Medici Landmarks (Self Guided), Florence

The Medici family helped to establish Florence as the single most important art capital of Renaissance Europe. In order to prove wealth and power, they built numerous palaces, libraries, churches, chapels and personal residences. The Medicis were big lovers of art and they acquired huge, expensive collections, as well as supporting many sculptors and painters of the time. This self-guided tour will take you on a journey through the most prominent Medici landmarks/residences and their amazing decorations.
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Medici Landmarks Map

Guide Name: Medici Landmarks
Guide Location: Italy » Florence (See other walking tours in Florence)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 5
Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: greghasleft
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Palazzo Medici Riccardi
  • Basilica di San Lorenzo
  • Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace)
  • Palazzo Pitti
  • Fort Belvedere (Forte di Belvedere)
1
Palazzo Medici Riccardi

1) Palazzo Medici Riccardi (must see)

This was the first Medici palace, home to Cosimo the Elder and Lorenzo the Magnificent, while also a workplace for many of the top Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo, who was discovered by Lorenzo while still in his teens.

The most imposing palace yet seen in the city at the time, it set a new standard with its three orders of graduated rustication and large, regular two-light windows; the whole exterior is capped by a massive cornice. The building has an elegant square courtyard in the centre, completely different from the palace’s powerful external impression; together, though, they expressed the two different worlds of the Medici: rich, powerful, even ruthless on the outside, refined patrons of the humanist Renaissance inside.

While the courtyard and gardens are free, and lovely to wander around, it is well worth the admission price to enter the rooms upstairs. The designs, decors, style, furniture, and collections reflect the power, influence and wealth of the Medici family.

The Magi Chapel is tiny, painted floor to ceiling in frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli that are full of beautiful details (costumes, animals, scenery), and one could spend an hour looking at the reputed likeness of various Medici clan members (not to mention figures such as The Wolf of Rimini – Sigismondo Malatesta). The colors – considering the work was started in 1459 – are incredible and make for a visual feast where the composition is a bit of a whirlwind.

Near the end of the tour is the astonishing Galleria, a completely “over-the-top” Baroque gem with gold-covered walls and an opulent domed ceiling painted with scenes of Greek mythology. There is also an underground sculpture museum in the former stables. There are hardly any queues to get in, and you can enjoy the rooms comfortably and at ease.

Tip:
You must queue up for entry into the building in the courtyard, at the foot of the stairs.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-7pm (closed on Wednesdays)
2
Basilica di San Lorenzo

2) Basilica di San Lorenzo (must see)

Amidst the hustle-bustle of the Mercato Centrale (Central Market) stands arguably one of the oldest churches in the history of Florence. San Lorenzo is said to date back to the late Roman era and is also the city's largest basilica. Inside, it is as ornate and magnificent as you'd expect for the main worship site and burial ground of the Medici family, although you would not know it by looking at the never-finished façade.

One of the most powerful families in the history of Florence, the Medici family commissioned Filippo Brunelleschi to redesign the San Lorenzo with modern Renaissance-style elements, while an elaborate marble façade was left to Michelangelo to complete. Unfortunately, the untimely death of Brunelleschi and Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici led to the project being abandoned much to the humiliation of Michelangelo who did, however, design and build the internal façade, seen from the nave looking back toward the entrances.

Remarkable all throughout, the interiors follow a Renaissance style with white and grey columns and beautiful marble decoration in front of the altar that marks the grave of the first Medici ruler. Along the central nave are the two bronze pulpits by Donatello (his very last works), whose tomb can be found in the crypt along with that of Cosimo I de' Medici. The complex also includes the New Sacristy with Michelangelo's incredible Medici tombs depicting day and night, dusk and dawn, and the 17th-century Chapel of the Princes, also absolutely gorgeous with its huge dome and fresco arrangement.

There is so much to see that time will fly by as you look at the stunning frescos, the delightful dome with its lovely artwork, or explore all the cloisters, small gardens, and the Laurentian Library – another Michelangelo creation. The serenity here is wonderful by itself, and a nice respite from the other, more popular tourist destinations in Florence.

Tip:
Different sections have different doors, and you must show your Florence Card or pay for each individually. The Chapel of the Princes and the New Sacristy (Michaelangelo tombs) are closed after 1:30pm.
The market area around San Lorenzo is very nice, so you might want to have a drink/meal on the piazza in front of the Central Market.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 10am-5pm; Sun: 1:30-5pm
3
Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace)

3) 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.

***MICHELANGELO'S MASTERPIECES***
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.

***DANTE'S FLORENCE TOUR***
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".

Tip:
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)
4
Palazzo Pitti

4) 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)
5
Fort Belvedere (Forte di Belvedere)

5) Fort Belvedere (Forte di Belvedere)

A perfect sample of both Italian Renaissance and military architecture, Fort Belvedere was built at the end of the 16th century by Grand Duke Ferdinando I de' Medici to protect the city of Florence and to demonstrate the power and prestige of the Medici Family. In addition, it was used to hold the Medici's treasury, as well as to provide emergency shelter for the Grand Duke himself, should the city ever come under attack. For that purpose, the fort was connected to Palazzo Vecchio via corridor over the Ponte Vecchio, plus there were other passages connecting it to the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens.

From a military standpoint, the fortress – largest in Florence – occupies a strategic vantage point over the city and surrounding area. Due to the nature of the Renaissance-time warfare, forts were paramount to the defense strategy and Belvedere served this purpose all too well as a citadel and garrison for troops for over 100 years after its completion. Its walls are purposely placed at angles to each other so as to allow good observation of and, if necessary, crossfire to defend the neighboring walls. Galileo Galilei, in turn, used it for astronomical observations and, after being sentenced to life imprisonment in 1633, used to live nearby at Villa Arcetri.

After five years of renovation to improve safety, the fort was reopened to visitors in July 2013, now serving primarily as an exhibition center. A small entry fee to the place is worth every penny of it and you can walk around the site freely, enjoying a beautiful panorama of Florence and the surrounding hills.

***MEDICI LANDMARK***
The opulent villa at the center of the fortress, Palazzina di Belvedere, predates the fort and was designed circa 1570. As the fort's secondary purpose was to house the Grand Duke in times of unrest or epidemic, it was built as a comfortable, luxurious palace. Not adhering to military purposes, it housed the Medici family's treasures at the bottom of a well that was well-protected by traps. Any intruders attempting to force open the lock would set off the lethal trap and survival was most unlikely!

Tip:
On the upper floor of the Fort, there is a nice cafeteria where you can have a decent meal or a cold drink.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 11am-8pm

Walking Tours in Florence, Italy

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