Florence is the capital of Tuscany and is enjoyed by an estimated 1,685,000 tourists every year. Many travel to Florence to snap a few pictures of Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria dell’Accademia or the breathtaking square at the Piazza della Signoria. If you’re planning an inaugural tour of Florence, set aside a healthy chunk of your time in this amazing city to tour its many breathtaking cathedrals and churches. Here are just a few:
Constructed in the 13th century to honour Santa Maria del Fiore, Il Duomo is probably the most beloved and photographed cathedral in Florence; however, the cathedral’s most striking feature, a magnificent dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, wasn’t added until the 15th century. The first thing you’ll notice while admiring the exterior are the beautiful hues of the green, white and pink marble; however, so you don’t wilt in the heat, enter the structure, which is much cooler, to view its impressive interior. Of note inside the structure is the largest piece of artwork, a fresco created in the 16th century by artist Giorgio Vasari entitled “Last Judgment.” Many don’t realize that although the original artwork was designed by the famed master, the actual painting was completed by his lesser-known pupil, Frederico Zuccari, in the late 1570s. Before you leave Il Duomo, don’t forget to snap a picture of what is arguably the most ornate floor you’ll ever see.
Mere footsteps away from Il Duomo, you’ll find another impressive cathedral, the Florence Baptistery. The exact origin of the Baptistery of St. John isn’t well-documented; however, legend has it the structure was built over a fallen Roman temple constructed in honor of the Roman god Mars. One of the oldest consecrated structures in Florence, the baptistery was the only church Catholics living in the city used to baptize their young until well into the 19th century. Before entering the structure, note the three large doors found on three of the baptistery’s four sides. The oldest door is found on the south wall and features a famous depiction of St. John’s life that was created by 14th-century artist Andrea Pisano.
The Basilica of the Holy Cross
One of Florence’s lesser-known cathedrals, the Basilica di Santa Croce, or the Basilica of the Holy Cross, is once again within walking distance of the famed Il Duomo. Known to the locals as the Temple of the Italian Glories, the structure is the final resting place of many famous Italian artists and citizens, including Michelangelo, Galileo, historian and philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli and composer Gioachino Rossini. Although considered a “minor” cathedral, The Basilica of the Holy Cross is actually the largest Franciscan church in Italy and features several breathtaking frescoes by famed Italian artist Giotto.
Santa Maria Novella
Originally intended for use as a convent, it won’t be hard to miss the Church of Santa Maria Novella’s striking facade. The creation of Leon Battista Alberti and Fra Jacopo Talenti, the contrast of the black-and-white marble helps make this Gothic church stand out from the more stately, subdued cathedrals in Florence. If you can pull yourself away from snapping pictures of the church’s amazing exterior, head inside to witness many of the beautiful works of art that were actually conceived and created inside the structure. Many have been removed and are now displayed in museums across Italy, including the Uffizi, but there still many examples to enjoy.
Church of San Lorenzo
The original structure now called the Church of San Lorenzo was consecrated in A.D. 393, making it one of the oldest buildings still standing in Florence. The majority of what now stands was built by Filippo Brunelleschi in 1419 as a burial site for the Medici family, one of Italy’s most controversial bloodlines and the patrons of several famous artists, including Michelangelo.
Aside from being a culturally enriching way to spend an afternoon in Florence, visiting some of the city’s oldest, most well-known and architecturally stunning cathedrals is also very economical, as many are completely free. Luckily, there are also several inexpensive, fabulous accommodations in Florence just waiting for you to enjoy and rest your weary feet.
About the Author: Jackson Sampson is a guest blogger and frequent traveler to Italy. Jackson recently completed a series of blog posts aimed at helping first-time travelers visit Florence and Venice for less.