I’m shifting away from Rome for the moment, though I have plenty more to post in future about The Eternal City. For the moment, I’d like to share some walks in Florence, which is likely my favorite city. Florence is comfortable, transcendent, and eminently walkable. What follows in this series of posts represents my daily routine when there. the specific example is a morning in mid-May, right after I’d woken, dressed, and inhaled some coffee.
We were staying near the Duomo, so every morning began with Via del Proconsolo, which was the location of the city’s Roman wall. Palazzos and Torres, now museums and businesses, line the street. Taking your time down Via del Proconsolo, here’s what you’ll pass. Take your time, and remember to stop look up, always, to see the towers.
The first palazzo you’ll pass is the Palazzo Nonfinito (unfinished, but started in 1593) is home to the Museo di Anthropology and Ethnology.
Next door, behind a line of rubbish bins, is the 15th century Palazzo Pazzi. The powerful Pazzi family lost this and other properties, in 1478 after the Pazzi Conspiracy–a failed attempt to remove the Medici family from power.
By the way, on the corner with Via Ghibellina there’s a trattoria called Gusto Leo (Gusto Leo is family friendly and comfortable—even if the Italian pop music may be turned up a wee bit too loudly. The menu is varied, the meals are filling and highly affordable. The place is nearly always packed (if you just want a snack, they do sell gelato from a bar on the pavement).
Across from Gusto Leo rises a medieval abbey and monastery, Badia Fiorintina (originated in 978 AD). Its cloisters and frescoes, including a magnificent piece by Filippino Lippi, The Virgin Appearing to St. Bernard (1482-86), remains open to the public. Plaques around Florence quote fragments of Dante’s Divina Commedia, and there is an example of such a plaque on the Badia‘s outer wall on Via del Proconsolo. It quotes Paradiso, Canto 16: 127-30:
All those whose arms bear part of the fair ensign
of the great baron—he whose memory
and worth are honored on the feast of Thomas—
Dante seems to refer to one of the Badia‘s patrons, a man named Ugo. Every St. Thomas’s Day, December 21st, a Mass is said for Ugo. Even today.
The Bargello, a medieval fortress (sometimes barracks, sometime jail) looms over the street. It holds a wondrous collection, primarily of Medieval and Renaissance sculpture, including works by Michelangelo and Donatello (his gorgeous David lives here).
Bar La Badia sits at the point where Via del Proconsolo and Piazza di S. Firenze meet; I like to stop here mornings for a cappuccino, sitting beneath an umbrella to watch the vendors set up in the Piazza di San Firenze echoing with the shouts of vendors setting up stalls with colorful scarves, small leather handbags shaped like animals, mini-Davids in varied colors, magnets decorated with Botticelli and Michelangelo works, and keychains. So many keychains. They feature miniaturized or stamped reliefs of every Florentine landmark: tiny Duomos, Giotto’s campanile, and Il Porcellino (the bronze boar in the Straw Market. Its nose has been rubbed for good luck for centuries. The statue has been replaced across time, but that snout is always worn down).
The back of Palazzo Vecchio and the Complesso di San Firenze sandwich the piazza. The Complesso, a wide, multi-windowed building used to be a plain brick church, but it was replaced kin the 18th century with a high Baroque building. It was built to house 1. a church (that of St. Philip Neri) 2. a seminary 3. an oratory. But it’s currently used for municipal affairs (and special events). Over the doors, there are marble sculptures of allegorical figures: Faith, Hope, Humility and Prayer along with putti. The coat of arms in the center belongs to the Serragli family, who commissioned the reconstruction.
Leaving the piazza, the road now becomes Via dei Leoni (named after the lions, totems of the city, that used to be kept, along with other wild animals, in this location). Take a left, then a right, and you’re walking through the Piazza della Signoria and toward the Uffizi’s courtyard. It’s time for the crowds to begin to assemble. People are queuing to enter the museum (it opens at 8:15, so several have likely been there a while). Go past the lines and beneath the arch, under the gazes of Galileo, Vespucci, and others, to where the view opens wide—the Arno, the Ponte Vecchio, and, up on the hilltop, the basilica of San Miniato al Monte—all in early-morning’s gold. The distance from the Duomo to this point is less than 3/4 of a mile. The following leg, as described, is also about 3/4 of a mile.
You could go right to walk across the Ponte Vecchio, but I like it a bit quieter first thing, so I typically go left.
- On bright days, any walk along the Arno leaves you in full exposure to the sun. A hat is practically required.
This section of the Lungarno, passes by the Palazza della Borsa, the Piazza Mentana’s monument to fallen soldiers of the Risorgimento, and Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie .
Cross the river at Ponte alle Grazi. The bridge permits vehicular traffic, but its pavements are wide and enable a wonderful views of the Ponte Vecchio.
After a right onto the Lungarno, travel the riverside until Via de’ Bardi, a street of medieval and Renaissance towers converted to shopfronts. You’ll walk beneath the bridge of the Vasari Corridor, which links the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti, and you can either re-cross the river via the Ponte Vecchio, or you can continue on the Oltrarno.
Next: Ponte Santa Trinita to the Duomo: Florentine Routine, Part II