Fabulous, Fantastic Florence

I cannot get enough of Florence. I was just here in December, and I'm back. I visit and re-visit some of the greatest museums, churches, restaurants, and pedestrian venues in the world. I'm not sure I have the right words to describe what I see and feel.


Fabulous, Fantastic Florence

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on August 24, 2005

Some cities have the ability to seduce me into falling in love with them from my first encounter. I think of San Francisco, New Orleans, London, Penang, San Jose, Costa Rica, Kyoto, and Kunming, China. Florence has that same kind of allure for me. I was here just last December for eight days, and I am back again and as excited as if it were my first visit. Don’t expect much criticism in this journal. I doubt if I can see the warts.

Tom and I have a frustrating series of interactions at Rome’s Termini Station before we board our train for Florence. On arrival, we have the usual problems finding our hotel, "which is only minutes from the train station." Hah! Our first afternoon and evening, we stroll the streets of Florence and dine at a restaurant I remember well from last December, the Bacchus. We have a superb dinner of Tuscan beefsteak and pasta.

Our first full day, we visit Accademia and are both awed by Michelangelo's "David." We also visit the nearby Museum of San Marco, a former monastery and home of both the sublime Fra Angelico and the radical Savonarola. In the afternoon, we spend 4 hours, which is not enough, at the Uffizi Gallery. We are almost overwhelmed by its contents. It must be one of the top five art museums in the world. We accidentally discover another superb restaurant, Trattoria Alliense, and have a ball entertaining ourselves and the other guests.

The next morning we have trouble leaving a neighborhood coffee bar but we must so we can visit the Bargello Museum and the Palazzo Vecchio. We move on to the impressive Santa Croce Church. We cross the Arno and walk along the west bank. We lunch in a riverside, guidebook recommended, Pizza Restaurant pretentiously called, The Golden View Open Bar. Surprisingly, it’s excellent. In the evening we drink wine, eat snacks and people watch at a ringside table on the Piazza della Republica.

On our last day, we visit the under-appreciated Opera del Duomo Museum followed by a visit to the Mercato Central for a satisfying lunch. After lunch we go to Santa Maria Novello Church and have a slight run-in with the attendants. That night we celebrate happy hour with some Americans from D.C. before we return to the Trattoria Alliense for another great meal with interesting people.${QuickSuggestions} Do not go to the major museums, the Uffizi, Accademia, etc. without making reservations. It will save you literally hours of waiting in line and the cost is minimal. Either call yourself or have hotel staff phone. The number is 055-294-883.

Pick pockets are very active and brazen in and around the train station. One tried to grab a bag while I was watching it.

For shoppers: the open air markets in front of San Lorenzo church and Mercato Central have good quality leather bargains. You can buy lots of other stuff there, too. Speaking of Mercato Central; it’s the largest deli I’ve ever experienced.

As if the multitude of buzzing Vespas weren’t bad enough, there are now electric ones that sneak up on you. Be alert. (The world needs more lerts.)

Consider visiting other Tuscan towns. Pam and I had a great time in Siena and San Gimignano. Also consider visiting wineries and olive groves. We did an "olive oil tasting" that was a hoot.

July and August are hot but not as bad as Rome. December was cold but sunny much of the time and relatively uncrowded.${BestWay} I feel like a broken record but the best way to see Florence, or any great city, is to walk. If you need a little guidance there are a number of "Walking Tours" available at reasonable cost.

If you are staying outside of Florence and have rented a car, park it on the outskirts and use public transportation. There are parking lots on the outskirts near bus stops. I have heard there are huge fines for driving into the city without registering, whatever that means. But be sure and check with your car rental agency or hotel.

To visit other Tuscan towns, you can take a bus, on which you can reserve a seat or take a guided tour. The tours are pricey but not outrageous.

You can easily rent bicycles or motor scooters both of which make more sense than renting a car. The terrain is moderately hilly.

Public busses go everywhere and you pay by the hour. Bus drivers do not sell tickets. You must buy them at tobacco shops and newsstands. At night, I understand, you can buy tickets on the bus if you have exact change.

Taxis are incredibly expensive.


Sempione Hotel Florence

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on August 25, 2005

Theoretically the three star Sempione is only 100 meters from the train station. Maybe so but it is the longest 100 meters I’ve ever walked. It takes us about 15 minutes to get to the hotel. Via Nazionale runs right by the train station so even Tom and I find it difficult to get lost.

The hotel is in a so-so neighborhood but its location is very convenient to the major tourist attractions, restaurants, bars and internet cafés. Most importantly it is next door to a great coffee bar and two doors from a Gelato shop.

It has been recently renovated and with 31 rooms is small enough to feel homey and large enough to provide services like 24 hour front desk staffing. The rooms are clean, airy and, as is so important in summery Italy, air-conditioned. The clerks are very helpful and speak excellent English. They take care of all our museum reservations. We are also very happy with the room rate.

On the negative side, Tom and I decide that breakfast is barely edible, the dining room is too small and for the first time in Italy the coffee sucks. Fortunately we have the next door coffee bar. They do serve drinks in the lobby but the desk clerk does the serving so it doesn’t work very well.

In summary, I think it deserves its three stars and is a good value. You can send emails to "hotel.sempione@firenzealbergo.it".

Hotel Sempione
Via Nazionale, 15
Florence, Italy
+39 055 212462

Restaurant Bacchus

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on August 25, 2005

In December, my wife Pam and I discovered this gem of a restaurant near the Piazza Ognissanti while trying to find a place to have drinks and dinner that was open before 7pm. They weren’t open yet, but they invited us in when they saw us at the door and served us a glass of wine at the bar before we ordered. We returned twice. I also spent Christmas Eve at the bar, conversing, noshing, and drinking wine while waiting to go to Midnight Mass at a nearby church.

It is family owned, and while the wife watches the cash register, her husband tends bar and acts as social director. The staff members are friendly and knowledgeable, not only about food and wine, but also about Florence generally. The chef, who is a woman in her 50’s, spends time in the dining room, too, when she isn’t working in the semi-open kitchen.

When Tom and I arrive, I am shocked to find that the restaurant staff remembers me from December. They are just around the corner from the Westin Excelsior, so I imagine they draw lots of tourists. They ask after Pam and show only a little disappointment that I’ve shown up with Tom rather than Pam.

We order the house wine, which is bottled specifically for this restaurant and is the best wine bargain in Florence at 7€ a bottle. After an outstanding mussel appetizer, we order a "Tuscany T-bone," a kilo-plus piece of beefsteak grilled over an open wood fire, accompanied by two kinds of pasta and another bottle of wine. I’ve also tried their pizza, which is totally up to Italian standards. They provide baskets of fresh Tuscany-style bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The salads are crisp and fresh. The menu, while not huge, has enough variety to satisfy anyone. The prices are reasonable, especially when compared with the two five-star neighboring hotels.

As you might imagine, we eat too much and love doing it. We decide to walk the 3km back to our hotel to aid our digestion.

FYI: They have a "family-style" dining room in the rear for large groups. This is not a "great" restaurant, but it is a great place to have a delightful dinner.

Restaurant Bacchus
Borgo Ognissanti Intersection Via del Porcellano
Florence, Italy

Trattoria Alliense

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on August 29, 2005

We find this restaurant by accident. At first, on the advice of the desk clerk, we go to a nearby trattoria supposedly very popular with tourists. After entering the place, we decide to try to find another restaurant. The place is overcrowded, under-serviced, and overpriced.

Instead, we wander down Via Faenza and eventually into Trattoria Alliense. It's owned by an Italian Canadian who moved to Florence about 10 years ago and founded this restaurant. The menu isn’t that imaginative, but the food is superb. The house wine, a Tuscan red, is served in ceramic pitchers and, while not great, goes down easily and is a good bargain. The service from everyone is personal and efficient. The ambience, especially in the front room, where the owner generally hangs out, is warm and welcoming. We decide later it was definitely our favorite restaurant in Italy.

While we are there, we help a couple of young Japanese women figure out what they might like off the menu, argue with a Danish woman whose husky voice reminds me why I stopped smoking, discuss the failings of northern Florida with a woman from Orlando, and defend our Florida position with a family from Jacksonville, Florida, who are very aggressive in singing the praises of their state. It appears that the owner, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, seats foreigners in the front room and locals in the back room, which works out well for all. As we depart and are making our goodbyes, he thanks Tom and me for the free entertainment.

We had so much fun the first time, we return two nights later. Once again, we enjoy both the food and the company. We meet a cross-cultural family from Oregon. He's French Basque, she's American, kind of a stereotypical do-gooder, but much more open-minded. They met in Togo and have two beautiful daughters. We also meet an architectural student from Washington University in St. Louis returning from a field trip to Barcelona. The conversation is scintillating (I think), especially since I own property in Oregon and recently spent a week in Barcelona.

We enjoy the house Chianti so much, we almost wait too long to order. We start with an antipasto platter that is well presented and well prepared. Tom has a single huge pork chop, which he announces is the best pork chop he's ever eaten, this from a Midwestern meat-and-potatoes guy who is a pork chop aficionado. I have a scrumptious grilled veal steak, a dish almost never found outside of France and Italy. Both meats are accompanied by homemade tagliatelle pasta with a sauce directly imported from heaven. Our table neighbors from Oregon have a grilled fish dish that they say is exceptional. We think about trying the desserts, but decide we’d rather have a gelato from a nearby shop.

In summary, this is the kind of place that people imagine discovering on their own. We were lucky to actually find it.

Trattoria Alliense
Via Faenza
Florence, Italy

Galleria del'Accademia

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on August 26, 2005

We have an early reservation at Accademia. What the reservation allows us to do is stand in the "reservation" line which is not clearly marked and can only be identified by asking people already in the line. The procedure is for the "reservation" people to be admitted about 15 minutes after their scheduled time. If there is room, then people from the "non-reservation" line are admitted.

In 1784, Pietro Leopoldo, the Grand Duke of Lorraine commissioned this museum by decreeing that all drawing schools in Florence were to be united into a single Academy containing a gallery of art works by old masters to help the studies of young artists. When we enter, we first see Giambologna’s original plaster model for the Rape of the Sabines located at the Loggia dei Lanzi. It also contains a number of 16th century works including some by Filippo Lippi.

Next we reach the Galleria dei Prigioni, a corridor containing a series of incomplete sculptures by Michelangelo. The most famous of these, the "Prisoners," is an extremely powerful piece in which the figures appear to be trying to emerge from the stone. Maybe it’s better unfinished.

At the end of the hall stands "David" in a specially designed room, built for it when it was moved here from the Piazza Del Signorina in 1873 after spending over 350 years subjected to the elements. I have never seen a statue that impresses me as much as Michelangelo's "David" does. It was commissioned in 1501; when the 26 year old Michelangelo was paid 400 scudi and given a leftover block of marble that a number of other artists had unsuccessfully tried to work on to create a sculpture to celebrate the glory of Florence.

In December, experts were cleaning the statue and the scaffolding was intrusive Today there is no scaffolding and I sit for over 30 minutes just looking at "David." How did Michelangelo create such a masterpiece at such a young age, especially one that so broke with the past? The statue illustrates the power of the young David as he prepares to battle the mighty Goliath. This is not only the greatest statue of the renaissance; it may be the greatest sculpture of all time.

There is one extremely interesting side exhibit in which you can view the statue in virtual reality from any angle you wish, even from above. The two wings next to "David" contain some very beautiful 16th century paintings including a couple by Botticelli. The far room on the left contains a large collection of plaster casts by 19th century Tuscan artists that palls quickly since they are all copies of other works. There are two rooms of interesting medieval art and religious artifacts including the "Tree of Life" on the way towards the exit. The problem is that all is overwhelmed by the power of "David."

The Accademia closes on Mondays. The entrance fee is steep but worth it. No picture taking.

Galleria dell'Accademia
Via Ricasoli 60
Florence, Italy
055 238 8609

Museum of San Marco

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on August 26, 2005

We leave "David" reluctantly and head for the nearby Museum of San Marco, previously a Dominican monastery and the home of both the sublime Fra Angelico and the rabble rousing Savonarola. I’ve never understood why this museum isn’t more popular, but I’m happy to take advantage of the situation.

This museum which was opened in 1869 was consecrated as a monastery in 1443, some 560 years ago. The building itself is interesting in that it’s a well preserved example of a 15th century monastery. The works of Fra' Angelico, who lived here from 1438 to 1445, are everywhere – the alms-house, the refectory, the cloister and in dozens of monks cells. I think I recognize some of the cell paintings which served the monks as meditative inspiration – "The Flight to Egypt," "Noli me Tangere" and the "Annunciation." I definitely recognize his rendering of "The Crucifixion" on a wall in the Chapter House.

Girolamo Savonarola was a different story. A zealous reformer, he railed against the sinfulness and apostasy of the time from the pulpit of San Marco. This put him in opposition to the humanist revival of the 15th century and, in the political chaos of the time, he was able to establish the republic of Florence as a Christian commonwealth, of which God was the sole sovereign, and the Gospel the law. When people burned their ornaments and books the huge fires were called "bonfires of the vanities." His zealousness got him in trouble with Rome and after much upheaval; he was hanged and burned in 1498. There is a riveting collection of Savonarola's artifacts in his rooms including his hairshirt, his bible, which is so tiny I can't even see the words, and other relics. Religious intolerance in times of change is almost an historical imperative and is not limited to Islam.

I visit the Library which features an incredible display of illuminated manuscripts produced here. The Library itself is an outstanding example of renaissance architecture. Don’t miss it. There are also additional collections of artifacts elsewhere in the complex but I didn’t find them very interesting except for the huge bell on the north side of the Cloister courtyard.

Unfortunately, I hadn't brought my camera because they are banned at Accademia so I have no photos.

The museum has strange hours which may account for some of its lack of popularity. It’s closed on some Mondays and some Sundays and open only from 8:15am to 1:50pm, except on weekends, when it’s open until 6:50pm. The entry fee is very reasonable at 4 euros. No need to make reservations.

Museo di San Marco
Piazza San Marco
Florence, Italy, 50121
+39 0552388608/704

Uffizi Gallery

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on August 28, 2005

Tom and I take a short rest before walking to the Uffizi Gallery. I know from my December visit that visiting this museum requires some endurance. Some guidebooks say that you can cover it in two hours. Tom and I spend almost four. As you might imagine, no picture taking is allowed.

The Uffizi has, arguably, the greatest collection of Italian art in the world. It was built in the 16th century as public offices for Duke Cosimo I de' Medici. The family stored much of their vast art collection in this building. In the 18th century, the last heir of the Medici family, Anna Maria Luisa, gave the total collection to the City of Florence, and it is now permanent public property

The viewing rooms are all on the third floor. Besides the rooms full of Florentine art, all the other Italian schools are represented, as well as the Dutch, Flemish, German, and French schools. It contains works by Botticelli, Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Titian, and Rubens, to name a few. It also houses a large collection of Greek, Roman, and Renaissance sculpture.

In my opinion, "don’t miss" the Giotto altarpiece in Room 2, the Florentine masters in Room 4, The Fillippo Lippi paintings in Room 8, and the Botticelli collection in rooms 10 through 14, especially "The Birth of Venus," which established a new standard for artistic expression. You may have to wait to enter the octagonal room full of incredible statuary, but it’s worth it. Room 24 holds a number of works by Da Vinci.

If you are not flagging, take in Raphael’s works in Room 26 and Titian’s "Venus of Urbino" in Room 28. Compare it with Botticelli’s version and you will begin to understand the differences between Florence and Venice. The Rubens room is 41, and the Rembrandt collection is in Room 44. Also, give yourself time to wander the hallways and enjoy both the statuary and the view out the windows of the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio.

I am obviously enthusiastic about this place, as opposed to a couple from Chicago Tom and I meet while waiting for our reservations. They are using the tickets and reservations of his brother, who cancelled at the last minute. They freely admit they are only visiting the Uffizi so they don't have to explain to their friends why they missed it. How ironic! Tom and I, and many of the other visitors, have waited years to be able to visit this incredible museum. They are here by accident. Tom runs into them later, and the man's only comment is that the place is poorly lit and dirty, a comment that breaks both of us up as we view 45 rooms of irreplaceable masterpieces.

The museum is open from 8:15am to 7:15pm. It is closed on Mondays. Entry is about 12€. MAKE RESERVATIONS.

Uffizi Gallery
Piazzale Degli Uffizi, 6
Florence, Italy, 50122
+39 05523885

Palazzo Vecchio (Palazzo della Signoria)

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on August 28, 2005

Tom and I split up this morning. I decide to try the Palazzo Vecchio, which my wife, Pam, and I missed in December. He heads for the Bargello Museum to satisfy his lust for statuary.

The Palazzo Vecchio is unimpressive from the outside, but very impressive on the inside. In my opinion, its contents are more interesting from an historical point of view rather than from an artistic one.

As I wander around, I realize that even the wealthy Medici's lived in circumstances that today's average American middle class family would totally reject. Even the Medicis eventually moved to the more posh Palazzo Pitti.

Palazzo Vecchio, or as it is sometimes called, Palazzo della Signoria, was cobbled together starting in the 13th century and ending in the 16th. The final stage was sponsored by Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, who moved into the palace with all his family. It has served as both living quarters and government offices since then, including as the seat of United Italy’s provisional Government from 1865 until 1871, when the national government moved to Rome. Today, the palace contains the city council offices, which do not seem to inhibit the stream of visitors. One of the most impressive rooms, the Hall of the Two Hundred, is being used for the meetings of the city council. Fortunately, they weren’t meeting when I visited.

There are literally hundreds of frescoes scattered throughout the building. Some of the more impressive "frescoed" rooms are the Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Two Hundred), the Study of Francesco I, the apartments of Leo X, Cosimo I’s wife, Eleonora’s apartments, and the Rooms of the Elements. The Palazzo also contains some sculptural masterpieces from the Renaissance, including the "Genius of Victory" by Michelangelo and the bronze "Judith and Holofernes" by Donatello. Tom isn’t the only one who gets to see some outstanding statues.

In retrospect, I wish I had purchased a guide book at the gift shop, as I got somewhat confused as to what I was looking at and how it fit in historically. I underestimated how interesting and worthwhile visiting the palace was going to be.

Entry costs about 7€. It has odd opening hours, which is why Pam and I missed it in December. I made sure it would be open this morning before I came here. I do believe that it is open, for sure, every Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 7pm.

Palazzo Vecchio
Piazza Della Signoria
Florence, Italy, 50122
+39 0552768325

Santa Croce

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on August 28, 2005

That I am visiting this church for the second time does not detract from the wonder of its attractions. First, who's buried there - it's a list of the Renaissance who's who. The art is magnificent, the chapels are artistic gems, and the courtyards are well kept. The attached museum is fascinating. One could easily spend 4 hours here and still not take in everything. I suspect that I will have to fight my compulsion to try to see everything.

The Franciscan began building this Gothic-style church in 1294, but didn’t finish it until 1442. The neo-Gothic façade wasn’t installed until 1857. It was built to rival the huge church of Santa Maria Novella being raised by the Dominicans across the city. The interior is wide, with huge stone arches creating the aisles and an extremely high ceiling that creates an echoing atmosphere. The floor is paved with old tomb stones, many of which are covered with hard plastic sheeting to keep them from being entirely worn away.

As we move from the entrance toward the front of the church, on the right we see Michelangelo’s tomb. He painted the "Pieta" on the headstone himself. Next is a rather overdone cenotaph to Dante Alighieri, who was exiled to Ravenna, which has refused to return the bones to Florence. Next is a wall monument to Niccolò Machiavelli, author of "The Prince." A few tombs up the aisle lay the remains of famous composer Gioacchino Rossini.

In the right transept, next to the main altar, we see two historically significant, but fading, Giotto frescos. One illustrates scenes from the lives of St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Baptist, and the other scenes from the life of St. Francis. To the left of the altar is a famous crucifix carved by Donatello, on which Christ looks like a real suffering person. He was criticized by Brunelleschi and others for making Christ look like a peasant. Going back down the left side, we walk by the floor tomb of Lorenzo Ghiberti, sculptor of the famous Baptistry doors near the Duomo. The last tomb on the south side of the nave is that of Galileo Galilei.

We walk back up to the front of the church and visit the Pazzi Chapel, designed by Brunelleschi. It is considered the epitome of idealized Renaissance design. At this point, Tom and I head out the door into the Cloister Garden, which is graced by greenery and statuary. We take a break and then continue north in the shade to the smaller cloister and on into the museum. The museum is interesting, but not compelling, except for the chapel at the east end. Besides, we are hungry and going into cultural overload, so we move through it quickly. We skip the special printing exhibit and leave via the cloister exit.

Entry fee is 4€. It is open seven days a week, except during services. Picture-taking is allowed.

Basilica of Santa Croce
Piazza Santa Croce
Florence, Italy, 50122
+39 055244619

Opera del Duomo Museum

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on August 30, 2005

We start our last day in Florence at the Opera del Duomo Museum. This museum, originally a storage area for materials and objects intended for the cathedral, was founded in 1891, and is one of the most delightful, entertaining, and educational museums in Florence and one of its best-kept secrets. Prior to 2000, it was pretty much just a dusty old museum, but it was completely rearranged and refurbished from 1998 to 2000. Its prior reputation may be why the museum is seldom overcrowded, except for the occasional tour group.

It contains a good collection of Italian sculptures and a large number of works taken from the Duomo, the Baptistery, and the bell tower in order to save them from pollution. For instance, it has the restored original panels of Ghiberti's Baptistry door.

The museum also contains the finger of John the Baptist, and if you believe that, I have a number of fingers of historical figures I'd like to offer for sale. In addition, there are numerous exhibits devoted to the tools and equipment used to build the Duomo Dome, including some of the original block and tackle pieces, along with architectural drawings and other historically fascinating artifacts.

Among many other masterpieces is the "Pieta" by Michelangelo, one of his last works, believed by many to be destined for his own tomb in Rome. There is much sculpture to see, including Donatello's carving of the suffering Mary Magdalene, a late work in polychrome wood, emaciated and dripping with penitence, a statue people either love or hate. I love it

Half of one floor of the museum houses statues of the Prophets carved for the bell tower, many by Donatello. Mounted on the walls above are choir lofts, one by Luca Della Robbia and one by Donatello. Nearby, along one of the corridors, we see some of the machines used to build the cathedral dome as well as its architect Brunelleschi's death mask. A small room contains wooden model proposals for the facade. The original Gothic facade was destroyed in 1587 and wasn’t replaced until the 18th century.

One of the pieces that really grab our attention is the Altar of San Giovanni, which was intended for the Baptistery interior: composed of 400 kilos of silver, it took 114 years to complete and cost 40,000 gold florins. Compare that with the 4,000 Florins Ghiberti was paid for his 17-year work on the Baptistry door panels. In the same room we find illuminated manuscripts, goldsmiths’ work, liturgical vestments, and illuminated choir books.

My deepest impression comes from the realization that thousands of people: artists, craftsmen, laborers, clerics, and nobles spent hundreds of years creating something they hoped would have no equal anywhere. I’m not sure they succeeded; however, they did create something quite incredible.

Open 7 days a week. Pictures are allowed. The entry fee is reasonable at about 7€.

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo
Piazza Duomo
Florence, Italy, 50122

Santa Maria Novella

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on August 30, 2005

After lunch, we visit the Santa Maria Novella church, built by the Dominicans and completed in the 14th century. Its imposing white-and-green marble facade, one of the few authentic Gothic facades in Florence, was completed in the 15th century. It provides an interesting contrast with the Franciscan Santa Croce. Santa Maria Novella has a number of rules: no shorts, no picture-taking, no loud talking, many no-go zones, no smiling (just kidding). It takes itself very seriously.

When we first enter, we meet an angry German fellow with a church-supplied shawl around his waist to cover up his legs. Frankly, he looked a lot more fey and irreligious in the "skirt" than he would have without it. Later, I get busted for taking pictures, even though our guidebook says it's permissible and there are no signs forbidding photography. One of the attendants is incensed that I would even try to take photos and stares at me the rest of the time we’re there.

All that being said, it is nevertheless worth visiting. The church itself houses numerous beautiful works: the "Crucifix" by Brunelleschi, one by Giotto, Vasari's "Madonna of the Rosary," Masaccio's "Trinity," the "Miracle of Jesus" by Bronzino, and frescoes by Ghirlandaio. You can see photos of some of these on my photo website. There is also a cloister next door that holds a number of notable paintings and frescoes. It costs extra to visit the cloister. Today, it is unexplainably closed.

The interior is somewhat like the Duomo, somber and dignified. We walk down the left hand side after entering. Halfway down is the "Trinity." We spend time in the rear taking in the whole scene, especially Giotto’s "Crucifix" hanging in the nave’s center. We continue up the right side to the main altar and its two side chapels with their frescoes and stained-glass windows done by Filippino Lippi. The sanctuary behind main altar and the side walls were frescoed by Ghirlandaio and are incredibly well preserved. Hanging in the left altar is Brunelleschi’s "Crucifix," which he carved after seeing Donatello’s version in Santa Croce—the "ideal," God-like version versus the "real," peasant-like version. It helps that we have a guidebook to identify what we are seeing.

I postulate to Tom that the different ambiance of each church is a function of their founding orders—Dominicans, intellectual and forbidding like St. Dominic, Franciscans, emotional and accessible like their founder, St Francis of Assisi. Tom comments that I sound like a Dominican.

Closed Tuesdays. The entry fee is about 3€, extra for the cloister. Picture-taking is possible if you are sneaky.

Santa Maria Novella
Piazza Santa Maria Novella
Florence, Italy, 50123
+39 055215918

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