Florence Attractions, Florence Videos, Must See, Things to do in Florence

Giotto’s Campanile (or Bell Tower), Florence

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At 414 steps, the climb to the top of Giotto’s famous Bell Tower (Campanile in Italian) probably shouldn’t have been undertaken at 12:30 in the afternoon, in August. But the queue for Santa Maria Del Fiore and the famous cupola was massive (take note; early morning, it opens at 10, or late afternoon are better unless you book a tour which lets you skip the queue) and I wanted to make a Flip Florence Video with a panoramic view of the centre of Florence. I needn’t have worried as there are 3 stops on the way up which offer gradually more spectacular views. Be aware that although it doesn’t appear in most of the video, there are wire grids covering the apertures which can make photos less impressive.

There’s an interesting trick of perspective going on with the Campanile which is almost as good as David’s wonky eyes. The three top levels of the Campanile (which were designed by Francesco Talenti not Giotto) are not the same size so that they appear to be the same size. Follow? Each of the three is larger to give the illusion from ground level that they are in fact the same size. Plus, you can thank Francesco for not following orders not building the spire that Giotto had planned. With it, the tower would have been higher (by 120m) but would have been lacking the flat observation deck from which some of this video is taken.

The history of Giotto’s Campanile, like most Italian monuments is a long one. The Campanile was not even planned until 30 years after the death of the first Master of the Works of the Cathedral, Arnolfo di Cambio. At this time Giotto was a not-too-spritely 67 (this was 1334, remember) but he set about planning a great tower to accompany the main cathedral. Unfortunately (not for Francesco), Giotto died three years later having only finished the lower floor – just be grateful he wasn’t fitting your bathroom. In Giotto’s place, Andrea Pisano (he did the bronze door on the south side of the Baptistry; it took him 6 years) was appointed and he followed Giotto’s design exactly until the Black Death arrived in 1348. This was Francesco’s chance and he completed the campanile to his own specifications in 1358. 24 years after Giotto first put pen to paper, or quill to parchment.

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Giardino Bardini – Florence’s Newest Renaissance Garden

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The Giardino Bardini was only recently opened to the public and the gardens and statues have been beautifully restored. The main entrance is on Via de’ Bardi, just over the road from the Museo Bardini (see Google StreetView below) although the shop and another exit can be found on Costa di San Giorgio. From there, you can walk to Forte di Belevedere* and the Giardino di Boboli for which your ticket is valid. Entrance at the time of writing (August 2009) is 10 Euros.

The Garden is marvellous, especially in the early morning. If you are lucky, you can have the place to yourself (as I did) by going when it opens at 8:15. Be aware that the shop opens at 9 and the cafe doesn’t open until 10. The early morning start is worth it though as the sun hits the terraces and it’s also not too hot for the climb to the top. Once you are up there, if you exit on Costa di San Giorgio (turn left and follow the signs)  you can walk a short distance to the Giardino di Boboli and you enter at the top; it’s all downhill after that!

This video was made after a suggestion from RobertaK on Twitter. Send me a suggestion and if I can, I’ll shoot the video! Aren’t I good to you?

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*Unfortunately, a young woman lost her life at the Fort and it is now closed until it the investigation has completed

Florence Attractions, Florence Videos, Must See, Piazze, Things to do in Florence

Piazza Della Repubblica – the lounge of Florence

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It has been said that Piazza Della Repubblica is the lounge of Florence but that could probably be said of most of the piazze here. Being in the centre, it is certainly one of the most densely populated with tourists who come to see the buildings and often, the shops (everything from Gucci and Belstaff to Zara and H&M) that are nearby. For more, check out the Shopping in Florence post

The main highlights are Cafe Gigli (have your coffee standing it’s about a third of the price you pay if you sit) and the Giubbe Rosse Cafe that has long been a meeting place for famous artists and writers. There is a merry-go round for the kids and the standard of busking, if it can even be called that, is very high.

The piazza was built on land that was reclaimed after many important buildings were demolished. The Wikipedia entry on Piazza Delle Repubblica (Florence) goes into this in more depth.
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Florence Attractions, Florence Videos, Must See, Piazze, Things to do in Florence

Piazzale Michelangelo At Sunset Or Sunrise?

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Although I have put this post in the Piazze category, it’s not actually a piazza but a “Piazzale” (it isn’t surrounded by buildings). Whatever the specifics, Piazzale Michelangelo should definitely be the place you spend your first Florentine sunset. Or, for the brave, your first Florentine dawn. There are various organised tours to suit all budgets from hop-on hop-off bus tours to a personal guided visit:

In the evenings groups gather on the west-facing steps to see the sunset. The light in summer is very orange and makes everything (and everyone!) glow. You can watch the sun setting over the hills of Tuscany and perhaps join in with the spontaneous round of applause when it finally disappears. It is truly a unique moment in any trip to Florence or indeed, Italy.

Dawn visits are strictly for the keen photographers or masochistic tourists. The thousands of vistas that populate Flickr are often taken from Piazzale Michelangelo and the Duomo is illuminated in the early morning but shadowed later in the day. Getting up there is quite a walk for those disinclined towards exercise (see the video) but most people can get up there without resorting to the chair lift.

Only joking; there is no chair lift, sorry.

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Florence Attractions, Florence Videos, Must See, Things to do in Florence

Ponte Vecchio – Florence’s Oldest Bridge

The Ponte Vecchio (as we should all know) is the only bridge that the Germans didn’t destroy. That they were so slap-dash in their bridge destruction means that we all get to see an historic landmark in the centre of old Florence. At some point it was probably called the Ponte Nuovo (or New Bridge) as to call it the old bridge from the beginning would be stupid. I wonder when it actually became the “Old Bridge”. . . answers on a postcard (or even better, in the comment section) please.

It is, like most of the main Florentine landmarks, a bit of a tourist trap but all those people come there for a reason. Whether it’s getting married and then having some lovely photos taken (the girl in this video’s wedding car was a Toyota Yaris – I’m not kidding) or just a stroll across and a bit of window shopping in the traditional jewelers, the bridge is definitely in the top Florence tourist attractions.

During the day there is a constant bustle of foot traffic and even the occasional copper on the beat (which translates into Italian as; “wander around, do nothing; especially don’t arrest someone,  just imagine the paperwork”) and it is one of the best spots to view the sunset (second, in my opinion to Piazzale Michelangelo though there’s no round of applause here). At night, the city pays for “buskers” and although you are more likely to hear a phonetic rendition of an Oasis song than something traditional, it doesn’t take away from the feeling of the place.

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Florence Attractions, Florence Videos, Must See, Piazze, Things to do in Florence

Florence Duomo – The City’s No 1 Tourist Attraction?

Dominating the skyline (and occasionally guiding a lost tourist back to the centre!), the Duomo of Florence is amongst the most photographed buildings in the city along with the Ponte Vecchio. Once you come here and see it for yourself, you realise that the scale of this building must have inspired awe in those who saw its “cupola” for the first time in 1436. The cupola is the domed bit – duomo means Cathedral, not dome apparently.

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is at the centre of the Piazza and though it was started in 1296, the gothic facade is actually a 19th century addition. As expected, the area can get really busy, especially in the summer months and is busy with hawkers trying to sell over-priced tat and posters. “No, grazie” is a useful phrase in the centre of town!

The small building to the west is the Baptistry for (you guessed it) baptisms and along with Giotto’s Campanile (the tower), the three buildings are a Unesco World Heritage site which basically means they can’t paint the thing pink without completing lots of forms. Also, the cathedral is old and  is permanently swathed in scaffolding somewhere as part of the cleaning process (thanks to Alexandra at ArtTrav for the insight). This is important if you are coming to take photos of the Duomo, or Florence in general; be aware that building works may obscure some of the best shots of the city and its monuments.

Later on, I’ll be posting more videos about the Duomo so follow me on Twitter to find out as soon as it’s live! Do you think that the Duomo is Florence’s biggest or best tourist attraction? Leave your comments below;.

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