Medici Landmarks Walking Tour, Florence

Medici Landmarks Walking Tour (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.

Designed by Michelozzo to accommodate the family’s banking business, Palazzo Medici Riccardi gives a great insight into the Medici way of life. Already in the 15th century, it included a private garden, protected from the town streets by a medieval wall. The historic building houses one of the most beautiful frescoes in the history of art – Cappella dei Magi, by Benozzo Gozzoli, located in a private family chapel which justifies travelling to Florence all by itself!

When the court of Medici was transferred to Palazzo Vecchio (from Palazzo Medici-Riccardi), it was transformed into a fascinating labyrinth of institutional chambers, apartments, terraces and courtyards. All of the rooms are magnificently decorated by artists such as Michelangelo, Giorgio Vasari and Donatello.

Continue with a visit to the Palazzo Pitti, which became home to the Medicis’ art collection, and Forte di Belvedere, later built to protect it. Both of these were, in fact, connected to the Palazzo Vecchio via a secret corridor visible on the Arno bridge (Ponte Vecchio).

Still more history can be witnessed at the Basilica San Lorenzo – the first Florentine church built in a new, Renaissance style; a model for later construction. Later upgrades, such as the New Sacristy and Medici-Laurenziana Library, were designed by the ever-ingenious Michelangelo. Here you will find the resting place of Giovanni de' Bicci di Medici – founder of the Medici bank and, hence, the family's subsequent fortunes – who is buried along with his grandsons in a tomb by Verrocchio.

Most, if not all, the history of Renaissance Florence can be understood by visiting these Medici landmarks/residences and their amazing collections/decorations – so follow our self-guided walk to see the opulent lives of the Medici family that helped usher the world into a new era.
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Medici Landmarks Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Medici Landmarks Walking Tour
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 (Medici Riccardi Palace)
  • Basilica di San Lorenzo (Basilica of St. Lawrence)
  • Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace)
  • Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace)
  • Forte di Belvedere (Fort Belvedere)
Palazzo Medici Riccardi (Medici Riccardi Palace)

1) Palazzo Medici Riccardi (Medici Riccardi Palace)

The first Medici palace, once the residence of Cosimo the Elder and Lorenzo the Magnificent, stood as a thriving hub for numerous prominent Renaissance artists, among them the prodigious Michelangelo, who was discovered by Lorenzo while still in his formative teenage years.

This grand edifice, an imposing spectacle of its time, set a new standard with its three tiers of progressively textured stonework and sizable, evenly spaced two-light windows. A magnificent cornice crowns the entirety of its exterior, exemplifying its resolute presence. The building encompasses an elegant square courtyard at its core, a stark contrast to the commanding impression projected by its façade. Together, they symbolize the duality of the Medici family, projecting an image of wealth, influence, and even ruthlessness to the outside world, while fostering an atmosphere of refinement as patrons of the humanist Renaissance within their sanctuary.

While the courtyard and gardens offer a delightful and complimentary experience, it is certainly worthwhile to invest in the admission fee and ascend to the upper rooms. These spaces exhibit designs, decor, style, furnishings, and collections that bear testament to the profound power, far-reaching influence, and immense wealth of the Medici dynasty.

A hidden gem within the palace, the Magi Chapel, mesmerizes with its diminutive size yet resplendent floor-to-ceiling frescoes by the gifted artist Benozzo Gozzoli. The intricate details within the artwork, such as the elaborate costumes, depictions of animals, and picturesque scenery, captivate the observer's gaze. One can spend an hour studying the reputed likenesses of various members of the illustrious Medici clan, along with notable figures like the Wolf of Rimini: Sigismondo Malatesta. The vibrant colors – considering the work was started in 1459 – create a visual feast where the composition unfolds in a bit of a whirlwind.

Near the end of the tour is the astonishing Galleria, a completely "over-the-top" Baroque marvel, resplendent with walls covered in shimmering gold and a grand domed ceiling adorned with scenes from Greek mythology. Additionally, there is an underground sculpture museum, housed within the former stables. Fortunately, there are minimal queues for entry, allowing visitors to relish the magnificence of the rooms comfortably and at their leisure.

To gain entry into the building, it is advisable to queue up in the courtyard, at the base of the staircase.
Basilica di San Lorenzo (Basilica of St. Lawrence)

2) Basilica di San Lorenzo (Basilica of St. Lawrence) (must see)

Amidst the hustle-bustle of the Central Market ("Mercato Centrale") 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, despite the unfinished façade that belies its significance.

The influential Medici family, known as one of the most powerful dynasties in Florence's history, entrusted the brilliant architect Filippo Brunelleschi with the task of redesigning San Lorenzo in a modern Renaissance style. The esteemed Michelangelo, on the other hand, was charged with completing an elaborate marble façade. Sadly, the untimely demise of Brunelleschi and Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici resulted in the project's abandonment, leaving Michelangelo to bear the frustration of an unfulfilled vision. Nevertheless, he managed to create the internal façade, visible from the nave when gazing back towards the entrances.

Within the church's remarkable interiors, Renaissance aesthetics prevail, evident in the white and grey columns and the splendid marble embellishments adorning the altar, which serves as the resting place of the first Medici ruler. Along the central nave, visitors will encounter two bronze pulpits crafted 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 encompasses the New Sacristy, a space that showcases Michelangelo's masterful Medici tombs, which depict the themes of day and night, dusk and dawn. Additionally, the Chapel of the Princes, dating back to the 17th century, captivates with its monumental dome and exquisite fresco arrangements.

There is an abundance of sights to behold, from the stunning frescoes that grace the walls to the enchanting dome adorned with lovely artwork. Exploring the various cloisters, intimate gardens, and the Laurentian Library—another architectural marvel attributed to Michelangelo—will undoubtedly transport you into a realm of serenity, offering a tranquil respite from the bustling tourist attractions that characterize Florence.

Different sections of the church have separate entrances, and it is necessary to present your Florence Card or pay for each section individually. Please note that the Chapel of the Princes and the New Sacristy, housing Michelangelo's tombs, close after 1:30pm.
Take advantage of the lovely market area surrounding San Lorenzo, and consider enjoying a refreshing drink or meal in the picturesque square in front of the Central Market.
Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace)

3) 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.

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.

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".

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.
Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace)

4) Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace) (must see)

The Pitti Palace is yet another architectural marvel in Florence to miss which would truly be a regrettable omission. Its main highlight is undoubtedly Renaissance architecture, coupled with the spectacular gardens every turn of which breathe 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 palace itself and everything inside have been the property of the Italian people, nowadays attracting over 5 million visitors each year.

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!

With a combined full ticket to the Pitti Museums and Gardens, you can enjoy two days of access. If you have ample time, consider spending around 3hrs leisurely exploring the gardens, but don't forget essential items like a hat and a bottle of water to stay comfortable.
To avoid lengthy queues at the palace, opting for a guided tour is a wise choice. Although there is an associated cost, the tour offers the advantage of skipping the line, saving you valuable time in Florence. Moreover, knowledgeable guides will lead you directly to the highlights of the collections, ensuring you don't miss any important exhibits that might be challenging to locate on your own. Embracing this option is a smart move for an efficient and fulfilling visit to the Pitti Palace.
Forte di Belvedere (Fort Belvedere)

5) Forte di Belvedere (Fort 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. The purpose of this grand fortress was twofold: to safeguard the city of Florence and to showcase the power and prestige of the Medici Family. Additionally, it served as a repository for the Medici's treasury and offered a safe haven for the Grand Duke himself in times of potential attack. To facilitate this, the fort was connected to the Old Palace ("Palazzo Vecchio") via a corridor over the Old Bridge ("Ponte Vecchio"), as well as through other passages linking 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 its surroundings. Given the nature of warfare during the Renaissance period, forts played a crucial role in defense strategies, and Belvedere excelled in its role as a citadel and garrison for over a century after its completion. Its walls are intentionally positioned at angles to one another, enabling effective observation and, if necessary, crossfire to defend the neighboring walls. Notably, Galileo Galilei utilized the fort for astronomical observations and, following his life imprisonment sentence in 1633, resided nearby at Villa Arcetri.

After five years of renovation to enhance safety measures, the fort reopened to the public in July 2013, now primarily serving as an exhibition center. The nominal entry fee is well worth it, as visitors can freely explore the site and enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of Florence and the surrounding hills.

The opulent villa at the center of the fortress, Palazzina di Belvedere, was designed circa 1570, thus predating the fort itself. 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 breach the lock would trigger a lethal trap, making survival highly improbable!

On the upper floor of the fort, there is a charming cafeteria where you can enjoy a satisfying meal or a refreshing beverage.

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