, serving as an influential role model for the aspiring poet, who was deeply engaged with the political life of his city. Dante certainly admired his teacher and held him in high esteem, though in his "Divine Comedy", for some unclear reason, he sticks Latini in the seventh circle of Hell, among the sodomites.
3
Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistery of St. John)

3) Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistery of St. John)

The exquisite Florence Baptisery, named after Saint John the Baptist, patron saint of the city, is situated in the Cathedral Square and San Giovanni Square, diagonally opposite the Duomo Cathedral. Constructed in the 7th century atop a Roman structure believed to have been a temple dedicated to Mars, it has an octagonal shape (common for baptisteries for many centuries since early Christian times), the number eight a symbol of regeneration in Christianity, representing the six days of creation, the day of rest, and the day of re-creation through the sacrament of baptism.

During its reconstruction in 1059, the baptistery was decorated with white and dark green marble, creating a striking zebra-like pattern, but is more known for its three sets of bronze doors. The south doors, designed by Andrea Pisano, depict scenes from the life of St. John and elegantly illustrate the eight virtues of Christianity in bronze. The north doors, crafted by Lorenzo Ghiberti, took him 21 years to complete and portray the life of Christ. Ghiberti was then commissioned to create the east door, which he worked on for an additional 27 years. Michelangelo famously dubbed them the "Gates of Paradise", and the ten panels on this door depict "the Story of Joseph."

Inside, visitors can admire magnificent mosaics adorning the ceiling and a baptismal font that has been in place since 1576, used for the baptism of the son of Francesco I de' Medici, the ruler of Florence. Aside from members of the Medici family, the structure is witness to the baptisms of many Renaissance-era personalities and almost all Catholic Florentines until the 19th century. Exploring this architectural marvel is, therefore, delving into the rich Catholic history of Florence.

***DANTE'S FLORENCE TOUR***
Dante was born to Alighiero di Bellincione d'Alighiero and his first wife, Gabriella degli Abati, who came from a wealthy landowning family. Their eldest son was born in May 1265 and was initially named Durante ("enduring"), after his maternal grandfather; however, his parents eventually chose to use the shortened form of the name. Evidence of his birthdate near the end of May is derived from Dante's own account in Canto 22 of the "Paradiso", where he references the sign of Gemini, suggesting that his intellectual and literary attributes are influenced by the constellation under which he was born. He also mentions the baptistery affectionately in another passage.

Tip:
Admission to the Baptistery is included with the standard ticket that covers the Duomo sights, excluding the cathedral itself (which is free), within a 72-hour period. A dress code must be observed, with no shorts or sleeveless tops allowed. Both men and women should ensure their knees and shoulders are covered. To attend the daily mass, arrive at around 10:30am at the door opposite the main entrance and inform the attendant that you wish to attend the "mass" or "messa."
4
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral)

4) Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral) (must see)

Presiding over the city of Florence, the Duomo Cathedral is a Renaissance masterpiece renowned for its magnificent masonry dome, which holds the distinction of being the largest in the world. Completed in 1465, this double-shell structure is a remarkable feat of engineering, entirely self-supporting.

The construction of the Gothic-style Cathedral itself was a monumental endeavor that spanned nearly 170 years, starting in 1296. It wasn't until the mid-1400s that the project found its true champion in the architect Filippo Brunelleschi, who was tasked with completing what others had deemed impossible. Drawing inspiration from the engineering solutions used in the dome of the Pantheon in Rome, Brunelleschi conducted extensive experiments with large-scale models and innovative, specially-designed machinery.

One of his notable inventions was a system of machines and lewises specifically designed to lift enormous stones and hoist the immense weight of over 37,000 tons of materials, including more than 4 million bricks. Fascinated by Brunelleschi's machinery, the young apprentice Leonardo da Vinci made a series of sketches, often mistakenly attributed to him as the actual inventor. Nonetheless, Brunelleschi's name endured, and today a monumental statue of the architect stands proudly in the piazza in front of the Cathedral.

Inside the Dome, just before the presbytery, on the left aisle wall, you will find the fresco "Dante and the Divine Comedy" by Domenico di Michelino. Created in 1465 to commemorate the poet's bicentenary, this painting portrays Dante (1265-1321) holding a copy of his renowned "Divine Comedy", depicting the entrance to Hell, the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory, and the spheres of Heaven above. Interestingly, the fresco also includes depictions of Florence as it appeared in the 15th century, even though Dante himself could never have seen these scenes during his lifetime. This makes the painting a valuable historical artifact. To view it up close, you must ascend approximately 450 steps on the narrow and winding staircase that circles the Dome's interior.

The mixture of marbles seen outside is just as outstanding. It showcases an extraordinary combination that creates a stunning visual effect resembling a work of painted art rather than solid stone.

Tip:
When purchasing your ticket online, take advantage of the complimentary ticket that includes access to the top of the dome. From there, you can step out and enjoy a panoramic view of Florence, the surrounding Tuscan countryside, and the majestic mountains. Keep in mind that you will need to make a separate booking for the dome climb, which is free of charge.
5
Sasso di Dante (Stone of Dante)

5) Sasso di Dante (Stone of Dante)

Sasso di Dante was the stone from where Dante would contemplate and write poems on summer evenings while watching the Florence Cathedral being built. Although the stone itself is no longer to be found, a plaque on the southern wall of Piazza del Duomo, affixed to the side of a store that sells religious items, claims to mark the location where the stone once stood.

The last time Dante could have sat on his rock was in 1302, the year he was exiled from Florence, never to return. This site is also associated with an anecdote that highlights the renowned poet's exceptional memory. While deeply immersed in his thoughts, an acquaintance passed by and approached him, asking, "Oh Dante, what is your favorite food?" To which Dante replied, "eggs." The following year, the same inquisitive person encountered Dante still seated in his cherished spot and inquired, "with what?" Dante promptly responded, "with salt!"

In close proximity, you will find an old trattoria aptly named Sasso di Dante, occupying a significant portion of the piazza. Its covered outdoor seating area provides an ideal setting for a leisurely lunch in pleasant weather – a perfect opportunity to reflect on your day so far or plan for the adventures that lie ahead in the afternoon.
6
Chiesa di Santa Margherita de' Cerchi (Church of St. Margaret)

6) Chiesa di Santa Margherita de' Cerchi (Church of St. Margaret)

They call this "Dante's Church" since it is where his family attended and where, at the age of 20, he officialized his arranged marriage with Gemma Donati; however, it appears as if another woman – Beatrice Portinari – stole the spotlight here. Having first caught sight of her at this small church when he was only nine years old, Dante would for decades thereafter regard her as a symbol of perfect female beauty and spiritual virtue. Despite encountering Beatrice again nine years later, Dante never truly knew her and, in a highly Platonic manner of affection, never even spoke to her. Eventually, she married another man and tragically passed away at a fairly young age...

Beatrice undeniably exerted a significant influence on Dante's literary works. In the third and final part of the "Divine Comedy," she guides the exiled poet through the nine celestial spheres of Heaven, leading him to the Empyrean, the abode of God. Within this humble church, Beatrice's grave can be found to the left of the main entrance, often accompanied by a basket filled with notes of unrequited love. With its subdued lighting and serene atmosphere enhanced by soft classical music, the Church of St. Margaret ("Santa Margherita") provides a peaceful setting for introspection and contemplation.
7
Casa di Dante (Dante House-Museum)

7) Casa di Dante (Dante House-Museum)

Florence witnessed extensive reconstruction during the Renaissance, but a distinctive medieval ambiance lingers in the eastern part of the city. As you meander through the labyrinthine alleyways and hidden passages, you'll come across scenes that Dante Alighieri, the cherished Italian poet, would still recognize today. Casa di Dante, his former dwelling, still stands close to the parish church where he first caught sight of his beloved Beatrice Portinari.

Within the three-story house-museum, you'll encounter a captivating display of artifacts that illuminate pivotal moments in Dante's life. The first floor is dedicated to his early years, while the second floor unveils documents pertaining to his exile in 1301 and the final chapters of his life spent in Ravenna. Ascending to the top floor, you'll be greeted by an extensive collection of Dante's personal belongings, featuring both original items and meticulously crafted replicas. Among these treasures, marvel at the miniature copy of the "Divina Comedia", a testament to its enduring legacy as the smallest printed edition.

In Dante's epic poem, he embarks on a journey through Hell and Purgatory, guided by the poet Virgil, only to be led through Paradise by his beloved Beatrice. Although Dante initially referred to his work as the "Comedy," it gained immense popularity. Eventually, a lavish edition published in Venice in 1555 assumed the title we now universally recognize.

Tip:
Please note that the staircase can be steep, but rest assured, there is an elevator available, although its location may not be immediately apparent upon entering.
8
Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace)

8) Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) (must see)

Similar to the Duomo complex, the Pitti Palace, and major local art galleries, the Old Palace, known as Palazzo Vecchio, is an indispensable site in Florence for understanding the city's history and culture. This colossal Romanesque-style palace stands as one of the most impressive town halls in Tuscany and has served as the office of the Florence mayor since 1872. Prior to that, since its construction in 1299, it was the seat of Florentine government for centuries. When Cosimo I de' Medici became the Grand Duke and moved in with his family in 1540, he decided to enlarge and renovate the Medieval building in Renaissance style.

Adorned with shields recounting the city's political history, the imposing facade is also embellished with a series of sculptures, including notable works such as Michelangelo's "David", the heraldic lion known as "Marzocco" symbolizing Florence, Donatello's original "Judith and Holofernes", and "Hercules and Cacus". Within the palace, the Tower of Arnolfo stands as a separate attraction, requiring an additional fee for access.

Wandering through the palace, from the grand Hall of the Five Hundred ("Salone dei Cinquecento") designed to celebrate the Duke's glories and victories, to the more intimate quarters, you'll be transported back in time. This journey provides a glimpse into the secluded privacy of the Medici rulers, adorned with magnificent decorations as part of Giorgio Vasari's iconographic program. It is recommended to take your time and explore the property leisurely, allowing for an immersive experience enriched with historical intensity and artistic wonders. However, be prepared for a potential crick in the neck from gazing at the breathtaking ceilings in each room.

Various optional tours of the palace are available, including family-friendly options that offer an extra dose of fun without costing too much extra. For example, the 'Secret Paths' tour lasts approximately 1.5 hours and is led by knowledgeable guides. It provides access to parts of the palace typically closed to the public, including the renowned "studiolo" with its secret doors, enchanting objects, and intriguing exotic substances.

***MICHELANGELO'S MASTERPIECES***
In the central niche at the southern end of the grand hall ("Salone dei Cinquecento"), you'll find Michelangelo's notable marble group, "The Genius of Victory" (1533-1534). Originally intended for Julius II's tomb, this sculpture represents an allegory of triumph rather than depicting a moment of battle. It portrays a victorious figure displaying remarkable agility, dominating a submissive captive. The young and elegant genius stands poised, while the dominated older man bears a resigned expression with a flabby body and a beard, emphasizing the contrast between the two figures. The expressive treatment of the surfaces enhances this contrast further, with the young figure polished to perfection and the old figure left rough and incomplete, still bearing the impression of the heavy stone from which it was sculpted.

***DANTE'S FLORENCE TOUR***
Although Dante's burial place is not in Florence, the city possesses one of the poet's death masks, which you can see here, displayed between the Apartments of Eleanor and the Halls of Priors. Preserved behind glass, it has become a symbol of Dante's political contribution to Florence and his pivotal role in the development of Italian literature and culture. Interestingly, this same mask makes an appearance in Dan Brown's "Inferno".

Tip:
If you plan to take a tour, it is advisable to book directly with the museum via email, indicating your preferred date and time, and wait for confirmation. Payment for the tour will be collected on the day of your visit. Once the tour concludes, you are free to explore the palace at your leisure. However, please note that since the palace is an active municipal office, it may be temporarily closed to the public on special occasions. It is recommended to check the palace's website for any announcements before your visit.
9
Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross)

9) Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) (must see)

One of the most renowned and largest Franciscan churches worldwide, Santa Croce was constructed in the 13th and 14th centuries, flaunting a rich Gothic style of architecture. Also known as the "Temple of the Italian Glories", it has the final resting places of numerous illustrious Italians, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, poet Foscolo, and composer Rossini.

Elaborate sculptures embellish the tombs, while paintings adorn the altar and walls. Some of the finest artisans, sculptors and painters have left their marks upon the church, which is sure to grip visitors with its grandeur and presence. Artists with work in the church include Giotto, Donatello, Giorgio Vasari, Domenico Veneziano, Antonio Canova, Cimabue, Benedetto da Maiano, Andrea and Luca della Robbia, Desiderio da Settignano, Giovanni da Milano, Maso di Banco, Agnolo and Taddeo Gaddi, Andrea Orcagna, Antonio Rossellino, Santi di Tito, and Henry Moore. Legend even has it that Santa Croce was founded by Saint Francis himself!

The surrounding grounds are equally enchanting, and the grassy inner courtyard, with its columns and statuary, invites visitors to explore and perhaps spend an entire day with a sketchbook. The exterior plaza hosts various events, ranging from concerts by visiting musicians to Florentine "rugby" matches.

***MICHELANGELO'S MASTERPIECES***
Despite Michelangelo's wishes, his body was transported from Rome to Florence, where Cosimo de' Medici and the artist/biographer Vasari organized an opulent funeral on March 10, 1564. Since de' Medici could not honor Michelangelo in Florence during his lifetime, he declared that he would pay homage to the artist in death, commissioning an elaborate tomb as a fitting tribute.

The monumental tomb inside the church – which ended up being a costly endeavor, taking 14 years to complete due to various delays – was commissioned to the same Vasari, who incorporated traditional symbols and imagery associated with Michelangelo. Adjacent to the artist's bust, three intertwined laurel wreaths symbolize the fusion of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, which are also depicted below as three muses mourning the loss of the great artist.

***DANTE'S FLORENCE WALK***
After years of efforts to repatriate Dante's remains to his birth city, Florence, his empty sarcophagus was eventually placed here. Rejected when he was alive, Dante now rests in his adopted city of Ravenna, despite Florence's posthumous forgiveness and acceptance of the exiled poet. In commemoration of the 600th anniversary of his birth, a monument of Dante was erected outside in Santa Croce Square, named after the basilica that overlooks it.

Tip:
Do not miss the Leather school located behind the church, where young apprentices learn the craft, and where you can purchase some fantastic handmade one-offs.
Remember to dress appropriately, with shorts below the knee and women's shoulders covered, as they strictly enforce the dress code, particularly for women regarding shorts.

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