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:
  • Santa Maria Novella
  • Santa Maria Maggiore
  • Florence Baptistery (Battistero di San Giovanni)
  • Florence Cathedral (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore)
  • Sasso di Dante
  • Chiesa di Santa Margherita dei Cerchi
  • Dante House-Museum (Casa di Dante)
  • Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace)
  • Basilica di Santa Croce
Santa Maria Novella

1) Santa Maria Novella

Built in the 13th century, Santa Maria Novella is, chronologically, the first great basilica in Florence, and the city's principal Dominican church. The church, the adjoining cloister, and chapter house contain a multiplicity of art treasures and funerary monuments. Especially famous are frescoes by masters of Gothic and early Renaissance, financed by the most important Florentine families, who ensured themselves funerary chapels on consecrated ground.

On the exterior, the pediment and the frieze are clearly inspired by antiquity, but the S-curved scrolls in the upper part are new and without precedent in antiquity. Solving a longstanding architectural problem of how to transfer from wide to narrow storeys, the scrolls (or variations of them), found in churches all over Italy, all draw their origins from the design of this church.

As well as being a beautiful church with amazing cloisters, it also contains many art treasures: frescoes, statues, paintings and wooden crosses. Some of the pieces are world-famous, such as "The Holy Trinity", a fresco by Masaccio which profoundly influenced Florentine painting and inspired future generations with its use of perspective and mathematical proportions. Also of note is the pulpit designed by Brunelleschi himself, which has a particular historical significance since it was from this pulpit that the first verbal attack was made on Galileo Galilei, leading eventually to his indictment.

Don't miss the Cappella Strozzi di Mantova situated at the end of the left transept. The frescoes are inspired by Dante's "Divine Comedy": Last Judgment (on the back wall; including a portrait of Dante), Hell (on the right wall) and Paradise (on the left wall). This artwork was made between 1350 and 1357.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Thu: 9am–5:30pm; Fri: 11am–5:30pm; Sat: 9am–5:30pm; Sun: 1–5:30pm (Oct–Mar);
Mon-Thu: 9am–7pm; Fri: 11am–7pm; Sat: 9am–5:30pm; Sun: 1–5:30pm (Apr–Jun);
Mon-Thu: 9am–7pm; Fri: 11am–7pm; Sat: 9am–6:30pm; Sun: 12–6:30pm (Jul–Aug);
Mon-Thu: 9am–7pm; Fri: 11am–7pm; Sat: 9am–5:30pm; Sun: 12–5:30pm (Sep)
Santa Maria Maggiore

2) Santa Maria Maggiore

Originally constructed in the 11th century, Santa Maria Maggiore di Firenze is not as glamorous as other Florentine churches but beautiful nonetheless. In the 13th century, it underwent extensive Gothic-style renovations to the facade and sides; however, the exterior remained rather undecorated, with stone walls and the portals surmounted by tympani. The bell tower, although reduced in height, survives from the Romanesque building. It appears to have the head of a woman – 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.

In the church chapel, look for the tomb of accomplished scholar and philosopher Brunetto Latini, who at one time was Dante's mentor, having introduced him to the authors of antiquity. Latini was also one of the most significant of Florentine political figures and as such was a role model for the aspiring poet concerned with his city's political life. Certainly Dante admired his teacher and held him in high esteem, though in his Comedy, for some unclear reason, he sticks Latini in the seventh circle of Hell, among the sodomites.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 7am-12pm / 3:30-5:30pm
Florence Baptistery (Battistero di San Giovanni)

3) Florence Baptistery (Battistero di San Giovanni)

The elaborate Battistero di San Giovanni (named for Saint John the Baptist, patron saint of the commune of Florence) is located in Piazza del Duomo and Piazza di San Giovanni, diagonally opposite the Duomo cathedral. Built in the 7th century over a Roman structure, believed to a temple dedicated to Mars, it has an octagon shape (common for baptisteries for many centuries since early Christian times), the number eight a symbol of regeneration in Christianity, signifying the six days of creation, the day of rest, and a day of re-creation through the sacrament of baptism.

The baptistery was decorated with white and dark green marble (in a zebra-like pattern) during its reconstruction in 1059 but is more known for its three sets of bronze doors. Designed by Andrea Pisano, the south doors portray scenes from the life of St. John and beautifully depict in bronze the eight virtues of Christianity. The doors on the north side took Lorenzo Ghiberti 21 years to complete and portray the life of Christ. He was then commissioned for the east door and worked on it for 27 more years. Dubbed by Michelangelo as the ‘Gates of Paradise’, the ten panels on the door depict “the Story of Joseph”.

Inside, you may see some magnificent mosaics covering the ceiling, and a baptismal font in place since 1576 for the baptism of the son of Francesco I de' Medici, ruler of the city. 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. Visiting this architectural beauty is, therefore, visiting the Catholic history of Florence.

Dante was born to Alighiero di Bellincione d'Alighiero and his first wife, named Gabriella degli Abati, who was from a family of wealthy landowners. Their eldest son was born in May 1265 and was initially called Durante ("enduring") after his mother's father; however, his parents eventually chose to christen him Dante, a shortened form of the name. Evidence for his birthday near the end of May is from the poet's own testimony, in Canto 22 of the "Paradiso", where he addresses the sign of Gemini, suggesting that all of his intellectual and literary attributes have their source in the influence of the constellation of his nativity. He also mentions the baptistery affectionately in another passage.

Admission to the Baptistery is included with your standard ticket that covers the Duomo sights excluding the cathedral (which itself is free) within a 72-hour period.
A dress code is required; no shorts or sleeveless tops allowed. Knees and shoulders must be covered for both men and women.
To attend the daily mass, be there at around 10:30 at the door opposite of the main one and say "mass" or "messa" to the man on the door.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8:15am-10:15am / 11:15am-7:30pm
Florence Cathedral (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore)

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

Presiding over the city of Florence, the Duomo Cathedral is a Renaissance masterpiece renowned for its masonry dome, the largest in the world. Completed in 1465, this dome is a double shell and is entirely self-supporting.

The Gothic-style Cathedral itself took nearly 170 years to build, starting from 1296. It wasn't until the mid 1400s that its true identity was found, courtesy of the architect Filippo Brunelleschi, who was commissioned to the project after many others had given up on it. Brunelleschi looked for engineering solutions to the great dome of Pantheon in Rome, and experimented with large-scale models and specially-designed machinery.

In particular, to lift 37,000 tons of material, including over 4 million bricks, he invented machines and lewissons for hoisting large stones. Fascinated with this machinery, the then young apprentice Leonardo da Vinci made series of sketches, for which, later on, he was often credited for the actual invention. Despite that, however, Brunelleschi's name never fell into the oblivion and today a huge statue of the architect is set firmly in the piazza before the Cathedral.

The mixture of marbles seen outside is just as outstanding and represents a unique combination that looks rather like paint than a piece of rock art.

Inside the Dome, just before the presbytery, on the left aisle wall, you can see the “Dante and the Divine Comedy” fresco by Domenico di Michelino. This painting depicts Dante (1265-1321) with a copy of his Divine Comedy book next to the entrance to Hell, the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory, and the spheres of Heaven above. The painting was made in 1465, to mark the poet's bicentenary, and replaced an earlier painting of him in exactly the same spot.

What's also interesting is that, apart from the Divine Comedy scenes, it shows images of 15th-century Florence, which Dante himself could not have seen in his lifetime. This, in turn, makes it a most valuable historical artifact. To see it up close, you'll have to climb some 450 steps up the narrow and spiraling stairs, circumnavigating the dome on the inside.

When buying a ticket online, make sure to use of the free ticket that comes with it, in order to climb to the top, where you can step out and see the panoramic view of Florence, the adjoining Tuscan scenery and mountains. You have to make a separate booking for that too, although free of charge.

Opening Hours:
[Cathedral] Mon-Sat: 10am-4:30pm; Sun: 1:30pm-4:30pm
[Dome] Mon-Fri: 8:30am-7pm; Sat: 8:30am-5pm; Sun: 1pm-4pm
[Baptistery] Mon-Fri: 8:15am-10:15am / 11:15am-7:30pm; Sat: 8:15am-7:30pm; Sun: 8:15am-1:30pm
[Crypt] Mon-Fri: 10am-5pm; Sat: 10am-4:30pm; Sun: CLOSED
[Bell Tower] Daily: 8:15am-7:20pm
[Museum] Daily: 9am-7pm
Sasso di Dante

5) Sasso di 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. Some visited him seeking advice. Although the stone is no longer to be found, there is a plaque with an inscription on the wall of the southern side of Piazza del Duomo that claims to sit on the same spot (low on the side of a store that sells all things sacred). The last time Dante could have sat on his rock was 1302 – the year he was banished from Florence, never to return.

Nearby is an old trattoria called, not surprisingly, Sasso di Dante, that takes up most of the piazza. Its sheltered outdoor seating area is the perfect place to sit for a late lunch in beautiful weather – either to reflect on your day so far or to plan what the afternoon will hold.
Chiesa di Santa Margherita dei Cerchi

6) Chiesa di Santa Margherita dei Cerchi

They call this "Dante's Church" since it is where his family attended and where, aged 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 afterward regard her as a symbol of perfect female beauty and spiritual goodness. Despite having again met Beatrice nine years later, Dante never knew her well and, in fact – in an utmost Platonic of affections – never even spoke to her. Meanwhile, she got married to another man and then died at a fairly young age...

Beatrice obviously played a major influence on Dante's work: the third and final part of the "Divine Comedy" sees her guiding the exiled poet through the nine celestial spheres of Heaven, to the Empyrean, which is the home of God. This little church has her grave, just to the left of the main entrance and accompanied by a basket full of notes of unrequited love. Dimly lit, with a tranquil atmosphere enhanced by soft classical music, Santa Margherita is a good place to sit and reflect.
Dante House-Museum (Casa di Dante)

7) Dante House-Museum (Casa di Dante)

Found in the heart of medieval Florence, Casa di Dante or the Dante House-Museum is a 20th-century building set on the site – as the records suggest – of a very probable location of the Alighieri family house, the birthplace of one Italy's most cherished poets, Dante Alighieri.

Spread across three floors, the museum displays, among other artifacts, some of the most important works of Dante, illustrative of major milestones in his life. The first floor is dedicated to Dante's early years, while the second floor showcases documents related to his exile in 1301, plus the final years of his life in Ravenna. Finally, the top floor exhibits a vast collection of Dante’s belongings (both, originals and replicas) garnered over the years. There, you can see a miniature copy of “Divina Comedia”, the smallest printed edition.

In the poem’s first and second books, the poet takes a tour of Hell and Purgatory guided by poet Virgil; in Paradise, however, he is guided by his beloved Beatrice. Although Dante himself referred to his work simply as “Comedy”, it became enormously popular and a deluxe version of it, published in 1555 in Venice, assumed the new title that we all know today.

Steep stairs, but there is a lift, which is not obvious when you enter.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm (Apr-Oct); Tue-Fri: 10am-5pm; Sat, Sun: 10am-6pm (Nov-Mar)
Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace)

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

Just like the Duomo complex, Palazzo Pitti and major local art galleries, Palazzo Vecchio, or the Old Palace, is one of the key sites in Florence that is absolutely essential for understanding the history and culture of the city. One of the most impressive town halls in Tuscany, this enormous Romanesque-style palace has been the office of a Florence mayor since 1872. Prior to that (since 1299, when it was built), it has been the seat of Florentine government for centuries. When Cosimo I de' Medici became Grand Duke and moved in with his family in 1540, he decided to enlarge and revamp the Medieval building in Renaissance style.

The solid facade is decorated with shields recounting the city's political history, plus adorned with a series of sculptures among which are the likes of Michelangelo's “David”, “Marzocco” – the heraldic lion, symbol of Florence, Donatello's original “Judith and Holofernes” and “Hercules and Cacus”. A standalone attraction within the palace is the Tower of Arnolfo, access to which costs an additional fee.

Walking through the palace, from the huge Salone dei Cinquecento ("Hall of the Five Hundred" – designed to celebrate the glories and victories of the Duke) to the most intimate quarters, virtually transports one back in time, offering a glimpse into the secluded privacy of the Medici rulers, magnificently decorated as part of the iconographic program designed by Giorgio Vasari. It is hence advisable to take one's time and explore the property without haste, so as to be able to get the historically-intense, artistically-rich experience, quite possibly resulting in a crick-in-the-neck feeling from gazing at the gorgeous ceilings above, one room after another.

There are various add-on tours of the palace available that are fun for kids and don't cost too much extra. Among them, for instance, the 'Secret Paths' tour, lasting about 1h½, delivered by knowledgeable guides and allowing access to the parts of the palace otherwise closed for the public, including the famed "studiolo" with its secret doors, magical objects, and strange, exotic substances.

In the central niche at the south of the large Hall (Salone dei Cinquecento) is Michelangelo's noted marble group The Genius of Victory (1533–1534), originally intended for the tomb of Julius II. The sculpture does not represent a moment of fighting, but rather serves as an allegory of victoriousness. It depicts the winner who dominates the submissive loser with great agility, with one leg that blocks the body of the captive, who is folded and chained. The young man who is the genius is beautiful and elegant, while the dominated man is old and bearded, with a flabby body and a resigned expression. The surfaces are treated expressively to enhance the contrast between the two figures: the young polished to perfection, the old rough and incomplete, still retaining the impression of the heavy stone from which it was made.

Although Dante is not buried in Florence, the city owns one of the poet's death masks that you can see here, between the Apartments of Eleanor and the Halls of Priors. Resting alone in glass, it came to symbolize both Dante's political contribution to the city of Florence and his pivotal role in the development of Italian literature and culture. Out of interest, this is the same mask that makes an appearance in Dan Brown's "Inferno".

If you decide to go on a tour, it is advisable to book directly with the museum by email, stating the preferred date and time, and then wait for confirmation. You will pay upon collecting the tickets on the day of the tour. After it is finished, you can wander freely around the palace at will.
Be aware, though, that since this is an active municipality office, it is quite possible that, on special occasions, the building may be temporarily closed for the public. It is, therefore, recommended to check their website for possible announcements to this effect prior to the visit.

Opening Hours:
[Museum + Archaeological Route] Fri-Wed: 9am-11pm; Thu: 9am-2pm (Apr-Sep); Fri-Wed: 9am-7pm; Thu: 9am-2pm (Oct-Mar)
[Tower + Ronda Walkway] Fri-Wed: 9am-9pm; Thu: 9am-2pm (Apr-Sep); Fri-Wed: 10am-5pm; Thu: 10am-2pm (Oct-Mar)
Basilica di Santa Croce

9) Basilica di Santa Croce (must see)

One of the most famous and the largest Franciscan churches in the world, Basilica di Santa Croce was built between the 13th and 14th century, flaunting a rich Gothic style of architecture. Also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories, it has the final resting places of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Foscolo and the composer Rossini.

Elaborate sculptures decorate 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 the Santa Croce was founded by Saint Francis himself!

The grounds are quite nice as well, and the grassy inner courtyard, with its columns and statuary, encourages to take time to explore – or spend all day here with a sketchbook! The outside plaza holds multiple events, from concerts by visiting musicians to Florentine "rugby".

Directly against Michelangelo's plans, his dead body was taken from Rome to Florence where Cosimo de' Medici and the artist/biographer Vasari arranged a lavish funeral on March 10, 1564. Since he was not able to employ the artist and honor him in Florence during his life, declared de' Medici, he would honor him in death, and with a proper tomb to match.

The monumental tomb inside the church – which ended up costing a massive sum and took 14 years to complete, due to delays – was commissioned to the same Vasari, who included traditional symbols and imagery relevant to Michelangelo. Next to the artist's bust, there are three intertwined laurel wreaths representing the union of the artistic domains of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, which are also depicted below as three muses mourning the loss of the great artist.

Dante's empty sarcophagus was installed here after Florence spent a lot of years trying to get his remains back to the city of his birth. 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. A monument of Dante – erected in 1865 to celebrate the 600 year anniversary of his birth – stands outside in Piazza Santa Croce, named after the basilica that overlooks it.

Don't miss the Leather school behind the church where young interns are learning the trade and where you can buy some fantastic handmade one-offs.
Please remember that shorts have to be below knee and women must have shoulders covered and no midsection exposed. They enforce the shorts rule on the women more than the men.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9:30am-5:30pm; Sun: 2-5:30pm; Last admission: 5pm

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